Penance Service for Lent
March 24, 2021
Next week we celebrate Holy Week. On Sunday we will bless the palms and hear the story of Jesus’ Passion as told in Mark’s Gospel. On Holy Thursday we celebrate the Last Supper. Then on Good Friday we will hear the story of Jesus’ Passion as told by John. Then we have the Resurrection.
The Passion is essential to understanding Holy Week. It is the story of the suffering that Jesus endured for us for “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Jesus willing sacrificed his life in the Crucifixion so that our sins can be forgiven.
Understanding the Cross as the instrument of our salvation, Lent becomes our journey to the Cross. We seek conversion. Thus, while we can ask God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation at any time of the year, Lent is a time when we focus on our need for forgiveness.
So, tonight we offer this penance service. We come together to acknowledge our sinfulness. We know of God’s compassion. We ask the Lord to cleanse us, to create a clean heart in us. Later, I will be in the confessional for anyone wishes to confess their sins and receive forgiveness.
Besides the reading of the Passion during Holy Week, another way we prayerfully reflect on what Jesus endured during his Passion is the Stations of the Cross.
Our readings tonight point to the Tenth Station, “Jesus is stripped of his garments.”
In those days, one’s garments often signified their status in life. Jesus being stripped of his garments signified the stripping away of any status. They then mocked him.
Looking at the stripping of his garments from another perspective, how would you feel standing naked before the people?
Here, we go back to Adam and Eve in the garden. Everything in the garden was beautiful and innocent. Adam and Eve were naked but that was not an issue. It held no significance to them, that is until they ate the forbidden fruit.
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.”
From sin, they came to know fear and shame. They sought to cover up their nakedness. They even tried to hide from God.
What happens when we sin? Do we feel shame? Do we try to hide our sins from others? Do we try to hide our sins from even ourselves, making excuses or claim that it wasn’t really that bad? We try to convince ourselves it wasn’t sin, that we are good people.
Sometimes, like Adam and Eve, we even try to hide from God. However, we really can’t hide our sins from God. God is everywhere. God was there when we sinned. I wonder how God feels when He sees us sin. I suspect He cries. He cries because He loves us.
Hiding our sins from others in general is normal. One can argue that other than anyone we have hurt by our sins, other people don’t need to know. On the other hand, we should seek forgiveness from those we have hurt. That means acknowledging what we have done.
We must also be willing to admit to ourselves that we have sinned. It is the only way we can seek to become better.
What about hiding our sins from God? I already said we can’t hide our sins from God because He is everywhere. He wants to forgive us. However, we don’t let God forgive us if we try to hide our sins from him.
We need to “expose” our sins to God. We need to stop covering them up. We need to be willing to stand “naked” before God. Should we be ashamed of our sins? Yes. But the solution to the shame is not hiding the sins. Rather, we need to lay them before God.
What keeps us from doing so?
Perhaps fear, fear that God will punish us. God would be within his rights to punish us. However, God is not looking to condemn us. He is looking to save us, “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).
In a moment, we will do an Examination of Conscience. Listen to the questions. Unmask your sins. Know that God wants to forgive you. You just have to ask.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is God’s gift so that we can ask for forgiveness.