Dear Friends in Christ,
Perhaps people of every age have struggled with the stern and somewhat harsh message of John the Baptist. Living and preaching in the wilderness, dressed in rough clothing woven from camel hair, and eating locusts and wild honey was pretty strange and outlandish even then! Most people would run a mile from John the Baptist and his message of repentance – or so you would think! Yet Matthew tells us that, on the contrary, people flocked to him to confess their sins and undergo a ritual cleansing in the Jordan.
What made the people behave in this way? Was the message of repentance, confession and reconciliation more attractive then than now? What was it about the Baptist that created this reaction? These questions encourage us to reflect on this most important aspect of the Christian life. Nowadays we seem to have moved away from sin, repentance, confession and conversion, perhaps judging this kind of emphasis to be no ‘on message’ any more. But, in doing so, we are making a great mistake because examination of our lives, confession and repentance are crucial to living the Christian life.
The season of Advent is a wonderful, God given opportunity to discover the gift of repentance and the grace of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When was your last confession? Some people go more regularly than others. The Church invites us to make a sacramental confession at least once a year, but many have not known the grace of this sacrament for a considerable number of years. To anyone in this situation God’s hand of mercy and compassion is extended. Because our confession of sin is mediated through the priest in the confessional it does require special grace and some courage to open up our lives in this way. It is important to understand, however, that we are not confessing to the priest: we are laying down our burden before God. If a priest has received faculties to hear confessions (and this is not automatically granted by the bishop) we hope and pray that ne has the necessary pastoral wisdom and maturity to facilitate this sacrament so that the penitent comes to know in a deeply personal way the mercy, forgiveness and compassion of God.