Walking in the Footsteps of Christ – Day 21
Friday after 3rd Sunday of Lent
A Lenten Journey with the Rule of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis
These Reflections which take the Rule of the Third Order as their springboard, were originally published in Lent 2012 are being republished during Easter 2020 as a way of deepening our faith during the Covid19 pandemic which is affecting the whole world
From the Principles:
The First Way of Service – Prayer (continued)
Lastly, we are encouraged to avail ourselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation, through which the burden of past sin and failure is lifted and peace and hope restored.
From St Francis:
Persistence in Prayer
St Francis used to say: ‘If you, O servant of God, are upset, for any reason whatever, you should immediately rise up to prayer, and you should remain in the presence of the Most High Father for as long as it takes for him to restore to you the joy of you salvation.’ (Celano, Second Life, 125)
With this short saying is summed up the traditional Anglican approach to the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession). A useful rule of thumb for those belonging to a church tradition which values the practice of auricular confession yet has no set discipline concerning its practice.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation has, for me, been most useful when I do not have to use it. There have been times along the journey – before confirmation, when ‘caught’ in the wrong at boarding school, on retreat whilst at seminary – when I have been told to go to confession but these have not been places of restoration. When I have to go to confession then it feels like standing in front of God the frowning Headteacher waiting to give me ‘six of the best’. I have not found much peace and hope there!
On the other hand when I have become aware of the distance I have placed between myself, God, and my fellow human beings, and felt drawn to make my confession with no pushing from anyone other than God’s gracious Holy Spirit then things are very different. The first time this occurred, though not the first time I made my confession, was at St Barnabas Church Kloof Nek on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town. In that moment I knew what it meant to be personally forgiven and I literally floated out of the church.
For me the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a place of healing. It is here that I see most clearly the priestly work of the ‘Cure of Souls’. Sometimes I have been asked by a penitent to anoint them with oil as the occasion has brought them to a place of healing. Used at God’s timing, rather than human insistence, confession can be an occasion of wholeness and joy!
I recognise that this is not everyone’s experience. After all is not our motto, all may, some should, none must? For some the General Confession in public worship is a sufficient place for penitence and penance. Some will need fixed times of the year to ‘get serious’ with God. Others need a more forensic examination of their journey.
There are other ways to ‘fess up as well. I have spent a whole morning in conversation with a colleague over joint wanderings from the pathway. I remember, with unmixed joy, a communion service on a retreat where it took two hours to ‘say’ the General Confession with each participant publicly sharing faults and failings. Who has not had a caring conversation with another that is about ‘telling’ one another their sins? There are many roads by which we prodigals journey back home.
The Collect for Purity, which begins many a church service, reminds us that nothing is hidden from the sight of our loving Lord. So when we ‘tell’ our sins to another God already knows of them.
If that is the case two questions persist.
How do we think we can hide our sin from God’s loving gaze?
And, If God already knows of our sin what is there to gain from reminding God of our failings?
The phrase, we are encouraged to avail ourselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation, through which the burden of past sin and failure is lifted and peace and hope restored perhaps says it all.
Ultimately we will learn that personal confession is not about me but about the whole church.
I know God knows me even better than I know myself. Confession is the time when I own up to being me, and, when I can look myself with clear conscience in the mirror then I can perhaps see a little bit more of the person God loves. And in knowing I am loved become more able to love the others whom God loves just as deeply.
I need to go to confession to find out who I really am – a forgiven restored and beloved child of God. If I do not make my confession I take my sin into every other relationship I have and display my gloom instead of reflecting God’s glory.
I need to go to confession for without it I cannot live or tell the Gospel!
My sins, Lord, are dulling my conscience.
I get used to evil very quickly:
A little self-indulgence here,
A small unfaithfulness there,
An unwise action farther on,
And my vision becomes obscured;
I no longer see stumbling-blocks,
I no longer see other people on my road.
Lord, I beseech you, keep me young in my efforts,
Spare me the bondage of habit, which lulls to sleep and kills.
Is there anything about which I need to go to confession?
What plans will I make to do this?
99 Words to Breathe:
‘A universe simple enough to be understood is too simple to produce a mind capable of understanding it.’ (John D. Barrow, physicist)
If we learned that a butterfly was getting ulcers worrying about the universe, we would attempt to console her by explaining how limited her knowledge was. But aren’t we in the same boat? 150 years ago we did not know about the existence of atoms, or of distant galaxies. Think of what remains to be discovered. And yet we wonder, and worry. Wonder and worry are as gloriously characteristic of us as the markings of a butterfly’s wings.
Walter Murch – film editor and sound designer
‘The Principles’ are from the Rule of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis – this version amended for corporate reading by Andrew Dotchin
‘The Words of Francis’ are from ‘Through the Year with Francis of Assisi’ selected and translated by Murray Bodo – copyright © Collins Fount 1988
Prayers are from ‘The Book of a Thousand Prayers’ compiled by Angela Ashwin – copyright © Zondervan 1996
‘You have breath for no more than 99 Words. What would they be?’ were collected by Liz Gray – copyright © DLT 2011
These Reflections, ‘Walking in the Footsteps of Christ’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged