If you are like me, you remember your childhood experiences of reconciliation with a bit of dread: would you recite the Act of Contrition perfectly, would you remember your list of sins and the penance you would be given?
Later years provided communal Penance services beginning with hymns and communal examination of conscience which lead us to reflect on areas of life we had already thought of and which had brought us out to the service. Then we proceeded to the remote corners of the church for our individual confessions and absolutions. Here, while feeling true remorse for missteps, the dread of forgetting the Act of Contrition still haunted me.
Now came the Penance Service at St. Kateri Tekakwitha on Dec. 10. A young high-school student, who might have been at home doing homework, led us in song. Sister Betsy Van Deusen gave us surprising Gospel readings, not of forgiveness but of healing. Here was a new way to think of the grace of Reconciliation.
Then came the Examination of Conscience which challenged us to go beyond our tiny worlds of family and work relationships to consider our relationships with the wider community, the vulnerable people of world, and the earth itself. Within each area addressed were concrete examples of attitudes and actions that should be a part of our lives. Here was a call to growth!
Now came the dreaded Act of Contrition… Well, we said it together! No need to worry about remembering the words; now we could contemplate their true meaning.
Next came the individual confessions. Another surprise! The priests did not adjourn to secluded corners, but spread out around the steps of the altar. While music played we processed to the altar as for the Sacrament of Eucharist. Indeed this is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but on that night I was more aware of its grace. As a community, we were approaching the Lord in all humility and with faith that His love would cleanse and guide us.
We each approached a priest and whispered our errors. Each priest placed caring hands on our shoulders, provided words of comfort and guidance, (and with Father Bob often laughter), and then gave the treasured absolution.
When all had been heard, Father Bob added another surprise. He thanked us for showing our trust in God’s mercy. Of course it was we who were grateful, and we shared that as we ended singing “Amazing Grace”.
For me this Penance Service was a profound experience of God’s healing power and our call to take responsibility for the wider world. For me it was truly reconciliation rediscovered.