SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Dan 9:4-10
; Ps 79:8-9
; Luke 6:36-38
We are sinners and in need of forgiveness and healing. None of us can say that we have not hurt others or broken any of the commandments of God. Healing comes through forgiveness, received and given. What we all need most is forgiveness. However, not many people seek healing although they know they are wounded and hurt.
The main obstacle to people availing themselves of healing through forgiveness is because of pride. It is the lack of humility to ask for forgiveness because of the fear of shame. This is the ultimate reason why many Catholics do not go for the sacrament of reconciliation. They would give all kinds of excuses, apparently logical reasons, why they do not need the sacrament of reconciliation. They want to forgive themselves. On that count, they should have just baptized themselves as well, since baptism is for the forgiveness of sins. St James exhorts, “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” (Jms 5:16) And the Lord said to His disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:22f)
Then there are those who go for the sacrament of reconciliation but they also do not find real and lasting healing. As a result, some claim that going for confession is a waste of time as the healing effects of the sacrament does not last. Why is this so? This is because many do not have the right disposition when celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation. Some go for confession out of devotion and habit but they have no intention of giving up their sins. Of course, if we are not serious about giving up our sins, the grace of absolution will not work in our lives because grace demands human cooperation. Many go for confession without any preparation, both in the heart and in the examination of their conscience. This explains why the Penitential Service held in our churches, although beautiful and meaningful in bringing the community together to celebrate God’s mercy and forgiveness, often because of time constraint, is done in haste, often without much preparation and recollection or even the opportunity to confess one’s sin sincerely and deeply.
To address this situation, the scripture readings today can help us to prepare for a beautiful sacrament of reconciliation.
In the first place, we are called to praise God for His mercy and goodness, especially in acknowledging that His commandments are good. The prophet began by saying, “Lord, our God great and to be feared, you keep the covenant and have kindness for those who love you and keep your commandments.” Unless we see that His commandments are not meant to make our lives miserable but to set us free to live a life of wisdom, we will not be able to feel sorry for breaking His commandments. Moses said, “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?” (Dt 4:7f) Even St Paul agrees on this point. “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.” (Rom 7:14-16) By acknowledging that His commandments are just and fair, we condemn our sins. Only when we condemn our sins, will we be less likely to commit them in future. So it is important that we need to sensitize our conscience to condemn the sins we committed.
Secondly, we need to acknowledge our sins without justifying ourselves. Many of us when confessing our sins, seek to justify ourselves, and often like Adam and Eve, push the blame to others. Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the Devil! Instead, true contrition of heart is to confess our sins without excuse, just as King David did when he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. He simply said without any excuse on his part, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Sm 12:13) Again, this was what the prophet Daniel confessed on behalf of his people, “we have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly, we have betrayed your commandments and your ordinances and turned away from them.” That is why when we go before the priest, right at the outset, we begin by saying, “Bless me Father for I have sinned”, not that others have sinned against me! Some go for confession to confess the sins of others rather than their own!
Thirdly, we must confess our sins sincerely without hiding them in generalities. Many of us try to hide our shame by just confessing sins in a general manner. When we are not explicit in naming our sins, we cannot exorcise the demon out from us. Naming our sins as they are, calling a spade a spade is what will bring us healing. That is why those penitents who try to couch their sins by oversimplifying them often do not find real healing because they did not allow themselves to articulate their guilt and their pain. Only when we can articulate our sins the way we committed them, in all its shame, can our fear be removed completely. This was how Daniel confessed to God. “We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.”
Fourthly, we accept the judgement of God. We accept the judgement of God against sins, not our judgement of what sin is. “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” (Ps 51:4) True repentance and sorrow for our sins means the willingness to accept the consequences of our sins. This was what Daniel prayed, “Integrity, Lord, is yours; ours the look of shame we wear today, we, the people of Judah, the citizens of Jerusalem, the whole of Israel, near and far away, in every country to which you have dispersed us because of the treason we have committed against you. To us, Lord, the look of shame belongs, to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, because we have sinned against you.” King David also accepted the punishment for his sin when his son conceived out of lust died. He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me, and the child may live.’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Sm 12:22f)
Finally, we turn to Him for forgiveness and pardon. We are called to trust in His mercy. Daniel pleaded, “To the Lord our God mercy and pardon belong, because we have betrayed him, and have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God nor followed the laws he has given us through his servants the prophets.” With the psalmist, we pray as well, “Do not treat us according to our sins, O Lord. Do not hold the guilt of our fathers against us. Let your compassion hasten to meet us; we are left in the depths of distress.” The gospel assures us that the Father is all forgiving because He is compassionate and just.
However, whilst forgiveness is given when we go for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, healing is not complete until we render forgiveness to those who have hurt us. Jesus said to His disciples: “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned.” Indeed, if we want to seek forgiveness and healing, we must be ready to forgive those who have hurt us. This is the most important condition for healing. This explains why many go for confession but are not healed. If they cannot forgive others as God has forgiven us, we continue to make ourselves prisoners of our enemies and our past. If we condemn others, we are condemning ourselves, for if we cannot forgive others for what they had done, how can we forgive ourselves in the same vein. This is why, the Lord said, “Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.” Forgiveness of others is what ultimately heals us in the end.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone.