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  • Writer's pictureFr. Daniel Gifford


“A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all… You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later... We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means.” If this profound reflection on temptation sounds familiar, you may have read the classic work Mere

Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. It is what comes to my mind, when I look at the Third Station of the Cross (front cover). The intensity with which Christ is weighed down by the weight of the cross might remind us of the heavy weight of temptation, which so often bears down on us. Only the one who has resisted the temptation to lay down the cross knows how heavy it really is. The one who gives up can hold no claim to this knowledge. Christ knows the weight of our cross, for He has carried it with and for us, has fallen continuously beneath it, and has persevered to the very end. In this weekend’s readings, we see the deliberate contrast between the fall of man, beneath this weight of temptation, and the victory of Christ, beneath the same weight of temptation in the desert. As we read Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans, it becomes clear that Christ’s victory after our fall is meant to give us a true new beginning. Lent is a time to gratefully and humbly, yet confidently, accept the gift of this new beginning and unite our hearts to King David’s prayer of repentance in our Responsorial Psalm: Be Merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned. Let us come to the Lord, with this prayer on our lips, as He falls beneath the weight of our giving in to temptation. And as He rises again to persevere in carrying our cross with and for us, let us also rise with Him. Let us rise to discover the true weight of temptation, not by giving in, but by persevering with Him, however many times we fall beneath its heavy weight.


We find this new beginning, which enables us to rise again and carry our cross with Him, in the place where we come to Him with the confession of our sin upon our lips: the Sacrament of Reconciliation. As you know by now, I try very hard to give as many opportunities (listed elsewhere in the bulletin) as possible for you all to receive this great sacrament of healing, which have usually included a “Holy Hour with Confessions,” typically toward the middle or end of the season. This year, we are slightly revamping this as a part of the “20/20 Vision” series of Holy Hours. This change makes it a fitting thing to do early in the season, rather than later. In fact, it will be just one week after Ash Wednesday. Instead of simply encouraging people to come if they think it will be a good time to make their own annual Lenten confession, we are going to make Reconciliation available at a Holy Hour in which we invite all of God’s people to come humbly before the Lord, who humbles Himself before us in the Holy Eucharist, to pray for an intention that should remain in our prayers throughout the season (hence the fittingness of starting off the season by praying for it early on). We are gathering to pray that, in this season of renewal and conversion, all of God’s children would receive the grace of being reconciled with God and with the Body of Christ, the Church. There is certainly a great need to acquire more deeply the gift of clarity of sight regarding the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Toward that end, there are many questions we should ask ourselves - and we might find that they apply to ourselves or to others, for whom we intend to pray during the holy hour, or both. Each of these questions identifies wounds in our hearts that the Lord wants to heal. Do we see clearly that the sacrament is indeed, not an imposition, but rather a gift of grace and healing? At the same time, do we see clearly that it is indeed necessary for all Christians? Do we realize that we really need it? Do we take God’s Mercy for granted and thus fall into the greater sin of presumption (Sirach 5; Catechism of the Catholic Church 2092)? Do we allow the examination of conscience at the beginning of Mass to prompt us to honestly examine whether we are prepared to receive Holy Communion, so that we don’t receive unworthily and thus commit sacrilege (1 Corinthians 11:23-34)? Do we see the Sacrament of Reconciliation as accessible and available to us? Do we have an undue fear or reluctance toward it? Are we afraid that the priest will judge us or look down on us for our sins, rather than looking on us as a healer who speaks and acts as an ambassador of the Divine Physician? Do we lack confidence that the Sacrament will actually make a difference in our lives? Are we held back by being discouraged by our persistence in “the same old sins”? Do we find ourselves falling into sins that are new to us and feel that we are now in a darker place than we have ever been before, feeling paralyzed by the fear that we have fallen too far? Do we find it hard to believe that even God could love and forgive us? Have we had a painful, difficult or even traumatic experience in the confessional in the past that prevents us from wanting to return? Let me address that last one briefly. There can be a rather wide range of “bad experiences” one might have had in confession that might color their view of the sacrament thereafter. Some of these experiences are the kind that, as we grow in wisdom and maturity, we begin to realize that our perception was influenced by our own wounds and insecurities. In this case, as we have begun to find healing over time, we may be ready to recognize that returning to the sacrament is an essential next step in that process of healing. In other cases, we may truly have been treated wrongly by a priest who failed in mercy that day. While I do believe this is not the experience of most Catholics most of the time, it would be naive and unrealistic to fail to acknowledge that it can happen. The amazing thing about the sacrament is that the grace of God’s forgiveness is imparted by the words of absolution themselves, regardless of the holiness of the priest (or lack thereof)! So, even if his words of counsel lacked the kind of encouragement and hope we find in the Merciful Love of God, the depths of that Mercy can still pour from the same lips in the words of absolution. I would be happy to talk about your experience with you, if you’d like. I won’t claim to be able to speak for what was said, how it was said or why. But, simply put, priests share the same broken human condition with all of humanity. Perhaps there is a genuine character flaw in him that might even be understood by the adage Deacon quoted last week: hurt people hurt people. Perhaps he was tired or having a difficult day or had some other reason that is not your fault for not being at his best. Perhaps he even realized and deeply regretted what he said or how he said it, confessed it in his own confession and strives humbly by God’s grace to not repeat the same mistake. I don’t know and it’s not my place to judge. But, either way, I am very sorry - and I say this acknowledging with a heavy heart that it may have even been me when I was not at my finest - and hope that you will not allow this experience to keep you forever from the Healing Mercy the Lord wants to give you in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God bless you all. I hope you can join us in prayer on Wednesday.

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