Pray with the Pope: March 2021
General Intention: Let us pray that we may experience the sacrament of reconciliation with renewed depth, to taste the infinite mercy of God.
Taste God’s infinite mercy
Covid-19 has disrupted the celebration of all the sacraments, including that of reconciliation. Sacraments are celebrated in the context of a community, that is in the proximity of human presence, and the sacrament of reconciliation is no exception. We gather together as a community for the service of reconciliation and then we confess in the close intimacy of the confessional or reconciliation room.
It almost seems as though Covid-19 had been expressly designed to prevent all this. So in response, some imaginative clergy organised “drive-by” confessions in which the penitents kept social distance protocols by remaining in their cars, and both they and the priest wore masks — in some cases over their eyes as well as their mouths in order to preserve anonymity!
Some priests have absolved dying penitents over the phone or the internet, confident that under such circumstances, Ecclesia supplet, that is, the Church supplies or makes up what is lacking in the form of the sacrament.
One Italian bishop told Pope Francis of how he would stand in the entrance of the intensive care wards of the local hospital and give general absolution to the patients. He asked whether, since he had been criticised by some people for this, the Holy Father could give him any guidance. Pope Francis is said to have replied simply: “Bishop, do your pastoral duty!”
Deprived of sacraments
The painful irony of the situation was that the time of strict lockdown was a moment when many of us needed the graces of reconciliation and of the other sacraments more acutely than ever. We needed to be
connected precisely because we were physically isolated and spiritually alienated. So the decision of bishops to allow a form of the sacrament of reconciliation without individual confession as a response to the dangers of transmitting the virus through individual confession is to be heartily applauded.
This coronavirus pandemic time has been hard; the lockdown was hard; the economic fallout has been hard — brutal, in fact — for millions of people. There was something relentless about it and it’s not over yet. It is not surprising, therefore, that people are casting about for ways of making sense of it all.
One unfortunate approach to this is to say that this pandemic is God’s chastisement of us for our manifest sinfulness. It’s a view which obscures the vision of a God of infinite mercy, and therefore of our need to experience this through the sacraments. If there is a chastisement, it is coming from the natural world, thanks to our unreflective exploitation of creation which has resulted in this pandemic and the many other eco-catastrophes of our time.
But the Lord “knows of what we are made, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103). “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities, for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love for those who fear him.” This we know, and it is vital that we cling to it, else we risk falling into the sin of despair.
We are also quick to forget the reality of God’s mercy, and we need to remember it by experiencing it frequently. The usual (but not the only) way we do this in the Church is through the sacrament of reconciliation. Let us pray that the pandemic may lead us back to this great gift and to a deeper love and appreciation of it and of the Lord who reveals his infinitely merciful self to us through it.
This article appeared in the March issue 2021 of the Southern Cross magazine
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