Not long ago I was in Chicago for the funeral of a friend. On the morning before leaving to come back to Battle Creek I decided to visit the beautiful church I could see from the window of my hotel room. After a few minutes of walking I found the church, its name was St. Michael and miracle of miracles the door was open. So I went in. Inside there were all these kids lined up to go to confession. They were second graders and it was their first reconciliation. So I asked one of the adults if I could line up too. They said sure, and so I took my place at the end of the line, not at all awkward. I was the only one there without a cheat sheet with all the steps of confession and the act of contrition. There to heal and be forgiven it was a beautiful gift, to hear our Lord say those words, “Your sins are forgiven, go in peace.” To hear our Lord say, through the priest, those words, “Your sins are forgiven, go in peace.”
St. Michael’s is a beautiful church. It’s in the Old Town section of Chicago. There were statues and murals everywhere. Now at the very front of the church way above the tabernacle, at the very top of the reredos there was a statue of St. Michael bathed in a heavenly blue light and beneath him, vanquished, was Satan covered in an eerie red light. A little much, maybe, but it got the point across, the powers of Heaven are mightier, much mightier than the powers of Hell. And those powers of Heaven can be experienced in the confessional.
I go to confession because I commit sin and our Lord knows every single one of those sins. But, yet, he calls me by my name. The tempter, the devil, he knows my name too, yet he calls me by my sin. Pope St. John Paul II once wrote, “You are not your sin; you are not the sum of your weaknesses and failures, you are the sum of the Father’s love for you.” Theologians will say that God the Father displays his power and love by forgiving sins. God the Father created the universe out of nothing and he creates saints out of sinners. Both are miracles, but the greater miracle is the saint. Creation will someday cease to be, but a saint, will live forever, a work of eternal significance, carrying a greater weight of glory than the creation of the entire universe. That’s how much you are loved by God. Let Him turn you into a Saint!
As you know we are in the season of Lent. And Lent has only one goal. Only one. Now, how we choose to arrive at that goal is going to be different for each of us. But this wondrous season of grace is given to us to help us all grow in conformity to Jesus. That’s the goal to grow in conformity to Jesus. To be like Him, to be more and more his disciple and to become a true disciple is to become a saint. What does this mean? How does a disciple look and act? I’m glad you asked.
As we see in the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus lives a life of radical love for and obedience to His Father. He loves the Father with all He has and is. This love is seen in the many passages where Jesus goes into the Temple or the synagogues to pray or in the passages where he spends all night in conversation with His Father.
But this love for the Father also shows itself in Jesus’ pouring out of His life for man and woman created in the image and likeness of God. Jesus’ life on earth, then, is spent both being poured out in prayer and being poured out for others in service, reaching in the total gift of Himself upon the cross at the end of this season, in a week known as Passion Week. A week that powerfully reveals both Jesus’ passionate love for the Father and His passionate love for all of us.
So, by looking at Jesus we grow in our own understanding of what it means to be a disciple. To be disciples of Jesus means to be both men and women of intense prayer (not superficial prayer, but encounters of the heart with our Lord who delights for us to know Him) and to be men and women who, in the course of our daily lives, in whatever vocation or state of life we find ourselves, pour out our lives for each other. In living this way we keep that Great commandment: to love the lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as our self.
Lent is given to us to help us reach that ultimate goal, disciple of Jesus, where we enjoy communion with both God and with one another. Or maybe we could simplify that to say that God has made us for friendship: friendship both with Him and friendship with one another. The two of these combined, fulfill and satisfy the human heart. And Lent is simply a time set aside to deepen these friendships. And everything that we have chosen to do for Lent should be aimed for this goal.
On this first Sunday of Lent, we can ask ourselves what can and should we do, so that at Easter we will have grown both in our friendship and communion with God and our friendship and communion with one another.
Creation will someday cease to be, but a Saint, will live forever, a work of eternal significance, carrying a greater weight of glory than the creation of the entire universe. That’s how much you are loved by God. Let Him turn you into a Saint!
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley