My wife Wendy teaches 1st grade CCD students and every year they do a lesson on forgiveness. The model she uses for the little kids is that of our late Pope, John Paul II, as he forgave his would be assassin. And it works! All of us surely remember as the Pope went to the jail where the his attacker was serving time. And the Pope went to his cell, talked with him, prayed with him and said the words of forgiveness. The would be assasin heard the words from the mouth of the Pope.
As a prison chaplain, I remember encountering a man in the infirmary who asked that I give him ashes as it was Ash Wednesday. As I said the words, turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel, he cried and explained to me that he needs to hear words of repentence and forgivness too.
We all long for words of forgiveness. It's in our D.N.A. We want to be forgiven for our misdeeds but we certainly want to hear the words.
As people of faith, are we longing to hear the same words from Jesus: you are forgiven? And do we truly believe the words of our responsorial psalm that in His great Love, God will answer me?
Tonight we hear the words from the Gospel that explains the role of the betrayer, Judas Iscariot. Jesus calls it out; one of you will betray me. Jesus knows who it is and Judas certainly knows too. Yet all the Apostles begin to publicly declare, surely not I. Was this a simple declaration or did they all have something to fear? Did they suspect Judas? Did they have any idea what was about to happen?
And what can we say for Judas? How can you do this. You have sat at the feet of the master, you have heard his words of love and mercy, you have witnessed the truth and witnessed the miracles. How can you betray Jesus? For 30 pieces of silver? For acceptance or vainglory? Did you forget all Jesus said and did?
How does this apply to us, particularly those gathered here tonight to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Do we say "surely not I" when we think of our relationship with Jesus. Is it possible we betray Him? What are our 30 pieces of silver? Could it be a lackluster prayer life, our inclination to sin, could it be not responding generously to the poor and marginalized, could it be bending our will to satisfy peer pressure for popularity sake over the will of the Father?
Yes, these and other things may be our 30 pieces of silver; our betrayal. Yet here we are tonight. We have come of our own free will to hear the words of mercy and forgiveness. We declare Lord we need your mercy, we are sorry for our sins. I may have forgotten you in my sinfulness but I do not despair; no, I beg for your mercy.
And why is it so important that we do this in the Sacrament? After all, can't I just talk to God? Yes we can do that. But we long to hear those words of forgiveness. And in our faith tradition that hearing comes from the mouth of the Priest, acting in persona Christi, I absolve you of your sins. And the words, Go, your sins are forgiven.
Make a sincere confession tonight, accept and do your penance. Turn your attention in the days ahead to the beautiful services of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter vigil or Easter Sunday. And make a comittment to live out Easter. Let Easter last in your heart for more than a day. Be an Easter people, make the Easter message a lifestyle.
The would be assasin heard the words of forgiveness from the Pope, the prisoner heard the words of the formula on Ash Wednesday. We rejoice in the forgiveness we can be assured of when we hear the words from the mouth of the Priest. And we thank God, for in His great love, he has heard us and he answers me.