The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Simon Son of John, Do you Love Me?

Those of you who've read my blog for some time might recognize the following; however, as we enter the season of Lent, I wanted to share again this reflection that I do for our RCIA class each year on the sacrament of reconciliation. Please feel free to use this concept at your parish. The presentation begins with a beautiful song sung by Donna Cori Gibson:

Hail most merciful heart of Jesus.
Hail living fountain of our grace.
Our sole shelter…our only refuge
The light of hope issued for our way.

Hail open wound of your sacred heart,
From which the rays of mercy come.
From which was given us to draw life.
With the vessel of trust alone.

Hail throne of mercy, Lamb of God.
Who gave your life sacrificed for me.
Before whom my soul is humbled daily.
Living in faith profound with Thee.


“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

If you want to come to understand the concept of reconciliation, there is perhaps no better chapter of the bible than John 21. Close your eyes and imagine, if you will, that you are Peter, also known as Simon son of John. You are the rock that Christ promised to build his church upon before he was crucified. You were with him from the beginning. You were with him at the last supper. You witnessed the miracles. You saw him transfigured, and you saw him sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane about twelve hours before he died. You tried to defend him there, but true to his character, he showed you that violence was not the way.

You, Peter, are a faithful follower. A friend. A believer. You urgently professed your willingness to die for Christ, and you remember the look of sadness in Christ’s eyes as he told you that even you would abandon him in his hour of need. You would deny him three times.

“Never!” you must have thought.

But you are only a mortal man. And when the chips were down…when Christ was arrested…and you were separated from our Lord…and the people pointed their fingers at you and said “He was one of his followers”…you passionately denied your friend. You denied your Lord. Three times…just as he had said. You ran away.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

When we sin we are kind of like Peter. Sin is the way we say with our actions, “I don’t know Christ.” It’s a lie because we certainly do know our Lord, but sometimes it’s easier to pretend we don’t. Sometimes we fear what others might think of us if we don’t go along with them. Sometimes we don’t understand why God wants us to behave a certain way so we put His way to the side and do our own thing. Sometimes we’re just a little lazy and find it easier to ignore Christ in certain situations. Sometimes our human passions overwhelm us and we act…before we consider. Sometimes, a bit like a child, and probably most comically to our Lord, we come up with imaginative rationalizations as to why in this particular circumstance God’s law doesn’t apply to me…though deep down in our conscience we know it does.

St. Faustina was a nun in Poland around the time of World War II who received very special private revelations of Christ in which Our Lord described to her the unfathomable depths of His mercy. Though she had very little formal education, she kept a detailed diary of her visions of Christ. The Church found her visions to be so credible that it dedicated the first Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. In one passage of her diary she wrote that in one of her visions, Jesus told her that it wounds His heart more that people don’t ask for His forgiveness and mercy than the actual sins they commit. In the sacrament of reconciliation there is redemption…there is hope renewed…there is a reunion with a long lost friend.

A couple of years ago, I was on a retreat at our Lady of Peace here in Beaverton. Father Brian Malady of EWTN fame was leading it, and during one part of the retreat he set aside time to hear confessions. For a long time I had carried around with me a very grave sin that I had committed before I came back to the faith. While I should have confessed it long ago, I was too embarrassed, too afraid, or I simply didn’t want to relive the action I took that was so contrary to what God wanted me to do.

As I waited in line, I agonized over whether I would have the courage to confess this sin. Even though I had never received a punitive penance in previous confessions, I assumed that this would be the one where I got nailed. I stood in line…nervous…practicing the act of contrition prayer in my mind so I wouldn’t forget it. The line was getting shorter and shorter and I new my moment of truth was fast approaching. I looked for clues as to what kind of confessor Father Malady was in the faces of others as they emerged from the reconciliation room. Everyone was coming out with a smile on his face. One guy even gave the line a wink and thumbs up. I should have taken comfort in that, but I knew the gravity of the sin I was about to confess.

