RITE OF RECONCILIATION
HOMILY OF CARD. JAMES FRANCIS STAFFORD
Altar of the "Confessio" in St Peter's Basilica
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ, Today, the Church exhorts us to carry out two actions prior to confession.
But it is indisputable that today many find forgiveness difficult.
Several years ago, I encountered some young Americans who did not believe in the possibility of forgiveness. They said: "It is impossible to forgive what has happened in the past. How can prior events be undone? No one can compete with the stubborn resistance of the past".
They further insisted that certain human acts are so evil, such as violence against children or mass killings of the innocent, that they cannot be forgotten, and, if remembered, they cannot be forgiven.
Moreover, they claimed that one question was humanly unanswerable: "Who is to forgive? Certainly not the numberless victims. Because of the contagion of evil, the victims of one sin are so numerous that it is impossible to single out all the victims. It likewise seems impossible to individualize a power, divine or human, capable of offering complete forgiveness".
Holy Week alone answers their objections to the possibility of forgiveness. God Incarnate has become our sovereign Victim and eternal Priest.
In today's Gospel, Jesus affirmed: "For the Son of Man... came... to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10: 45). In the Crucified Son of Man the Heavenly Father revealed the mystery of his love. Only Jesus was sent as victim to take upon himself the wrathful judgment on all human sin, past, present and future.
United with the 24 elders in the heavenly sanctuary we sing a new song to the redemptive Lamb: "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seal, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (Rv 5: 9).
Jesus' death revives the past. Young and old alike recognize in Christ's passion all the sins of humanity and the forgiveness of God. The Apostle Peter recounts what he himself watched in tears: "Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree" (I Pt 2: 24).
The Holy Spirit has gathered us around the martyrium of St Peter in Rome. The saying, which claims that the City is the "Soul, capital "S'", is true of ancient Rome; indeed, this city is the Christian Soul, par excellence.
The intellectual, moral and theological virtues of Romans are especially evident in the more distant approach to St Peter's martyrium crossing over Ponte Sant' Angelo.
Eight sculpted angels are stationed on that ancient bridge, each carrying an instrument of Christ's passion. Pilgrims to Rome contemplate these angels who mourn over these instruments.
Drawing from the setting of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, Bernini envisioned that crossing over the ancient Tiber bridge would lead pilgrims to compunction, the sting of conscience. Only then would they be ready to take the next, crucial step in the Ignatian Exercises: the General Confession.
At the base of the fourth angel is written: Regnavit Deus a ligno. Those words, "The Lord reigns", appear in Psalm 95: 10. The addition of a ligno is an early annotation. The mystery of God reigning from the wood as Priest and Victim is recalled this week.
Many penitents themselves are victims of unjust actions by others, against whom they harbour anger. However, even victims must rediscover that Jesus alone "is the expiation of our sins" (I Jn 4: 10).
In the name of every victim, Jesus, "by a single offering has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (Heb 10: 14). The divine man, without sin, "substitutes" sinners, thereby overcoming the irreversibility of time.
All persons are thus set free, ransomed, purified, freed from guilt and sin. And God is faithful to his promise: "I will remember their sins and misdeeds no longer" (Heb 10: 17).
Jesus' broken Body is the light that has not been overcome by darkness. The darkness of sin can never suppress the light of divine mercy. Penitents leave the darkness behind thanks to a sincere confession of sins.
I offer the following examination for your growth in compunction:
Do I turn away from pride, envy and ambition and follow Jesus' way of humility? Is the choice between pride and humility made concrete by my attitude toward Scripture? Am I docile and open to the Word of God? Am I willing to be judged by it rather than to judge it myself? Do I spend a disproportionate amount of time in reading newspapers and journals, watching television and using the Internet, in comparison with time spent reading and meditating upon the Sacred Scriptures?
Have I been lacking in the meekness which prays that God's Kingdom come and that I not resist him?
Have I lacked the tears to mourn over the knowledge that the fulfilment of God's will on earth must be accomplished within the conflict between body and spirit, between heaven and earth, since I am forced to say: "I see another law in my members, warring against the law in my mind"?
Have I been lacking in the hunger and thirst for justice so that I and others, especially the poor, have not been supported and sustained by being given their daily bread?
Have I been lacking in mercy whereby I forgive the injuries of others?
Have I been lacking in the willingness to be a peacemaker whereby others might have called me a child of God? Have I received the good things from God's bounty with a deep sense of gratitude and accepted with patience the evil that comes to me? Have I been lacking in the practice of justice which regulates my relationship with others and has as its end the establishment of peace?
In my work and civic and political responsibilities have I acknowledged that the perfection of all the Beatitudes is found in the acceptance of persecution for the sake of the Kingdom of God?
Gathered around the tomb of the Apostle Peter, we recall the motive prompting the repentant and weeping Peter to obey Jesus' command: it was his love for him. So too, penitents should strive to observe the Commandments because of love alone.
The revelation of Jesus' broken Heart is enough. For St Paul nothing else was necessary. He wrote: "I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2: 20).
Nothing more is required than Jesus' love. All else follows.
The Holy Spirit hovers over the Chair of Peter. What happened to the assembled Church in the Upper Room on the first Easter is being repeated here today.
Penitents are called by that same Spirit to observe the Commandments out of love with a heart open to forgiveness, so that they themselves may "be set free from... bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom 8: 21).