cowboy and priestWhile many dioceses around the country are conducting “The Light Is On For You”, a time when priests are available in every church of the diocese to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation for an extended period of time, we here in Cheyenne are offering the Sacrament in our three parishes over the three evenings of Sunday, Monday and final one tonight. 

Sunday evening was a very good crowd at Holy Trinity.  Last night was a near capacity crowd at the Cathedral, and tonight, we will gather once again at 7:00 at St. Joseph parish.  I believe each of these evenings we had seven priests present to hear confessions, and last night we celebrated the Sacrament with the People of God from 7:00 until 9:00pm.  It was a very edifying experience, and a wonderful way for our priests (and myself) to celebrate our priesthood in Holy Week.

Here are my thoughts from the homily last night.

When we gather for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our focus is fundamentally directed in one or two directions: a) confessing my sins or b) receiving God’s mercy.  The first focus is to some extent the very definition of sin – a ‘self-focus.’  The second is the remedy of sin – the unforeseen and infinite mercy of God!  Even though both foci are a necessary part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are ultimately here to receive God’s Mercy!

Our First reading tonight, Hosea 11:1-11 recalls the marvelous ‘Passion of God’ as he experiences the pain of His Eternal and Divine Heart, caused by the infidelity of His people Israel.  Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) shares the following thoughts in his book, Behold The Pierced One:

  • In the Song of Songs 4:9 we read about the love of God as expressed in the drama of this human love: “You have ravished my heart,” and again in 8:16 “set me as a seal upon your heart, for love is strong as death.”  When we come to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we are approaching the very Heart of God.
  • In Hosea 11, the Prophet speaks of the depths of God’s love for His people: “The first verses of the chapter portray the immense proportions of the love which God has bestowed on Israel from the very morning of its history: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”  But there is no response from the people to this unwearying love of God which is always running after Israel: “The more I called them, the more they went from me…” (v.2)  (p. Behold The Pierced One, p. 62)
  • Israel has a long history of fidelity and infidelity.  Such turning away from God carries a sentence of judgment, so Hosea continues: “He shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be his king; The sword shall begin with his cities and end by consuming his solitudes.  . . God shall not raise them up.” (vvv. 5,7)
  • But then, there is this marvelous change of heart for God!  Israel may abandon the salvation offered by God, but God shows how high and different are His ways over ours:  “How could I give you up, O Ephraim, or deliver you up, O Israel? . . . My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred.  I will not give vent to my anger, . . . For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you; I will not let the flames consume you.”  (vv. 8,9)
  • “Here we see the upheaval in the Heart of God as God’s own, genuine Passion.  It consists of God Himself, in the person of his Son, suffering Israel’s rejection.”…. “According to Hosea, the Passion of Jesus is the drama of the divine Heart: “My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender.”  The pierced heart of the crucified Son is the literal fulfillment of the prophecy of the Heart of God, which overthrows its righteousness by mercy and by that very action remains righteous.” (Behold The Pierced One p. 64)

My second point comes from Pope Francis, and an October 2013 Angelus reflection:

Pope Francis speaks about the central importance of God’s mercy when reflecting on the Lukan stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son:

Here is the entire Gospel! Here! The whole Gospel, all of Christianity, is here! But make sure that it is not sentiment; it is not being a “do-gooder”! On the contrary, mercy is the true force that can save man and the world from the “cancer” that is sin, moral evil, and spiritual evil. Only love fills the void, the negative chasms that evil opens in hearts and in history. Only love can do this, and this is God’s joy!

Another passage from the prayers of the Roman Missal following the Lord’s Prayer gives insight into the all-important role God’s mercy plays in our efforts to live holy lives: Deliver us, LORD, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress…

  • It is only by God’s mercy that we are capable of being without sin (through reconciliation)
  • Pope Francis in a recent interview identified himself as a sinner… a sinner redeemed by Christ.  Here is a man who has a profound sense and personal experience of the mercy of God – a mercy that stands as true justice – a justice that is beyond this world.

Finally, a word from Cardinal O’Malley while reflecting upon the first year of Pope Francis’ papacy.  He recalled the Holy Father’s episcopal moto:  Miserando Atque Eligendo, which translates: “Having Mercy and Calling me.”

From this moto, and from the Pope’s own personal experience, Cardinal O’Malley sees a new manner of living a moral life emerge.  He describes this moral life as not so much seeking to live by sheer force of will, not a matter of never falling down, but an always getting up again.  God’s mercy is the focus.

My friends, we are here tonight to receive the Mercy of God.  The Paschal Myster, the Work of Redemption is a one-time event, the effects of which are eternal and never ending.  However, in our humanity, we often ‘fall into sin.’  We are here tonight that God make raise us up, dust us off, renew us in His Merciful Love, and send us on our way!