24th Sunday of Ordinary Time – 15th September
There has been much debate over recent months since the Royal Commission on the sacrament of confession and about the seal of confession. Many jurisdictions have enacted laws or are proposing laws to mandate what is heard in this sacramental setting as reportable if a person confesses to having abused a child to the priest. The question has largely focussed on what is being confessed and who it is being confessed to. In the civil understanding, the knowledge is revealed to another human being whereas in the sacramental understanding the priest acts in the name of Christ and so that the person is bearing their soul to God. I think what lies at the heart of the issue is whether a person is truly penitent and therefore able to take responsibility for their actions before God and before the Christian community. A person should never approach confession solely for their own good but out of genuine desire to reform their lives and to be open to being transformed by God. The sacrament should never be seen as cheap grace or a get out of jail free card! The fruits of a good confession should prompt a person to care for others and not just for themselves. It is never just about the healing of the individual but the healing of the whole community.
So how do we assist a person to make the first steps towards a good confession and a penitential life? I think that we should not see a good confession just as a private act which a person undertakes solely for their own redemption. This is not just about having a private conversation with God but a place where we consider how our actions have both seen and unseen consequences on those around us. These can either cause harm or benefit the life of another. This is where we need to reflect the orientation of our life and the direction in which we are heading. When we look at the younger son we see a person who wants to have all the benefits of the Good News on his terms rather than with the closeness of a loving relationship with God. In a similar way, the older son sees himself as slaving for the Father but lacks the insight of what this relationship means. He lives in the same house but also the closeness of that loving relationship alludes him. The difference is that the Father looks out for both of them and takes the initiative. He provides the grace necessary for us to take the initiative to reach out to those who may seem lost or even to ourselves, when the focus is on an open squandering of the gifts or the critical judgment of others. God enables us to be attentive to that need for mercy, healing and forgiveness.
I feel that the deeper question that our community faces is how do we see reconciliation as a communal activity rather than just a private matter. At the heart of this activity is the seeking of the will of God which brings healing to our communities. This is more than just an attitudinal shift which seeks the restoration of what has been lost but rather the development of a reconciled heart. Much has been done to ensure that our communities become places where children can grow to maturity in safety but there is a deeper call to encounter a God who transforms our lives to heal and be healed from the harm that lies in the human heart. This is never about just pious intentions but a genuine desire to allow God’s grace to be discovered and lived. Without it, we will live in quiet desperation looking for a person who can rescue us for ourselves rather than reaching out for the person who can restore us into full communion. It will rely more on our efforts rather than God’s promptings to be reconciled and reconcilers.
Fr. John Armstrong