Dear Friends in Christ,
Ecclesia semper reformanda. The Church is always in need of being reformed because Christians are always in need of being reformed. The Church is also always holy because the Holy Spirit dwells within her and gives her life as the soul does in the body. This dual dimension of the Church’s life — always holy and always in need of being reformed — is part of the drama of the Christian faith in every age, and Lent is a privileged time to explore the ways in which personal reformation is needed.
On Ash Wednesday we heard the Word of the Lord from the Prophet Joel: “Return to me with your whole heart … rend your hearts not your garments.” We need to return to God with our whole heart because our hearts are divided, and all of us have experienced the struggle between the desire to do what is right and the desire to do what we want. That interior division and struggle between the man I am and the man I should be is at the heart of all Christian conversion and discipleship, and there is zero possibility of being a disciple of Jesus Christ without a life-changing commitment to continuing conversion from sin and selfishness. But to be open to such ongoing conversion requires that we accept the truth of the Gospel and surrender to that truth in the obedience of faith, and that is why the Lord Jesus insists that being authentic disciples demands our acceptance of his saving doctrine. “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Our conversion from sin begins at Baptism, but it must continue all the days of our lives. Four of the seven sacraments confer the forgiveness of sins, and they are: Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, the Anointing of the Sick, and Penance — commonly called Confession. After Baptism, the only ordinary way in which grave sins are forgiven is by receiving the Sacrament of Penance, by going to Confession. Catholics are bound (remember the power of binding and loosing, given by the Lord Jesus to his Apostles?) to go to Confession at least once each year as part of their Easter duty, and any Catholic who has not been to Confession in at least a year is no longer in full communion with Christ and his Church. Please use these 40 Days of preparation for Easter to go to Confession, and to make that easier, I will be in church in my confessional from 5 to 6 pm on four Thursdays of Lent: 13, 20, and 27 March and 3 April. If you regularly go to Confession on Wednesdays or Saturdays, please DO NOT come on these four Thursdays. These four nights are set aside especially for those who have not been to confession in more than a year, and I invite those who have been away from the Sacrament of Penance to heed the Word of God: “Return to me with your whole heart.” If you are coming on one of those four Thursdays, an essential preparation for making a good Confession is an examination of conscience. If you search the Internet for “Catholic Examination of Conscience,” you’ll find several entries, including one for the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops), and that will help you prepare “to rend your hearts, not your garments.”