Several years ago a mother lost her daughter, Rene. She was killed in a drunken driving accident. After some time the mother found it within her soul to forgive the person who had killed her daughter. Although it took some time, she was able to express forgiveness. She said it was the only option to move forward with her life.
Recently at All Saints Catholic School, a diocesan-run school sponsored by St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford, they were having their mid-day prayer. The teacher in charge of the prayer for that day had prepared the video from YouTube entitled “Forgiveness” by Matthew West.
In the video he sings of the need for and the importance of forgiveness. He also relates how hard it is to forgive.
I took the occasion to explain to the students that we are fortunate as Catholics to have a Sacrament which allows us to be forgiven and helps us to forgive others — the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation.
There are many “firsts” I remember as a priest. The first Mass is prime recollection. But I also remember going to Our Lady of Fatima Church in Swansea — now St. Francis of Assisi — to hear Confessions for the first time.
The pastor was ill and being the third priest (remember when parishes had two or three priests?) close by at St. John of God in Somerset, I was missioned to go.
I entered the church and found the confessional. There was a note pinned on the priest’s door welcoming me and telling me where the lights were for the confessional. Eventually a penitent came in and confessed their sins. I can recall thinking, “Why are they telling me this?” Of course I was a priest and they sought Christ’s forgiveness.
I was acting in the Person of Christ as I prayed “I absolve you from your sins” not “Christ absolves you from your sins.” It was an overwhelming moment reconfirming my priesthood.
In the 48 years of priesthood I have heard many Confessions. Some say it is the forgotten Sacrament, and perhaps it is. For those who know what it means, Confession will never be forgotten.
Lately I have adopted the practice of having an evening of Confessions before Christmas and Easter. I try to find another priest to join me. Meditative music plays in the background and people come in at their convenience from 7-8 p.m. Whenever I have done this, Confessions have lasted for more than an hour for both priests. Of course I mention it on the weekend as a perfect preparation for Christmas or Easter.
In all my years as a priest, I have been humbled and inspired by so many penitents who are striving to love and follow God. They are aware of their own weaknesses but also of the love of God for them. So many are trying very sincerely to follow what God asks of them, some in very difficult circumstances.
While forgiveness may be difficult for us, it is easy for God. He sent His Son to die for us that we might have forgiveness in His name.
Confession gives us an opportunity to examine our life in relationship with God and how we live out this relationship with our brothers and sisters; with each other.
God is merciful and His mercy is unending.
It is appropriate that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy. It gives us an opportunity to be aware of God’s mercy and to practice it.
It is doubtful that many Catholics can recite from memory the corporal and Spiritual works of mercy.
Part of the Year of Mercy should be the practice of the Spiritual works of mercy: to convert sinners, to instruct the ignorant, to advise the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead. All of these deal with the Spiritual nature of things.
The corporal works of mercy deal with the physical works of mercy toward others which should be practiced as well. They are: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to care for the sick, to visit the imprisoned and to bury the dead.
Please try to live this year as a Year of Mercy as you practice the Spiritual and corporal works of mercy. May you also find and experience God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, at least at Christmas and Easter.
Let us join Pope Francis in his prayer for the Jubilee Year of Mercy: Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing so that the jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord, and Your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring the Good News to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed and restore sight to the blind.
God bless you and Happy Advent!
Dear readers at this point in my life I think it is time to start letting go of different projects. One of them is this column. I thank Father Wilson and Mr. Jolivet for their invitation to write for The Anchor for the past few years. They have always been most supportive and encouraging. I thank so many of you who have read my columns and took the time to mention it. Your thoughtfulness is much appreciated. Be assured of my prayers for you and perhaps I might make a guest appearance in some future edition of The Anchor.
Anchor columnist Msgr. Oliveira is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford and director of the diocesan Propagation of the Faith and Permanent Diaconate offices.