Advent Reconciliation Vespers by Abbot Stan

20th December 2017

Colossians 1: 9 – 14 Matthew 9: 2 – 8

What is it that separates Jesus from every other great leader, whether religious or secular? We might be able to answer this in several different ways, but I think the crucial difference is in what Jesus can do that no other leader can: he can forgive. Forgive to the core of our sin. Forgive so that the sin is truly blotted out, disappeared, gone forever. That is what led the crowd in today’s Gospel to be filled with awe and to glorify God “who had given such authority to human beings.”

Forgiveness. Forgiveness. Forgiveness. Jesus comes to bring us the forgiveness of God. That is the deepest core of his message. That is the deepest core of his action on us. Jesus forgives.

Isn’t that why we are here in this monastery, whether as full members of the monastic community or as guests or retreatants? To receive the gift of God. To receive the forgiveness of God.

But we have to remind ourselves of this over and over again. We forget it so easily. Our repeated sins, our poor self-image, the abuse we have suffered from others — all of these act to bring us down. To doubt whether there can be a renewed forgiveness. In our own day the Lord has raised up someone whose constant theme seems to be the reality of Jesus‘ forgiveness — with no strings attached. Our Holy Father Francis has proclaimed this throughout his priestly ministry. And since being elected Pope, he has continued to make it the cornerstone of his teaching.

I believe this comes from his own early and deep experience of God’s mercy through the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation. He was only 17 or 18 at the time and it was the feast of the apostle Matthew. Reflecting on this experience later in his life, he read about the call of Matthew and the commentary of Saint Bede on this call. Matthew’s experience rang true as a description of his own call. So, he took the key words of Bede for his own coat of arms as a bishop. Miserando atque eligendo. He, Jorge Bergoglio, was one on whom the Lord had shown mercy, and having shown mercy Jesus then called him to follow.

That is why I have chosen four texts of Pope Francis as the texts for our examination of conscience. They all focus on the mercy and forgiveness of God. They are meant to remind us of this great difference in the teaching of Jesus, the core he alone can bring to us and why he is our Savior and our all.

Each of us knows very well that forgiveness is not a one-way street. That to receive the forgiveness of God cannot stop with ourselves. That if we receive this gift of God we have to pass it on to others. In previous Vespers of Reconciliation, we have made this the focus of our reflections. Today, let us concentrate on Jesus’ forgiveness of each one of us. His willingness to offer that forgiveness over and over and over again.

God desires only the life of each one of us, that we live fully and from the deepest heart of our being. Let us pray for such life not just for ourselves but for each other as well. Then we can say a full-throated “Amen” to the Absolution I will pronounce in the name of God, in the name of Jesus, in the name of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the Church.