Saturday, 18 March 2023

24 Hours for the Lord 2023: "..a festal encounter that heals the heart and leaves us with inner peace".

 This annual celebration of Eucharistic adoration and recourse to the Sacrament of Penance should be seen as one of Pope Francis' most significant innovations in the life of the Church. In Rome it is celebrated by the Holy Father in one of the parishes of Rome. In dioceses throughout the world, the pattern of 24 hours of continuous adoration and availability of Confession is followed in at least one church of the diocese. Vatican News carries a report of this year's celebration in Rome: With repentant and trusting hearts we receive the gift of God's mercy. The responsible section of the Dicastery for Evangelisation  prepared a pastoral resource for this year's celebration that is well worth a read, and in part provides a backdrop to Pope Francis homily: 24 Hours for the Lord: Pastoral Resource 17-18 March 2023. The homily is at the website of the Holy See: 24 Hours for the Lord.

In an early paragraph of his homily, Pope Francis compares the Gospel story of the Pharisee and the tax collector as the appear in the Temple to what might happen in our parishes:

People who are extremely rich in their own minds, and proud of their religious accomplishments, consider themselves better than others – how frequently does this happen in a parish: “I’m from Catholic Action; I’m going to help the priest; I do the collection... it’s all about me, me, me”; how often people believe themselves better than others; each of us, in our hearts, should reflect on whether this has ever happened – they feel satisfied that they cut a good figure. They feel comfortable, but they have no room for God because they feel no need for him. And many times “good Catholics”, those who feel upright because they go the parish, go to Mass on Sunday and boast of being righteous, say: “No, I don’t need anything, the Lord has saved me”. What has happened?  They have replaced God with their own ego, and although they recite prayers and perform works of piety, they never really engage in dialogue with the Lord.  They perform monologues in place of dialogue and prayer. Scripture tells us that only “the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds” (Sir 35:1), because only those who are poor in spirit, and conscious of their need of salvation and forgiveness, come into the presence of God; they come before him without vaunting their merits, without pretense or presumption. Because they possess nothing, they find everything, because they find the Lord.

Pope Francis contrasts how "The Pharisee stood by himself" while "The tax collector, on the other hand, stands far off":

Yet that distance, which expresses his sinfulness before the holiness of God, enables him to experience the loving and merciful embrace of the Father. God could come to him precisely because, by standing far off, he had made room for him. He doesn’t speak about himself, he addresses God and asks for forgiveness.

 Pope Francis then explains how we "stand far off" when we approach the Sacrament of Penance (my italics added):

Brothers and sisters, today let each of us make an examination of conscience, because the Pharisee and the tax collector both dwell deep within us. Let us not hide behind the hypocrisy of appearances, but entrust to the Lord’s mercy our darkness, our mistakes. Let us think about our wretchedness, our mistakes, even those that we feel unable to share because of shame, which is alright, but with God they must show themselves. When we go to confession, we stand “far off”, at the back, like the tax collector, in order to acknowledge the distance between God’s dream for our lives and the reality of who we are each day: poor sinners. At that moment, the Lord draws near to us; he bridges the distance and sets us back on our feet. At that moment, when we realize that we are naked, he clothes us with the festal garment. That is, and that must be, the meaning of the sacrament of Reconciliation: a festal encounter that heals the heart and leaves us with inner peace. Not a human tribunal to approach with dread, but a divine embrace in which to find consolation.

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