Advent Penance Service 2019
December 19, 2019
Christmas is coming but it is not yet here.
We get excited for Christmas. Psalm 63, our responsorial psalm today, is one of my favorite psalms because it expresses our desire to know God with versus like:
- “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.”
- “O God, you are my God for whom I long.”
- “My body pines for you.”
We are created to know God. We are created to be with God. Nothing else can truly fulfill us.
It is with this in mind that we come today to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” We want to follow Jesus but the reality is sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we sin. So, today we come to “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
When we sin, we need to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Right now we celebrate a Penance Service to think about our need for repentance and to reflect on what goes in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
In Psalm 63 we hear, “So, I will gaze on you in the sanctuary.” This is exactly what we can do today with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament placed in the monstrance upon our altar as we began our service, we gaze upon Jesus.
It really is Jesus and so we come thirsting for our Lord. We come to “prepare the way”. So, we need to “remove every obstacle” from our way.
Sin is an obstacle to our following Jesus. Mortal sin breaks our relationship with God. Venial sin hurts our relationship.
How do we remove the obstacle of our sins?
Actually, we can’t remove it ourselves. That’s why Jesus came at Christmas, so that at the appointed time He could give his life on the Cross to remove our sins.
What we do need to do ourselves is to “acknowledge” our sins. So, we “confess” them in the Sacrament. Confessing our sins with a contrite heart is a necessary part of the Sacrament. It is so important that we often call the Sacrament “Confession”.
But that is not all there is to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. What we seek is “reconciliation”, we want God “to revive the spirit of the lowly, to revive the heart of the crushed.”
God always stands ready to “revive” us and reconcile us but we have another part we must do. We must, as John the Baptist said, “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” After we confess our sins, the priest assigns us a “penance”.
We might want to think of our “penance” as punishment. After all, from our wicked avarice, our sins, we have given God a reason to be angry. We bring the punishment upon ourselves for, again as John the Baptist said, “Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
That might make us afraid. In this case, fear can be a motivator to avoid sin, to avoid the fires of Hell but there is hope.
Hope that comes ultimately in Jesus’ death and Resurrection, hope that is prophesized by Isaiah in our first reading. God’s purpose in sending Jesus to us is not because He wants to punish us. He doesn’t need Jesus to be born to do that. God could destroy us for our sins anytime He wanted.
Fortunately, He does not want to.
Instead, in our first reading from Isaiah today, we hear the Lord say, “I will lead them and restore full comfort to them.” When we break our relationship with God, it is his firm desire to “restore” us to him, to reconcile our relationship with him.
God also says in Isaiah, not once but twice, “I will heal them.”
When we hear the Lord say, “I will heal them,” our thoughts might rush to the physical healings that Jesus performs in the gospels or miracles that have happened since through the intercession of the saints.
We might then think of the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. We call that a “Sacrament of Healing”. Do you know that we also consider the Sacrament of Reconciliation a “Sacrament of Healing”?
We confess sins with a contrite heart. We do a penance. We receive absolution through the priest. We are healed of our sins. Our sins broke our relationship with God. God can and does fix that if we let him.
This is our faith. This is our hope.
Jesus, thank you for the gift you are to us and thank you for the gift of your forgiveness.