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Do you remember preparing for the first day of school? What promises did you make yourself for the new school year? What stands out in my memory is the brand new spiral notebook that I was going to keep neat and tidy, vowing not to tear pages out or spill anything on it. That notebook represented a new beginning, a chance for starting over with a clean slate.
New beginnings and starting over are exactly what this year’s Catechetical Theme, “Teaching about God’s Gift of Forgiveness,” is all about. Without God’s mercy and forgiveness, we are damned. We simply would have no hope. Most of us know the story of the Prodigal Son that Jesus used to show how forgiving our Father in heaven is. It is with great tenderness that the father in the parable embraces his long-lost son. It is with great joy that he celebrates his son’s return after waiting so long for the reunion. What we do not know is how the wayward son reacts after being forgiven and welcomed back with open arms. Did he consider that moment as a new beginning? What did he do with his second chance? How did his life change?
How do you celebrate God’s mercy and forgiveness? What do you do with your clean slate, your second chance? When we sin, we stray from God. The more we sin, the further we move away from God. How far do you have to go before you say, “I will return to my Father”? Through our celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation, we are able to turn around and make our journey back to our heavenly father.
For some of us, the healing sacrament of Reconciliation is something we celebrate often. For others, it might have been years since we have allowed ourselves to be embraced with God’s mercy; we make excuses why we don’t go. In his book, Reconciliation, Robert Morneau writes that “Reconciliation is an antidote to the poison of unconfessed sins.” He adds, “What goes unnamed has tremendous power over us—ask any psychologist.” What would have happened if the Prodigal Son had simply snuck into the house and not asked for forgiveness? There would be no celebration, no healing of hurts.
Are you one of those who have a hard time forgiving yourself once you ask for and receive absolution? Do you carry the guilt around like a child carries a worn-out security blanket? How can one celebrate with such baggage? Examine closely the words in the prayer of absolution: “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; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace . . . .” God wants us to have the peace that comes from celebrating this healing sacrament. Letting go of our guilt and sorrow is essential in order to be whole again and able to celebrate God’s mercy.
God’s mercy is truly a gift of love. Do you take God’s mercy and forgiveness for granted or do you sincerely appreciate what has been given to you? Take advantage of your chance for starting over with a clean slate by celebrating the gift of the sacrament of Reconciliation. Thanks to God’s mercy, everyday can be a fresh start, a new beginning. Go celebrate the Gift of Forgiveness!