The readings for this Monday in the Fifth Week of Lent give us a picture of innocence and guilt. In the reading from the Book of Daniel, we encounter the innocent Susannah. In the Gospel, we encounter the woman caught in the act of adultery. Each of these women was being threatened with capital punishment. However, God intervened in each of these episodes and saved them from this threat. Both the innocent Susannah and the guilty woman of John’s Gospel are saved from their enemies. I am sure that for some readers, this situation raises questions regarding innocence and guilt. However, the issue at the center of these readings is God’s mercy rather than our sense of justice. Indeed, the pattern of God’s justice is mercy.
The Scriptures are full of stories of sin. The opening pages of the Bible bring us face to face with the cunning of the old serpent who would claim us as his own. Stories of deceit and lust such as we encounter in the Book of Daniel may be written in more detail than most, but this kind of deceit is well known in the Scriptures. I have long felt that the reason for these stories is not so much to highlight our need for redemption as it is to focus our attention on God’s gift of mercy.
Much has been written in the last few days ever since Pope Francis announced the coming Holy Year of Mercy. On several occasions the Holy Father has related the tale of his teenage years when he encountered God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Penance. From that time on he has been not only aware of God’s mercy, but he has also made it a centerpiece of his preaching and writing.
The Church celebrates the mercy of God is several different ways. However, there can be no denying that the Sacrament of Penance (sometimes called the Sacrament of Reconciliation) is perhaps the most important and, at the same time, the least popular way. When I was a child growing up in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the Sacrament of Penance was a regular part of the devotional life of practicing Catholics. Ever since the Vatican Council, the practice of confessing one’s sins to a priest has become less and less fashionable. I am sure there are many reasons for this, but one reason that is cited frequently is a bad experience of the sacrament or with a particular confessor. As a confessor myself, I have to admit that there have been times when my response was not what it should be. Confessors are, after all, limited human beings like the rest of us. We don’t always get it right. However, of this we can be sure; God’s mercy knows no limits. It is a deep and as broad as the oceans and can never be exhausted nor impeded by the missteps of any confessor.
“May the Holy Spirit fill your heart with light that you may confess your sins with loving trust and come to know that God is merciful. Amen.”
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator