Every week in the church newsletter, Fr. Rob shares a small theological musing to help form our faith and remind us of what we believe as Episcopalians. This is a compilation of those reflections.
Lent is a time when the Church asks us to reflect on our values, practices, and behaviors to see how they are in line with Christ’s command to love God and neighbor as we love ourselves. It’s also a time of fasting- so that we can clear out those things which have become barriers to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and time of penitence- so that we can repent and return to God and God’s way of love.
Lent is meant to be a time of healing, but sometimes it can feel like drudgery. The work of Lent is hard work, to be sure; but, it is intended to be life-giving and transformational. And the conversion of life to which Lent calls us is not something that happens all at once- it doesn’t even happen after one perfectly practiced Lent. Conversion is the work of a lifetime. Conversion is the ongoing work of turning our hearts more and more to God so that God more and more enables us to live and love more like Jesus.
So, if you’ve had a productive Lent and you feel closer to God and more energized to live the Good News of God’s saving in Christ, be grateful, and be an inspiration to others. But, if you feel like you have failed this Lent, or even if you haven’t made much of an effort to grow closer to God- do not despair. God accepts and honors the desire in our hearts to be united more fully to God’s love, even if our lived practice doesn’t always align with our desire. And it’s never too late to turn to God and to ask for God’s help.
As we come to the end of this Lenten Season, may the grace of God draw all of us to see our dignity and worth as God’s beloved. May we offer our hearts and lives as sacrifices of love, and may we support and nurture one another on our paths towards conversion.
From the earliest days of Christianity, the Church believed that the Sacrament of Baptism cleansed from sin. But there was disagreement about the fate of a person if they sinned after baptism. Because of the fear that those sins could not be forgiven, many people put off their baptisms until the time of their death, so that they could die absolved of all sins. In time, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church understood that bishops and priests were successors of the authority given to the Apostles by Jesus. Part of this authority was the power to absolve sins. (“Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” John 20:22-23). And so the church devised the Sacrament of Reconciliation (also known as Confession) as a means of helping the baptized repent and return to God after having sinned.
The Episcopal Church, which is rooted in the ancient Christian faith that has been observed in the British Isles since the 2nd century, offers this sacrament to those who desire it. It is a healing sacrament meant to assure a sinner of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. But Anglicans do not view this sacrament as compulsory. It is good to remember the following Anglican dictum here: “All may, some should, none must.” The Scriptures teach us that anyone can turn to God through the mediation of Jesus Christ, with a contrite heart, confess their sins with the intention of living a holy life, and receive God’s forgiveness.
But sometimes, one should consider making a sacramental confession in order to receive the assurance of pardon and/or spiritual counsel from the priest. This may be helpful for a person who can not overcome a habitual sin or a person who has committed a grave sin (sometimes called a mortal sin). It may also be helpful for a person who is struggling to forgive themselves, as the priest can offer them counsel to help them love themselves in order to receive God’s pardoning mercy. One might also consider making a confession as part of one’s preparation for another sacrament, such as First Communion, Confirmation, Marriage or Ordination, or before starting a new chapter in life. This way, one can begin with a clean slate and a fresh start, newly empowered by God’s grace.
At St. Martin’s confessions are heard by appointment. Simply call or email Father Rob and set up a time. It’s important to remember that your confession is confidential and protected. It can never be revealed to another person for any reason. Please also remember that you are in a safe and loving environment. I am here to support you in your conversion. I will never judge or condemn you.
In the earliest days of Christianity, converts to the faith underwent a rigorous process of study and initiation which lasted several years. Such rigor was necessary because of the threat of persecution by the Roman Empire; so the Church needed to ensure that a person seeking baptism knew that their conversion could lead to martyrdom. Baptismal preparation concluded with a final 40 day period of “purification and enlightenment” culminating with their baptisms at Easter. In time, the baptized fasted during this 40 day period in solidarity with the catechumens. Today, we see the 40 days of Lent as a special time of conversion, repentance, and growing closer to God. We reflect on the things in our lives which have led us away from God, and we turn our hearts towards God again.
The Church has traditionally recommended prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as practices that help us refocus our attention on God and the way of love. Any form of prayer which helps you quiet your heart and mind will help you discern the presence of God in your life. If possible, especially during the season of Lent, try to commit to a daily practice of prayer.
Fasting includes the special days of fasting and abstinence, Ash Wednesday, and Fridays, but the practice of “giving up something” is essentially fasting. Giving up a small pleasure or a bad habit, and offering that to God can lead us back to God’s way of love by re-centering our lives in God and refocusing our desires on the things that God desires. It can also help us strengthen our trust in God, and, depending on what we give up, enable us to develop more empathy for the hungry and the poor as we fast in solidarity with them.
Almsgiving is a way of sharing our time and treasure with the poor, and shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for fasting and prayer. Prayer and fasting motivate our service, and our service informs our prayer and fasting. You can engage in this Lenten practice by volunteering or by supporting service organizations financially. Some people combine the three practices in an intentional way which helps them care for the poor in a more holistic way. For example, if someone gives up their daily trip to Starbucks for Lent, they may decide to give the money that they would have spent at Starbucks to the local Food Bank, and commit to remembering the hungry in their evening prayers.
However you choose to observe this holy season, I pray that you will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to grow closer to God in the way of love. I hope you will learn to be kind and gentle with yourself, to forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made, and to follow Jesus into the way of loving God with all of your beings, as you love your neighbor, as you love yourself.