I suppose it goes without saying, but this is a "busy" season of the year for those of us who minister to the faithful. The celebration of the Sacrament of Penance intensifies during Lent quite naturally. Most parishes schedule communal penance services which usually require that the pastor enlist the services of outside confessors to help with the service. Last night was one such occasion.
In the midst of the confessions that I heard last night was one that rang a bell with me. The penitent concentrated on what had been "undone" rather than on what had been "done." This particular confession sparked my own examination of conscience. Among the many things that have remained "undone" is the composition of this daily blog. So this morning as I continue to meditate on my own need for conversion, I thought I would use it as an opportunity to speak about the Sacrament of Penance and its place in our life of faith.
See, I am creating new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered nor come to mind (Isaiah 65:17).
I suspect that one of the things that we have a tendency to label as an imperfection is our ability to remember. I live with one friar who is older and another who is younger than I. The two of us who are "senior citizens" tend to mention our tendency to forget things. We write notes to remind us of what it is that we are supposed to be doing. We remind each other of appointments. For instance, I know without question that my older confrere will remind me at supper on Wednesday night that I am supposed to drive him to the airport early Thursday morning.
Several times in the course of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, God speaks of forgetting the past, of forgetting our transgressions. God indeed does "forgive and forget." I suspect that most of us were taught that at the particular judgment, the day when we will stand before God, we will be reminded of all the things that we have done wrong and of all the good that we have failed to do. Isaiah would disagree. It is the prophet's contention that God does not remember our past transgressions. I tend to agree with Isaiah. If God is the personification of mercy and compassion – and I believe this to be true – then there can be no question of God holding on to all our sins in some great record book in the sky.
Secondly, if God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, God has no past and no future. God is only now. So it is our present relationship with God that really matters. Each time we go to confession, each time we humbly present ourselves to God and our confessor as sinners, we repair any breaches in the wall of our relationship with God. The God who is only NOW does not consider the old. God is only about the new.
In Sunday's Gospel about the man born blind, the man's neighbors debate whether this is really the man they have seen begging in the streets. There is some confusion as to the man's identity. Some accept that he is the one and the same beggar. Others claim that he only looks like him. Scripture scholars point to this detail as evidence that Jesus, in healing the man born blind has created something entirely new. The old man has been replaced by a new model, new and improved. The same thing happens to us each and every time we confess. God's absolution of our sins makes us new. God's love renews us.
I know that it is humanly impossible for us to let go of our past sins. Yet it seems to me that this is an effort we should make this Lent. Let us come out of the Lenten desert renewed and remolded into a new creation.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator