FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, March 10, 2019:
“Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them? Pope Francis has been teaching us, through his example, that God looks beyond our faults and failings and loves us just as we are. Can we trust in that love?” These are the opening words of a pastoral letter issued on by Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, the bishop of Springfield, a few years ago. They are words that have resonated with me since.
The main thrust of Bishop Rozanski’s letter was to reach out to those who have ever felt unwelcome in Church or feel a distance from their faith. His hope was these words could be the beginning of a journey of closeness back into the faith, back into the Church for these people.
He said, “There are [those] who have distanced themselves from the church because they feel unwelcomed. The reasons here can vary. [Parishes] must be inviting and energetic environments, founded both in our traditions but also the reality of everyday life. [Catholics must] evangelize those who were once, but are no longer with us. We need you, we need your presence, your gifts and your talents. We need you to complete our community, to enrich it, to make it better and more effective.”
“Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?” I was moved by the bishop’s words because they are words that many have been longing to hear. But, I was also moved by these words because they also struck me at the start of this Lent as not only powerful words addressing a specific need, but also the kind of words that should define the attitude of every Christian; perhaps a sort of mission statement for us all. Pope Francis has said is more concisely, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”
Reconciliation, community, and forgiveness – these are all things that are intimately intertwined; these are all things that we need in order to continue to be strengthened and encouraged in our life of faith. Our psalm today proclaimed as much, “Be with me Lord.” When we seek out forgiveness from those we have harmed; when we received forgiveness from those who have hurt us – it is precisely then that the Lord draws nearest to us. He comforts our hearts, consoles our lives, strengthens our faith. Nothing compares to the closeness we find with the Lord.
And no where is that closeness stronger than in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we enter that confessional it is not a place of judgment; it is not a place of fear; it isn’t the divine courtroom where God hands down His sentence upon our soul. It is in fact a place of divine encounter – God waits for us there; God meets us there – and God removes anything that is keeping us away from Him, away from one another; away from the community of faith established by God. “Be with me Lord.”
My friends, as we stand at the start of this Lenten journey once again ask yourselves – do you want to draw closer to God? Do you want to feel God’s closeness in a powerful way in your heart and in your life. Is your life in this moment crying out – begging – God, “Be with me Lord.” Let me know Your closeness; let me feel Your presence; release me from my sins so that I may be pure and holy and sinless before you?
I ask you: “Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?” Because these are the things that matter. These are the things that have the power – true power – to change your life and the lives of those around you. I also believe this is where too many of us struggle. We are perhaps uncertain of God’s love for us, or perhaps have never truly felt it. Maybe we have not sought out God’s forgiveness in far too long, or no longer believe we need it; or worse, no longer believe we are deserving of it. We, too often, fear to break the ice with the person from whom we need to simply say, “Please forgive me. I was wrong.” But, these are the words that change lives. These are the words that change the world. Perhaps this Lent you will speak them yourself. Do you believe? God never tires of forgiving you. God’s mercy has no limits. God is love itself and invites you to dwell in that love. Do you believe?
So, what do you want your Lent to be about this year? Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven. But, YOU are the Church – not this stone and mortar, stained-glass and marble – you are the church. May you be a place of mercy, may I be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed loved and forgiven. This is what our Lent should truly be about. Be with us Lord.
May the Lord give you peace.