Dear Good People of Saint Mary,
Everything we do in the spiritual life orients us both toward God and toward one another as Church; it would never be a turning inward, or a self-centered act. All God’s many gifts are given to us as individuals to form us together as Christ (“conform” us into the person of Christ, members of his Body), which would have as the goal always to turn toward others in service (“…not to be served, but to serve“). Made in God’s image, his self-emptying love is seen in our actions of self-emptying love.
At first glance I think everyone would agree with this statement. But sometimes it isn’t, actually, the reality of our actions. And Lent is a good time for us to consider the way that God calls us together.
Take, for example, the way so many people say they don’t really need to confess sins to a priest: “I just go directly to God.” Many people can convince themselves that sin is only a personal issue and avoid sacramental reconciliation for years. But the Church has always taught that our sins have two dimensions, the vertical one where we sin against God, and the corresponding horizontal dimension where every sin we commit also impacts every other person to whom we are united, not only by our humanity, but especially in the Body of Christ. The process of reconciliation requires absolution that originates from both dimensions. Both must be healed.
For that reason, throughout the early centuries of the Church, confession of sins was always made publicly. You would, literally, stand before the entire assembly and confess. I wonder how that would go over today. Would we desire reconciliation that much that we had to admit our faults openly? It is a practice that can still be found in some religious orders today.
Thankfully, today the Church allows reconciliation to take place in absolute confidentiality, but the confession must be made out loud, still, and the absolution comes from God and the Church, through the instrumentality of the sacrament of Holy Orders, or priesthood. Aren’t you glad this changed?
But we can’t forget that the act of confession is not just a private act of forgiveness between you and Jesus, despite the fact that it is done privately. Every time, you can be certain of reconciliation to God and to the Communion of Saints.
Communion, like reconciliation, takes place on both dimensions. It can be a blind spot for me that I might focus only on the Communion that takes place between me and God, and I can ignore all those other people who surround me at that moment in church. I could actually find myself wishing that they were not there at all! How
noisy and unpleasant they can be, right?
How contrary this is to the reality of Communion! God has not called all of us into an infinite number of exclusive relationships so that we can ignore one another. Our Communion is with God in that vertical sense, certainly, but the entire action of Communion is that we are called together into a new reality: diverse members of one Body who is Christ for the world. That is one of the reasons we sing: like it or not, we are called to act together in the prayer of Jesus (one voice) and the mission of Jesus in the Church (one heart). It isn’t the time for self-focus.
One of the ideas called forth from the Second Vatican Council was to restore a theology of the active participation of the lay faithful in the mystery of salvation and how the Mass constitutes that work. It is about receiving, of course, and bringing ourselves to God, present to him as he is present to us. But receiving is the means to an end that is the consecration of the world: we receive in order to become : Christ made present to the world, Christ who will become all in all, not through me, but through us. Literally incorporated in baptism, we live the new life of the triune God.
God bless you.
Wednesday Noon Lenten Ecumenical Prayer Services
Micah Churches gather for prayer and almsgiving to the homeless. Light lunch receptions follow.
March 9 Rev. Aaron Dobynes (Shiloh Old Site Baptist) preaches at the Presbyterian Church.
March 16 Rev. Allen Fisher (Presbyterian Church) preaches at Fredericksburg Methodist Church.