The Diocese scheduled an Advent Day of Recollection at the Bishop Connare Retreat Center for the priests of the Diocese. There was a good response to the invitation which involved an afternoon of prayer, reflection, Adoration, Reconciliation and Evening Prayer before refreshments and dinner. My ordination mate, Monsignor Roger Statnick, gave an excellent presentation for our thought and reflection. He was, and is by nature, a good teacher. It was a great moment at the beginning of our Advent journey as priests, with the ministers being ministered to by the gracious love of the Lord.
I have to admit that I absented myself from the dinner at the Recollection day, because I needed to get back to the parish to prepare for our parish celebration of First Reconciliation this evening. Our youngsters at the second grade level have been preparing for this Sacrament throughout the past months, and tonight was "the" night. I always enjoy this experience of "first confession", and while it is a celebration for the kids, it is even more so for the parents and grown-ups who are also present. I am keenly aware of the "scariness" of first confession, for I remember back to mine, in the enclosed, dark, confession box. Things have changed, and much for the better. I spoke to the kids and told them of how precious they are to God. Our theme is that of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, bringing together the lost lambs. Each family "created" a lamb, which was placed at the feet of the image of the good shepherd placed before the altar. I spoke to the adults of the unconditional love of God for us all, and the mercy that brings his love into our lives. This coming Tuesday marks the beginning of the Holy Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis.
The kids were great. One young man told me afterwards that this was one of the most exciting days of his life. Another, after receiving absolution, stood up, thanked me, and said "Wow!"
Such excitement, such simplicity, such clarity of vision as to what had just happened. I came away more refreshed that those that confessed and were forgiven. I thank my neighbor and brother Father Alvin Cabungcal, one of our International Priests, for helping us out this evening as well. God is indeed very good to all of us, and is filled with mercy. As the Collect Prayer this morning said:
"Stir up your power, O Lord,
and come to our help with mighty strength,
that what our sins impede
the grace of your mercy may hasten."