I went to confession before Mass yesterday for the first time in about a year. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't intimidated; I've built up a lot of sins to confess over the past year, both mortal and venial. But it was still very liberating to hear the words of absolution and to know that my sins, no matter how grievous or how minor they may have been, are all forgiven. It didn't take long for me to commit a plethora of venial sins after Mass. Just a few minutes after Mass I was overly critical of a decision that my diocesan bishop has made. While we were at Wal-Mart shopping for school supplies later, I was visited by the ogling demon and I invited him in for a cup of tea. And I concluded the Wal-Mart adventure by having an argument with my mother that was at least partially my fault. This all occurred within two or three hours after Mass. For me, it certainly drove home St. Paul's point:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Why do we "rejoice" on the Fourth Sunday of Lent? After Laetare Sunday, the journey to the Cross begins in earnest. And yet we rejoice. We rejoice because God is bringing us out of our exile, just as he brought the Jews out of exile in Babylon (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:14-23; Psalm 137). We rejoice because "God, who is rich in mercy" (Ephesians 2:4), has saved us by his grace through his gift of faith. We rejoice because Christ has been lifted up on the Cross for us "so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). We rejoice because "God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins." We rejoice because, like the prodigal son, the Father comes to meet us and to forgive us while we are "still a long way off" (Luke 15:20). We rejoice because even though there is horror in the Cross, the Lord Jesus endured that horror for us.
If you haven't been to confession for a while, you don't know what you're missing. You're missing your chance to run back to the Father, who loved us so much that he sent his own Son to meet us on the Cross while we are "still a long way off." Confession won't make us instantly perfect; it's not a magic formula to turn us into saints overnight. It's our opportunity to turn back to the Father and say to him: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers" (Luke 15:20-21). But we know in the sacrament of reconciliation that the Father is running toward us while we are still so far away, and that he is waiting to celebrate a feast with us in the Eucharist.
"Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her, and you will find contentment in her consoling breasts." Amen. Let us find contentment in the Church which offers us Christ's forgiveness and enables us to receive him as true food and true drink, the nourishing Lord who, little by little, turns sinners into saints.