Finally it was my turn.

I walked into the reconciliation room, and sat down face to face with Father Malady. He gave me the standard blessing and asked that I make a good confession. I stared at the floor in front of me as I recounted the series of events that led to my grave and sinful action. I talked around the act trying to find the best way to say what I had done. Tears were welling up in my eyes as I got closer and closer to saying what I did. Suddenly I felt Father’s hand on my shoulder as he said in a peaceful voice “Tell me what you did.”

“Simon, son of John do you Love me?”

I confessed my sin. A sense of relief came over me. Finally, it was out. I had said it. I continued to stare at the floor, not quite ready to make eye contact with Father. I waited for whatever just punishment was to come next.


Then more silence.

I slowly looked up and in the eyes of Father Malady I saw Christ. There were tears in his eyes…tears of joy. He smiled and simply said “Thank you for confessing to me.”

We talked a little about my faith journey and then he playfully punched me in the shoulder as guys do and said “Leave this sin with me. You don’t need to carry this anymore.”

Next he gave me my penance. As this was a serious matter, I was prescribed to pray one decade of any of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. As I pray the rosary nearly every day, that was far from punitive. I went back to my room, fell on to my bed and had a good cry, mostly as a stress reliever. Then I took out my Rosary, and prayed not just one decade, but all three mysteries. I prayed in thanksgiving for our having such a loving and merciful Lord. While I regret the terrible thing that I did…it no longer burdens my heart.

“Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”

That was Peter’s response when Christ asked him three times, “do you love me?” It was as if Christ was giving Peter the opportunity to atone for the three times he had denied him. We all have the opportunity to answer our Lord’s simple question to Peter in the affirmative each and every time we take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Tonight, we’re going to do an exercise that will help prepare you for this beautiful and healing sacrament. On your table are slips of paper and some scotch tape. For the next ten to fifteen minutes, reflect back on your life on a time when you, like Peter, and like every other human being, denied Christ. If you were to stand before our Lord, today, and wanted to ask His pardon for just one thing that you have done…what would that be? Once you’ve reflected on that, write on the slip of paper what you did…then fold the paper in half and seal it with the tape. No one gets to see this. It’s between you and God.

At the front of the class we have here a crucifix and at his feet you see this large copper cauldron. At the Easter Vigil, we will build a fire in this cauldron and Father Pat will bless the fire; then light the Easter Candle which will symbolize the light of Christ. One by one, come up to the crucifix, say a silent prayer, and drop your slip of paper into the cauldron. When everyone has placed their paper into the cauldron, we’ll process out to the courtyard, and we’re going to burn this paper to symbolize our giving of our sins to Christ and our willingness to release these sins from our hearts.

I ask that while we are doing this that you refrain from talking or moving around. This is intended to be a very reflective time. When we process out to the courtyard, let us go in silence and form a circle around the cauldron.

(We play some reflective music while folks write down their sins. After about 10 minutes, one of the team members will be the first to drop his or her paper into the cauldron, just to get things started. Once everyone has finished, we quietly process to the courtyard where the stand for the cauldron will already be set up. We’ll place cauldron on the stand, set the paper on fire, and while it burns I recite the prayer below)

Let us pray. Oh merciful father, the fire we light tonight symbolizes our desire to release all of the sins that burden our hearts. We thank you and we praise you for giving us your only son who through his passion, death, and resurrection has purchased for us the reward of eternal life. Give us the courage this Lenten season and for the rest of our lives to be able to confess our failings to you in the sacrament of reconciliation. Pour fourth your grace into our souls that we may trust in your Divine Mercy, and continue throughout our lives to bring all of those things that burden our hearts to the cross. We ask this in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.



I wish all of my readers a very spiritual and prayerful Lent. Don't forget to go to mass, tomorrow as it is a Holy Day of Opportunity (Obligation.) Remember to fast.


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