For Advent, focus on reconciliation

At the end of October, Jesuit Father Jim Kubicki, president of St. Francis Mission, led the chancery staff retreat. In the talks he shared with us, he focused on the diocesan vision statement: Reconcile — Make Disciples — Live the Mission. These six words are the foundation stones, the building blocks that will help to move our diocese in a new direction, helping us to reorient our lives to be reconciling disciples.

Father Kubicki said “the heart of the Gospel is reconciliation itself.” In 2 Corinthians 5:18, we hear that Christ was sent by the Father to reconcile us to him, and so now Christ gives us the ministry of reconciliation.

We are called to be a reconciling people, to not only extend forgiveness to one another, but also to receive forgiveness from others and to learn to forgive ourselves in and through Christ.

In 2006, speaking in Australia, Pope Benedict XVI said, “Commitment to truth opens the way to lasting reconciliation through the healing process of asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness — two indispensable elements for peace.”

In our Pastoral Priority Plan, we hear this: “As God has reconciled us through Jesus Christ, so we will promote forgiveness and healing within families; within and between communities; among racial groups; with the Church. We will invite others to experience the good news of God’s love through encounter with Jesus Christ.”

To help us live out this vision of reconciliation in our parishes and diocese, we are called as parish communities to identify areas where reconciliation and unity are strong and areas where reconciliation is needed. Also, each parish or group of parishes were asked to submit to Bishop Gruss a plan which engages and promotes reconciliation and includes an implementation process that will help us live intentionally in the heart of the Gospel as Jesus did.

In October, the priests of our diocese were on retreat at Terra Sancta. Our director was Jesuit Father John Horn. He is the co-founder of the Institute of Priestly Formation at Creighton University in Omaha, and currently serves as professor of spiritual theology and spiritual director at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Florida.

Father Horn, like Father Kubicki, focused the priest retreat on the theme of reconciliation. One of the things Father Horn shared with us was a new guide for confession and receiving God’s mercy. As we approach Advent, we will have a number of opportunities in our parishes to ask, to receive, to grant forgiveness in and through Christ and to be those reconciling disciples that we hear about in Second Corinthians.

This new reconciliation guide bases our examination of conscience on the seven deadly sins: pride, envy, greed, gluttony, lust, anger and sloth.  Father Horn reminded us that these sins always lead us to isolation from Christ and one another. Living in isolation then leads to “bad fruit” — immorality, impurity … idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, fractions, occasions of envy … and the like” (Gal 5:19-21).

The guide suggests possible penances that focus on heavenly virtues which lead us out of isolation and into communion with Christ: humility/loving obedience, kindness/admiration, charity/generosity, temperament/self-control, chastity/purity, patience/forgiveness and diligence/zeal.

When we are living in communion with Christ, the good “fruit of the Spirit” is born in our midst, namely “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 4:22-23).

This Advent could be a good time to use this new guide for penitents and priests, titled “Confession and Receiving God’s Mercy.” It would be a good addition to your parish’s reconciliation plan and one more resource for helping to fulfill the Diocesan Pastoral Plan.

This guide is put out by the Institute for Ongoing Clergy Formation at St. Paul Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. I have ordered 5,000 of these guides. I know a number of parishes have already ordered them as well through the Office of Stewardship and Vocations, but if you or your parishes are interested, but have not already ordered some, please let me know and I would be happy to get them out to you.

I wanted to leave you with the Act of Contrition contained in this new guide. It speaks beautifully of this desire to live a life focused on reconciliation and mercy.

An Act of Contrition

Lord Jesus, to know You is eternal life. I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. I love You and I place my trust in You.

I am sorry for all my sins and for withholding myself in any way from you. Please forgive me and heal any pain I have caused others. I forgive anyone who has hurt me, and I ask You to bless them. In Your name, Jesus, I renounce anything in my life that is not of You that I have welcomed into my mind or heart. Wash me in mercy and fill me with Your Precious Blood and the Holy Spirit.

Father, of all my need for love and affection is found in Your embrace. May I never leave my home in Your heart again. By Your grace, I resolve to remain in Your shelter and abide in Your shade, where You restore to me the joy of Your salvation (Ps. 91, Ps.51). Amen.