When you meet up with someone about whom you care deeply, be it your spouse, a family member, or a good friend, what do you typically do when you spend time together? It can be any number of things: you may watch a sporting event or have dinner together or simply have a great conversation. But inevitably, we discover over time that the most important aspect of any valuable relationship is simply spending time together. As a relationship grows and deepens, what we actually do with someone else can often take a back seat to just being with them. At the same time, as we grow more comfortable with the other person, we become more ourselves and worry less about revealing our faults and weaknesses in their presence—because we know we are loved by them even with our imperfections.
This is exactly the kind of relationship that Jesus wants us to have with him. He desires for us to come and spend time with him, to simply be in his presence. This is the foundation of any good relationship! He invites us—actually, we could say that he begs us—to come and spend time with him, so that we may come to know his love for us.
The best part about his invitation is that he already knows us even better than we know ourselves. In his book In the Presence of Our Lord, Fr. Benedict Groeschel describes very well what it is like to be before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Fr. Groeschel says that before the tabernacle, before Our Lord, he feels at home as in no other place. He says,
My sins, my defects, my quirks, are all known to Him. There is no secret, nothing to be embarrassed about, no place to hide. I believe (difficult as that may be at times) that He does in fact love me. . . . With all my failings I have never been afraid to come to Him. In fact, I have run to Him and He has been there for me. (In the Presence of Our Lord, 288)
As Fr. Groeschel tells us, realizing that Jesus already knows us so completely should make us feel comfortable in his presence. This is because Our Lord loves us—not in spite of our faults and weaknesses—but with them, as we are. There are so many examples in the Gospels of Jesus associating himself with some of the most prominent sinners in his time without feeling any shame. He told those who questioned him about the company he kept, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have come not to call the righteous to repentance but sinners” (Lk 5:32).
He spent time with these people because he loved them, and he desired their conversion. He loved them long before they even knew him or loved him. As St. John says in his first letter, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10). Jesus has also loved us first and continues to do so. He is the one who reaches out to us first in so many ways. We simply must respond to his invitation.
This is all important, dear friends, because Lent is a special time that the Church gives us in order to renew our relationship with God and to strip away all the other things that prevent us from getting to know him more fully. In order to help us to do this, our parish and all of the parishes of the [(arch)diocese/eparchy] will be open for quiet prayer and the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently during Lent. This is a tremendous opportunity, my friends, to deepen your relationship with the One who loves you far beyond anyone else. Jesus is the One who already knows what is on your heart when you walk in the door, and wants to talk with you about it. He will be waiting for you, wanting to talk with you in person!
With Jesus, there is nothing to be afraid of. He is the one who takes the initiative, who comes down from heaven in the Eucharist in the form of bread so that you will not be afraid to approach him. He waits in silence for you, but when he speaks, he speaks right to your heart, in such a way that you know it is he who is speaking.
Like every relationship, our relationship with God is not always easy. Fortunately we can count on the fact that God is always faithful and always wants the best for us. When we fall away from God and act contrary to the teachings of his Church, we harm our relationship with both God and with his Church. When our relationship with God—which is the most important relationship we have—isn’t right, then it affects our other relationships as well. Every sin we commit, while it injures our relationship with God, necessarily also affects our relationship with others too, and harms our communion with the Church.
Fortunately, the Lord Jesus has provided a very easy remedy to heal our relationship not only with him but also with his Church—namely, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through the priest, the Church forgives sins in the name of Jesus. When you make a sincere confession, you receive the forgiveness of Jesus! His forgiveness heals you and restores your relationship not only with him, but also with his Church and the members of the Church.
I know from my own experience that many Catholics do not frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and sometimes it is out of a sense of fear. But just as you have nothing to fear in encountering Jesus in the Eucharist, there is nothing to fear in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, either. Jesus comes to you in the person of the priest, full of compassion for you. He wants nothing more than to take away the burden of your sins. Make no mistake—sin puts a burden on us. When we have sinned and have not been to confession, we can sometimes literally feel weighed down, or heavy. It is also harder to act with love toward our loved ones and friends, much less to be charitable to our enemies! But Jesus is more powerful than sin, and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he wants to remove this burden, to wipe the slate clean, and to give us a new beginning.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is also importantly a sacrament of healing. We are all wounded by our own sins, by the guilt we have from the hurts we have inflicted on others, and by our own lack of forgiveness of hurts inflicted upon us by others. Jesus wants to heal these wounds, to take away or alleviate the pain that they cause. But he will not force us to come to him; he respects our own free will and wants us to seek forgiveness, which can be difficult. Yet all it takes is just a contrite heart and an honest confession, and Jesus stands ready to console us.
Now perhaps there is a lot on your mind, and you have been meaning to come to confession for a while but have been afraid to do so. I promise you that I [and my brother priest(s)] will treat anyone who comes to me/us in confession with nothing but compassion, respect, and dignity. As priests, we are ordained to be “other Christs,” and nothing brings us greater joy than to bring Christ’s healing love to those who are broken and in need of help through the Sacrament of Reconciliation—especially for those who have been away from the sacrament for a while.
If you have been away, come back during Lent. It is a time of renewal, of new beginnings, of new life. Allow this Lent to be a new beginning in your life of faith. The Light Is On for You gives every one of us an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the Lord, to start afresh, to cleanse our souls in confession, removing barriers and stony obstacles to the life of grace. I look forward to seeing you there.
The Light Is On For You © 2012 Archdiocese of Washington and Diocese of Arlington.