Saturday, December 13, 2008
Last week we had our Advent reconciliation service. It was a beautifully done service emphasizing the theme of Jubilee year which is part of our celebration of our Centennial of being in Idaho for 100 years.
I have to admit though, that I have always struggled with the sacrament of reconciliation. Perhaps it is because I am a convert. Maybe I just missed that class.
The concept always made sense. Reconciliation is sacrament, a tangible manifestation of God’s grace, a way to experience that we are forgiven. So far so good. But I always get hung up on what I need forgiveness for. Back in the old days people would come with a laundry list of sins, specific actions they had committed and felt guilty about and wanted to be forgiven for.
But I’m not sure I have a lot of sins I feel guilty about. Maybe it is the reason for the old joke that priests say hearing the confessions of nuns is like being stoned to death with popcorn. We don’t have a lot of opportunities for serious sin. Personally I don’t think seems right to confess things like “I lied when I said to Sr. so-and so that I was glad to see her.” I’m left with the reality that I feel guilty about things that are more character flaws than specific sins. I’m impatient, I tend to gossip, I say critical things about people. The problem is that I will probably keep doing things despite my best intentions. So am I being forgiven for character flaws? I’ve never been quite sure how all this works and it has made me think there is clearly something I don’t understand.
With the help of a friend who said she had similar concerns, some advice from a priest and a lot of reflection, I think I may finally understand. It all comes back to the nature of sacraments, when God’s grace becomes real to us in concrete ways. Reconciliation isn’t just about being forgiven specific sins. The sacrament of reconciliation is about the presence of someone who listens to you, accepts and loves you just as you are. Reconciliation is having someone meet you in your brokenness, in all the ways that you fail to live up to your best self, and they assure you that you are still loved. They become God’s love in human form. They affirm, yes, you are not always a good person and you will continue to be someone with many hurtful characteristics, but the secret is that you are still loved by God. This love is made tangible in someone who assures you that no matter what kind of person you are, no matter how broken or petty or even evil, God’s love cannot be denied. You are worthy of love no matter what.
So reconciliation isn’t about confessing sins and doing some penance to get back in the good graces of an angry God. The sacrament is about having someone listen to how you have failed to be the image of God that you were created to be and yet you are still deeply, completely, unconditionally loved. It is a gift to be celebrated.