Hey there! Grab a cuppa something, and find a comfy spot. The title of today’s blog comes from the old Joan Rivers saying. She used to get all hyper and obnoxious and then just say, ‘Can we talk?’ It was always humorous the way she did it. I’m not going to get hyper and obnoxious, at least I hope not. But let’s start some conversation.
Lent started on February 18 this year. If you aren’t part of a Christian tradition that uses the Church Year, you may not be familiar with Lent. You may have heard lots of stuff. You may think it’s all about giving up candy or booze; or getting ashes on your forehead or having to pray a lot more.
Actually, Lent is a great time to re-start, or to begin, a conversation with the Lord. The Church focuses on Lent as a season of repentance. We have 40 days to take an honest look at our lives and ask Him to help us clean them up a bit. That way we can celebrate His resurrection freely – no guilt, no hesitation, no distance between us and God. It’s actually a wonderful thing!
Lent is referred to as a “Penitential Season”. That phrase often evokes lots of negative connotations. But let’s look a little deeper. Can we talk? If we’re honest, we know we mess up. We’re human. Romans 3:22b-23 says: “For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” We’ve ALL sinned – from the worst criminal to the holiest man of God, we’ve all sinned and damaged our relationship with Him.
Now, when we ‘mess up’, there are consequences, spiritual and otherwise. Often, there is more to the story. We’ve hurt someone’s feelings; we’ve damaged property; we’ve possibly taken a life or maybe we created a new one! The point is, those things – called ‘temporal consequences’ – don’t evaporate just because God forgives the sin. If I drive through a fence, it doesn’t somehow fix itself when I repent. Penance is simply doing what we can to repair the damage we caused, it’s not some church-invented punishment. It may be as simple as prayer; it may be going to apologize to someone; it may be living with the consequence with a good attitude going forward- which may mean years or even forever in the case of having a new child to raise.
Sometimes we can’t see the extent of the consequence, or know how to remedy it. Fixing the problem can also be called ‘reparation’ – repairing the damage as best we can. We need someone outside to look at the situation and guide us through the steps to repair the damage. That’s where the Catholic/Orthodox traditional Sacrament of Confession, Penance, or Reconciliation comes into play. It’s called “Reconciliation” because we are reconciled to God, to ourselves, and to others we have hurt. That would include the Church body, if only by damaging the “Christian” reputation. Can we talk? How often do we give non-believers reasons to make fun of the Church and Christians in general by our own bad behavior? Ouch. Guilty.
Growing up, I heard all the Catholic jokes – you’ve heard them too, I bet – “3 Our Fathers and 3 Hail Marys”. “I go to Saturday Mass so I can party all night.” Or the variation, “I’ll go to Confession and confess it before I do it!” There are folks in every Christian tradition who abuse God’s grace and think they’re somehow ‘getting away with it’.
Jesus was pretty specific about how to go about cleaning things up. The Apostles didn’t change it; the early Church didn’t ‘invent’ the remedy. We need to confess the sin, and do what we can to repair the damage. We also need to know that God forgives us. James 5:16 says to confess our faults to one another. Sirach 4:26 says not to be ashamed to confess our sins. The point is that we need to get it out in the open so we can deal with it. I’m not telling all my Protestant friends to go find a priest for confession. I am telling my Catholic friends not to miss that Sacrament of grace.
What I am saying to every one of us is this. Jesus is waiting to forgive us and re-set our relationship with Himself, whether it’s the first time or the 10,416th time. It’s a great help if we have a spiritual authority to walk with us through that re-start. Verbal confession helps us own it and then act to repair it. Hearing a priest give the Absolution or having a pastor pray forgiveness is like a marker that it’s done and over with, move on. It keeps us from getting ‘stuck’.
Are you ready for Easter? Jesus is waiting, gently asking, “Can we talk?”