On Monday evening of this week two of my neighboring brother priests joined me in our parish celebration of First Penance, the service in which nearly twenty-eight youngsters from our parish on their way to the Lord's Table this Spring encounter the mercy and forgiveness of God. The weather was unseasonally warm, the atmosphere was right, the anticipation was high, and the kids were great. There have been years when the anxiety level was so high that the youngsters were almost non responsive. But this was not my experience with those that came to me on Monday. They were ready, a few were nervous, but they were into the experience. I give their parents and our catechists a lot of credit.
We also extended the invitation to parents and family to also approach the Lord for the embrace of forgiveness. I experienced a great spirit of sorrow and openness to forgiveness, humility and hopeful expectation of new beginnings, and of a desire to do better or even start anew. It was a blessed evening for me.
Of those that came to me to confess, there were a few that had not been there for a number of years. If it is a long time, I usually ask if there is some reason? Sometimes there is, and we can talk about that. Other times there is nothing pressing that has kept them away. I remind them of God's unfailing love, of his never ending presence in our lives. I often ask them, then, why they are there today? What is their motivation to return at this moment?
Obviously on Monday their motivation was in joining their child in this precious moment of encounter with God. I know that in my years of preaching, those homilies of "fire and brimstone" are unusually well received and can provide a motivation. Many times the person has reached a point of no return, and realizes that "now is the time". And for most it is the knowledge that the time is right. Whatever the motivation, the need to come to the Lord, to be securely wrapped in his loving embrace, to be shriven (a strange word) and forgiven, is a part of the human experience, and for the person of faith an absolute necessity. Pope Francis tweeted on October 29th "We are all sinners. But God heals us with an abundance of grace, mercy and kindness." That is the ultimate motivation to come and be reconciled.