Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The center and foundation of the Gospel is the mercy of God born in Jesus Christ. It can take a minute to grasp this single theological insight. With the Nativity of the Son of God, the love of God enters the world in a concrete and personal way. With the revelation of the New Testament, there is no denying that the Father’s will is that Jesus’ mission in this world is to offer redemption to all people, free or slave, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile. No one can confine this "good news"; it reaches with authority across all prejudices, boundaries, nationalities and times. In essence, God is love, and Jesus comes to bear that merciful love to every man and woman.

This mission of Jesus was made known from the very first moments of the story of his coming. The angel proclaimed to Joseph: "You shall call him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Mt 1:21) From the very beginning, God’s messenger framed the Incarnation of the Son as having a clearly defined mission. The Word became flesh with the mission of freeing mankind from the bonds of sin and darkness.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus always reached out to the underdog and the fallen. In fact, it is notable that there was a real concern among the religious professionals of his day that he associated too closely with sinners. Recall the supper at Matthew’s house with tax collectors and sinners in attendance and the questioning that followed. Or the example of Mary Magdalene; having been forgiven for her sins, she becomes an icon of God’s mercy and is called to the vocation that comes from that experience of love.

This mission of mercy continues to this day through the grace and power of the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation. In the institution of the Eucharist, the Lord’s words of consecration transform the gifts of bread and wine into his Body and Blood with the single purpose of salvation: "This is my Body ... This is my Blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28).

In the sacrament of reconciliation, the faithful find a profound experience of turning to the mercy of Christ and finding that his love for us is greater than our transgression. It is here, in his merciful embrace, that we know the height, breadth and depth of his love. In this way, we truly know, in our own experience of turning from sin to God’s mercy, that we are loved uniquely as his beloved children.

This is the "good news" about sin: in allowing ourselves to admit our transgressions before the Lord and to faithfully seek his forgiveness in the sacraments, we learn what it is to be authentically loved by God. This personal experience of being loved by God is irreplaceable in the Christian life. This heartfelt knowledge lays the foundation for a life based on faith. Anyone who fails to admit his or her sin, for whatever reason, will remain outside this personal and life-changing experience of the love offered by Jesus.

The people – and it isn’t uncommon in our modern age – who find little or no need to confess their sins eventually will fall victim to the snares of their own justifications and self-deceptions. "I don’t need to go to confession because I’m generally a nice person," they say. "What have I done wrong compared to what goes wrong in today’s world?" "I bring my sins and failings to God myself; I don’t need to confess to a priest."

Authentic Christianity is only possible when the person needs Christ’s forgiveness and the new life Christ promises. It’s a tragic twist for the one who is unable to see his or her own sin, but has an easy time discovering and even celebrating the failings of others. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 Jn 1: 8-9)

We come closer to Christ by allowing ourselves to acknowledge our transgressions and, in turn, our dependence on the mercy of the Lord. There is a great renewal in the human heart when we discover the "good news" about sin. Reconciliation leads the faithful heart to an even deeper experience of Christ’s wonderfully unconditional love and redirects everything as a means to glorify God. God is so great that God loves me even in the darkness of my sins. This is the spiritual truth that Father Anthony de Mello, S.J., expresses in these words: "Repentance reaches fullness when you are brought to gratitude for your sins."

In Christ, the sinner is converted into a disciple who can proclaim: "I am loved! Even in my transgressions!"

Sin has been overcome by the authority of Christ’s love, and the believer enjoys the grace of a life restored. This is the consummation of the mission the Father entrusted to the Beloved Son, that all know the invitation to turn from sin and know the love of God.

Father Hinkley is the Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church and School and the Shrine of Saint Anne for Mothers, both in Waterbury.