(Picks up stone and walks around with it and then stands facing in one direction.)
(Then standing and looking back in the other direction, then down and begins writing on the ground.)
Caught! Have you ever been caught? You know, caught by your mom as a kid with your hand in the cookie jar after she has told you not to? Have you been caught making fun of and talking about someone and then you suddenly realize that they are on the other side of the cubicle, having heard every word you said? Have you been caught lying and there is no way out?
This woman was caught as it says in the Scriptures, in the very act of adultery. Proof positive. No denials. Except, where is the man?
When we get caught, I suspect that most of us want forgiveness and mercy, not condemnation and punishment.
Yet, for many, when we catch someone doing something wrong especially when it is against us, we want to condemn, pick up the stone and hurl it with all our might. Kids do this all the time on the playground; teens in the hallways in the cafeteria; coworkers at the copy machine; neighbors across the fence; spouses in the kitchen or the bedroom.
St. Augustine comments that at the end of the story, only two were left — the woman in Jesus, misery and mercy.
Humanity since its beginning has developed a particular expertise at creating misery. Misery. The woman must’ve known it in her life. Whether she was seeking affection or pleasure, or desperately selling her body for the sake of survival, her behavior would not bring her satisfaction. She was involved in a fruitless quest they would only lead to further misery. I suspect, that somehow deep down, she knew this.
At the end they were only two left misery and mercy. “Jesus said to her, ‘woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She replied, ‘No one, sir.” ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.’”
Over and over again in sacred Scripture we read that God desires mercy not empty sacrifice or fake, self-serving actions. God longs to lavish us with mercy and forgiveness when we sin and fail.
Jesus, who would save us from the fruitful emptiness of our sin, was mercy itself. Jesus gave to his Church the gift of mercy, the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Unfortunately, the sacrament is so misunderstood and misinterpreted. For so many it feels more like misery than mercy. So allow me to take some time to unpack the sacrament by walking you through it.
It begins before you ever get to church. It begins by a good and thorough examination of one’s conscience, of one’s actions and attitudes.
I invite you to take out your phones for a moment and go to our parish app. If you have not yet downloaded the app, simply go to your app store and search for Saint Michael parish and our logo will come up. It only takes 30 seconds to download.
Once you done that, you’ll see our homepage and our six elements of discipleship. The second element, “Worship” has a picture of Fr. Lou at the Westside Chapel. Touch “Worship” and on the next screen, the third line down is “Reconciliation.” Touch that and will show you times for the sacrament of reconciliation and also examination of conscience. If you touch that, it brings you to a brief examination of conscience based on the 10 Commandments.
This is one of many helpful ways to examine your life. As you do so, I suggest that you write down your sins. Be specific and to the point.
“An unexamined life,” wrote Socrates the great philosopher, “is not worth living.” We are meant for more than just superficial and inconsequential living.
Once you get to church, take a seat along the back wall or the new glass wall with those others who have come for confession. Usually Fr. Lou is in the St. John Vianney Chapel by the back wall and I in the St.Padre Pio Chapel.
When you come in, you have two choices: face-to-face or anonymously kneeling behind the screen.
When she sit down or kneel down, begin with these words, “Bless me father for I have sinned. My last confession was _____ however many weeks, months or years ago.”
The priest may say a few words of welcome and prayer or simply allow you to continue. Simply say something like, “These are my sins,” or “I asked God forgiveness for,” and then a simple, specific and direct way speak your sins.
This is a time of prayerful, humble acknowledgment and of opening of your heart to God’s forgiveness and mercy.
Please do not give a long explanation of why and most importantly, don’t tell other people’s sins, such as, “My husband makes me so angry. If only he would listen more, I can be more kind.”
Now, that might be true that he doesn’t listen, but that’s his sin not yours and you are there to confess your sin.
Once you have stated your sins you may wish to conclude with these words, “For these and for all the sins that I cannot remember, I ask for forgiveness.” Or you may say, “That’s all.”
The priest may offer a few words of insight or ask a simple question of clarification so as to offer a word of advice.
He will then give you a penance that is a prayer or action to do as a sign of God’s mercy and your willingness to amend your life.
Then you pray and act of contrition which is also on the parish app or on the card next to where you are sitting or on the kneeler in front of you.
The priest will then pray the prayer of absolution at the end of which you say, “Amen.”
After this, I almost always say, “Your sins are forgiven, go in peace. God bless you.” You might wish to respond, “Thanks be to God.” You may also offer a word of thanks to the priest as you leave.
Then go and pray the penance or do what the priest has asked you to do for your penance.
Reconciliation is a sacrament of mercy, forgiveness and healing. It is meant to free us from our burdens of sin and give us the grace, that is, the life of God to live differently. We all need this, every one of us. We are all sinners.
There are no stones in Jesus’ hands. Let us choose mercy, not misery.