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In God is a Renewing Courage

Second Sunday of Advent Reflection By Fr. Ron

There was a young woman in her twenties who came to a priest for confession. She spoke about her difficult relationship with her mother. She told the priest about their problems in communicating. She also said that she does respect her mother’s wishes. But she said that she really felt bad about having hurt her mother and wanted to be forgiven.

The priest questioned her about what she would be willing do to change this situation. She looked surprised at the question. So, the priest asked her if she really wanted the situation to be different. She quickly responded in the affirmative. The priest then asked her if she thinks she has some responsibility for the poor communication. Again, she said “yes.” So again, the priest asked, “what are you ready change in your relationship with your Mom?” After thinking some more and discussing some more, she finally was able to identify things in her behavior, her attitude, her pattern of communicating with her Mom that she would make an effort to change.

For her penance, the priest asked her to pray for her mother and to take a first step in making an effort to improve the communication between them. She said that she was hopeful and confident that she could do some things to improve the situation.

Our celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation implies an effort to change. It is more than confessing our sins. It includes a resolution to make an effort to avoid those sins in the future. It involves identifying concrete steps that we will take to change.

As a further illustration, there was a man came to confession at a church other than his own parish because he was ashamed of his sin. He confessed that he was having an affair with a woman. He himself was also married.

The priest asked him if he was sorry, and he said that he was. The priest encouraged him to be faithful to his wife and asked him to pray for God’s help as his penance. A couple weeks later, the same man came to confession and repeated the same story about an affair with a woman. The priest recognized him and asked him if he had made an effort to avoid this sin. He told the priest that he only sees the woman on Fridays. But then comes to confession on Saturday so he can receive Holy Communion on Sunday.

The priest told him that he had to break off the relationship with the woman if he wanted to receive absolution. He told the priest that he loved her and did not want to end the relationship. The priest went on to ask the man why he confesses it. The man’s reply was, “because it is a sin.” When the priest told him that he needs to have a desire to change his ways if he wants God’s forgiveness, the man looked bewildered. He didn’t seem to understand.

In today’s gospel John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was a messenger sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus. He comes announcing the need to change our ways.

It is the same message we hear in today’s second reading from the Second Letter of Peter. There we hear about God’s patience with our faults and our sins

God is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

The Word of the Lord challenges us to find where we need to make changes in our lives. We can pray to God for the courage to make the changes we recognize. But then we need to make the next step. We have to put the changes into practice.

Of course, we will never be perfect. We may find ourselves confessing the same sins over and over again. But each time God will forgive us, as long as we have a firm desire to overcome our faults. What matters to God most is our commitment to trying to overcome our sins. That’s what was lacking in the man who confessed having an affair. He had no desire to change.

Each time we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we receive a chance to begin again. God is always willing to give us a fresh start. Not only that, but God will give us the grace (the help) we need to make the needed changes. It is not simply our own efforts, but God’s grace as well

The season of Advent focuses our preparation for Christmas. Every year John the Baptist appears again urging us to change. Let us discover those areas which we need to address in our lives. This year let us make the changes we recognize. Let us at least make the effort.

Even if it is not possible to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the midst of this pandemic, God’s forgiveness and mercy is available to us. Acknowledging our sins and asking for forgiveness is the first step. Taking God’s grace and trying to make a change is the important follow-up. In doing so we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord.

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