Advent Penance Service 2018
December 15, 2018
We are here today to celebrate a Sacrament. We begin with this Penance Service as a way to pray together before we celebrate the Sacrament individually. Some call this sacrament Confession. Others call it Penance. I like the name Sacrament of Reconciliation for that is its purpose, to reconcile us with God.
One might ask why now. There are two separate but overlapping reasons for this. First, we have our children who have been preparing to celebrate this sacrament for the first time. During the Easter Season they will receive their First Eucharist. They will begin to prepare for that sacrament after the holidays but the first part of preparing for their First Eucharist is to seek forgiveness of their sins to worthily receive the Eucharist. That leads to this Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The second reason applies to the children but also to all of us. We come in this Advent season, a time of preparing for the coming of Christ. That means reflecting on what we need to work on in our lives. That often means recognizing our sins and confessing them.
Some might be fearful of coming here today. By some, perhaps some of the children might be nervous doing this for the first time, but I also think about the adults who might be “fearful” about admitting their sins.
We call this prayer service a “Penance Service.” When we celebrate this sacrament individually, we will receive a “penance’ for our sins. Some see the “penance” as “punishment.”
We can fear punishment. I recently read a story of a young girl named Megan. Dad was going to pick her up from school. She decided she was big enough that she didn’t need to wait for him and began walking home on her own. It began to rain and lightning. With the storm came darkness. Megan became cold, wet, and lost. Then she had a car horn. It was her father. She was sure she would be punished for not waiting for her dad. “Instead her father swooped her up, saying, “Here’s my little girl, I thought I lost you. Let’s go home and dry off.” (“Homily Helps: Dec. 16, 2018” The Priest. Our Sunday Visitor, November 2018, page 49.)
Did she do something wrong? Yes.
Could she have been punished? Yes.
However, her father was not interested in punishing her. She had gotten lost and he was just happy to find her.
When we sin, we do something wrong. We break a rule God has given us. For that, we can expect to be punished.
Another way of looking at sin is to realize that when we have sinned, we have lost our way. We may have been trying to do what God tells us but were led astray. We got lost.
Our gospel reading today speaks of the shepherd who loses one sheep and goes looking for it. Jesus is our shepherd. When we are lost, Jesus will do anything possible to rescue us “from the power of darkness.”
Jesus does this because he loves us. There is an important Bible passage you can read in John 3:16. It says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
God sends us Jesus. Knowing that we sin, Jesus gave his life on the Cross so our sins will be forgiven. Jesus takes our punishment for us.
So, rather than be afraid of confessing our sins, we can “give thanks to the Father” for sending Jesus to do this for us. Today is not about punishment. Yes, we do a “penance” to show we are sorry but we can rejoice that God is waiting to forgive us.