As a Pastor, this was an extremely busy time of year. One of the faith community's most important celebrations had to be planned for. That celebration was The Communal Celebration of The Sacrament of Reconciliation. It was always a priority, in the planning, to have celebrants who were gentle, kind, and understanding. The presence of a compassionate priest, to me, is an essential element for a real celebration of that particular Sacrament. Yes, we have all heard of the horror stories of how unkind, and judgmental some priests have been with penitents in Reconciliation. If a priest is not kind and compassionate, but instead loads you up with toxic guilt and shame, I have always encouraged the parishioners to just simply say, “Father , stick it in your ear" and walkout! When I said that at Mass one Sunday, a little kid looked up at their parent and asked, "What is it he has to stick in his ear?". The parent did not know the answer, so the question was repeated to me. Well, says I, he is to stick all the unnecessary guilt, and toxic shame which he wants to load on the penitent. The confessor is to be the reality of the Jesus we encounter in the Gospels. Kind, compassionate, understanding, was He as He encountered the lost, forlorn, the alienated, the so called sinners, and those outside the law. These were His people of interest. Those in the opposition were the religious leaders who pointed out He that was unheard of, He shared a the table with them. These leaders , thinking they were doing what was right, conspired to have this challenge to their way killed. They refused to listen to what Jesus had to say. Oh they heard Him alright, but they did not dare listen, and so, they never became disciples.
Henri Nouwen tells us the first requirement of being a disciple is to listen:
"The first discipline is listening.
The word listening in Latin is audire.
If we listen with great attention we are ob audire.
That is the word for ‘obedience’.
The word obedience means listening.
The Latin word for deaf is "surdus', and if we are actually deaf we are ab surdus.
The ‘absurd’ life is a life in which we are not listening.
The obedient life is a life in which we are listening.”
Our Lenten journey asks of us to put away all those distractions which prevent you and I from not just listening to The Good News of Jesus Christ but to really hear what He has said, and is saying to us right now. It is up to us to set aside the time, and space where we can encounter the Word of God, not just meet the Word of God. We must not only hear, we must also heed. Those two are necessary in order that an encounter take place. Encounter means we pay close attention and consider what is being said to me right now, and who it is that is speaking to me. What then are we to hear and heed at this time of year, it is of course The Parable of the Prodigal Father. Thank God we have we have been lead to the broader understanding of that wonder-full parable. In the old days, it was all about the 'prodigal son'. The one that was so bad, as opposed to the so called good who stayed at home and did what he was supposed to do. Outwardly so good, but on the inside seething with resentment. He was actually in a worse place than the younger and rebellious son. The Father has the unbelievable challenge of being able to reach out in love and understanding to BOTH of his sons. Would you and I actively seek out that challenge? Do not worry. We do not have to seek it out we are already living it out each and every moment we are given life to live. In other words, welcome to the real world in which we live. The world in which our gracious, compassionate, and merciful God is ALWAYS at work within us. There is never a moment that He is not fashioning us into the image of His Son, bringing us to a place of peace, joy and love. It will come to you and I. All we have to do is to have the desire, “Your Kingdom come your will be done". There is a hidden surrender here which we have to give consent to. We come to a very, very slow surrender to The Dream of God, communicated to us in human language by our Savior Jesus Christ. We are asked to embrace who it is we really are without judgment. We are to seek out who we really are, as this is the only one God knows. Yes, the truth will set us free, but before that, it will tee us off! This however will help us to let go of the "false self". It will allow us to shed the mask behind which we hide in fear from a love our being aches for, but we want no part of. It does not make any sense, does it? There is nothing to feed the ego here. These actions do however enable us to confront the ego centered ego, who is very unhappy about all of this. The false self will use every trick at it's disposal to avoid the necessary result, it's death. This is a very long process. No wonder we are constantly at war, and never allow peace to flow, and never come to the great wisdom contained in Merton's words " that poverty...is our strength".
So we have within each one of us three realities;
A) The younger son, a.k.a., the rebellious one,
B) The older son, a.k.a., the obedient but resentful one,
C) The Father, who has a prodigal, reckless, extravagant love for both.
The dynamics of that relationship is our reality each day we live. We are always living out our lives either being the rebellious son/daughter, the resent full son/daughter, or we are in the process of growing in reconciliation with the whole mess. We must always keep before us God DOES Make All Things Work Together for Good. We do not know how this will happen, we must me satisfied with the fact that it will happen. It will happen not in our time, but in God's time. WE are given The Sacrament of Reconciliation to provide us with the graces needed for process of reconciliation to happen Before we meet again. Keep the following in mind; "It is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, NOT the Sacrament of obliteration. Does that change anything in your thinking??