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September 18, 1987     The Message
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A place for penance By Father Lawrence Mick NC News Service he was 17 and on her first retreat. Life at S home was sad, pretty she said. She and her sister were always fighting and she had been yelling at her mother a lot. Her relation- ship with her boyfriend also troubled her because they were both;having a hard time not "go- ing all the way." Her grades were dropping because she hadn't been studying and her friends had talked her into drinking to excess several times lately. "My life is a mess right now," she said, "and I want to change things somehow." *He was in his 30s and had come to the Lenten penance ser- vice. He had tried to live a good life, he said, and thought he was doing a good job. But recently, he h"":.Jegun to worry about a prac- tice common at his work. It was customary for workers to take home small tools and other items without permission. He had been doing it for years, he said, but lately he had begun to realize that it was really stealing, so he had decided to break the habit. *She was in her 60s, recently w4owed, and had come on a Saturday afternoon. Like most sur- viving spouses, she had lots of memories and lots of regrets. She prayed for forgiveness for the little ways she felt she had failed her spouse during their life together. But mostly, she said, she knew she had to put a big part of her life behind her now and learn how Samuel 12:13). Notice, not just against Bathsheba and Uriah but "against the Lord" -- that sense of breaching a covenant. Of course, breaching a direct relationship with God is not the only dimension of sin. Because most sins are committed directly against other people, reconciliation must be brought about on that le*l too. Jesus pointedly reminded his hearers of this: "If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first to be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:23-24). (Father Castelot is a professor of Scripture at St. John's Seminary, Plymouth, Mich.) to serve God in a new way. What that new way would look like was not at all clear yet, but she knew God was asking new things of her. These three people found a place for the sacrament of penance in their lives. As different as their various situations were, they all found that this sacrament could help them to grow spiritually. There are several things that these three people had in common that can help others understand the role of penance in the lives of Christians. The three all recognized the need for a change in their lives. They all felt that God was asking something new of them. All recognized that they were respon- sible somehow for past behavior for which they desired forgiveness. They all wanted to do better in the future at following the call of the Lord. There is one word that describes all of this: "conversion." Conver- sion is not just an experience for those who are joining the church; it is basic to the whole Christian life. Each of us is called to a con- tinuing life of conversion, to an ongoing process of turning away from sin and giving our lives more completely to God. Penance is the sacrament which celebrates that continuing conver- sion. In this sacrament, we rejoice in the mercy of God that makes conversion possible and we com- mit ourselves to continue along the journey of conversion. Sometimes people come to the sacrament with only a vague sense that things are not right and they need a change. Then in the ex- perience of the sacrament, they come to see more clearly what must change and what God is asking. Sometimes I find that people become aware of what must change, but are not sure they want to make the commitment. In the experience of the sacrament, they find their resolve strengthened and go forth ready to make a real change in their lives. At still other times, people come with the decision already made; then the experience of the sacra- ment is a reaffirmation of that commitment and a celebration of the mercy of God at work. No matter where any of us are in the process of conversion, the sacrament of penance offers a golden opportunity to further the process and to celebrate the love and patience of the God who calls us to change and waits patiently for our response. (Father Mick is pastor of St. Patrick's Parish in Glynnwood, Ohio.) FOOD FOR THOUGHT Neil Parent finds that the forgiveness encountered in the sacrament of reconciliation reaches into the lives of individuals, challenging them to become forgivers themselves. There is an ordinary ministry of recon- ciliation that needs to be practiced regularly in homes, workplaces and in the world at large, he suggests. *What is your idea of a forgiving person? *Do you tend to think.of a forgiving person as weak or strong? *What makes forgiveness difficult to express in ordinary life? *Is it difficult to ask forgiveness from others? *Why is it important for followers of Christ to foster reconciliation and forgiveness? Have you ever wanted to go to the sacrament of reconciliation, but hesitated because it has been a long time since you last went? After reading Katharine Bird's article, do you think it would be difficult to return to this sacrament after a long absence? Second Helpings. In Reconcilition: Scrament With  Future, Ser- vite Sister Sandra DeGidio says this sacrament "celebrates the reality that human beings can grow, change, heal and be healed, forgive and be forgiven, renew themselves and their world, become more whole and blossom into greater beauty." And the sacrament "is not an isolated event in the individual lives of Christians," she says. Instead, it is part of one's participation in the total life of the penitent church. The sacrament, she writes, "has the power, if we accept it, to fashion us into a new people who share with Christ a common history, a common journey and a common freedom to move for- ward into a new way of life." (St. Anthony Messenger, 1615 Republic St., Cincinnati, Ohio 45210. 1985. Paperback, $4.95.) A town so poor, the Peace Corps uses it for "practice" Peace Corps volunteers train in San Lis, Colorado, then go on to assign- ments in the Third World. It's a good place to see poverty. Nobody knows this better than Father Patrick Valdez, pastor to the 800 residents of San Luis. With financial assistance from the Extension Society, he helps provide for the spiritual and economic needs of this country's poorest of the poor. But he needs your help. With an Extension Charitable Gift Annuity you participate in the work of missionaries like Father Valdez and ensure a guaranteed income for the rest of your life. Besides an initial charitable con- tribution deduction, a portion of your annual income is tax free. And the older you are, the higher the rate. Please return the coupon today for details. Help Father Valdez continue to bring the message of Jesus Christ to the hidden poor in our country. ( The Oatholio Church  0931 EXTENSION sociew 35 East Wacker Drive. Chicago, Illinois O801 I-'1 Please send me a FREE Extension Annuity Kit with no obligtion, [] Send me information on how Extension is spreading the Faith across America. Rev./Sr./Br. Mr./Mrs./Miss/Ms. Birth__/__/__ Address City .State Zip This information will be kept strictly confidential. 31 i ii i