Monday, March 1, 2010

A Season of Grace

Reflections on the Readings
Third Sunday of Lent - March 7, 2010, Year C
By Dennis Hankins
A Season of Grace

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners... St. Paul - 1 Timothy 1:15 RSV

Lent reminds us that we are sinners. Perhaps some are worse than others, but when it comes to sin, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This is an uncomfortable thought, but it is one that keeps things in perspective.

The mirror reminds me of my bodily imperfections. But it is the mirror of God's word that reveals thoughts and words and actions not formed by love. It is good to remember that salvation is ongoing; we are a work in progress. As St. Paul wrote, the Christian life is about pressing toward the goal; reaching for the prize and keeping our eyes on the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus. Ours is a lifetime of growing in grace.

The Galileans perished under Pilate and eighteen died at the Siloam Tower, but they didn't die because they were greater sinners than us. The message is that we too will perish spiritually unless we repent. Like the unfruitful fig tree receiving extra attention, care, and fertilizer, we also need pruning and ongoing care to be a fruit bearing Christian.

To be that kind of follower of Christ, we need confession and repentance and forgiveness! And not just one time, but more often than not. Believe me. I'm a husband and a father. I need it. And the bottom line for you and me is that we need the grace of sacramental confession. It is a means of grace and spiritual healing that connects our Lenten observances

Confession brings us the beauty and the power of grace. So let us not say we have no sin, for if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)

Even a brief review of the Ten Commandments will reveal none of us is without sin. Just as nobody suggests a single shower is sufficient for personal hygiene, so also frequent confession purifies the soul. As it has been said, confession is good for the soul. And confession during Lent is spring cleaning at its finest.

Some common objections to confession include:

"I'm saved. I don't need to confess anything."

"I can confess my sins to God. I don't need a priest."

"Only God can forgive sins."

"Christians aren't sinners; they don't need to keep repenting."

A good dose of humility is probably good about now. I understand the above sentiments. I used to embrace all of them and preached them fervently for many years. For the record, confession is not a 'get out jail free card.' The goal of confession is reconciliation with God and his Church. Always it is linked to a firm resolve to avoid the near occasion of sin. Especially the sin that most often besets us.

So where does the Church get its understanding of confessing ones sins to a priest? It comes from John the Beloved who records, ...He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven..."(John 20:22-23) This ministry continues in the Church through her priests. A season of grace has prevailed in the Church for two thousand years. And the words of forgiveness and absolution will flow from the Church until Jesus returns in glory.

Hearing the priest give the words of absolution is to realize that Jesus keeps on saving us. Not just once or twice but always, often, and forever. Yet too many go it alone. Too many carry the wounds and scars of sinful habits, decisions, and past behavior, thinking some things are better left buried in the past. Then the festering wound gets infected and affects relationships, careers, and personal wholeness. Oh, but joy unspeakable is just one confession away.

As we come to the table of the Lord, let us remember all of Christ's benefits. He pardons all of our sins, heals all of our waywardness, and redeems our soul from destruction. And now he crowns you and me with kindness and compassion, in these gifts of bread and wine, the body and blood of Jesus.

It is a moment of grace.


Let us pray: Dearest Father, help us to never become strangers to your love and your grace. May we come often to the fountain of mercy found in the acts of confession and contrition. Draw us to your mercy by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

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