One of my favorite things about being a Catholic is getting to move through the liturgical year, every year walking with the whole Church community through seasons of grief and joy, of darkness and light, of trial and of triumph. Through my life, I’ve found often found points of convergence between my own personal journey and the journey that we the Church follow through the course of the liturgical year. These past few weeks, both life and liturgy have been unfailingly beckoning me home.
During this Lenten season, the Church journeys through the desert with Christ, facing temptation, wrestling with pain, and striving for home through the triune practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. In prayer, we cry out to God with increasing frequency and fervor, seeking after the union with Him that is promised to us in our Heavenly home. In fasting, we attempt (though not always with perfect discipline, at least in my case!) to wean ourselves from the earthly pleasures that we cling to in our shortsighted attempts to ease the homesick longing for fulfillment that only Heaven can provide. And in giving alms, we assist others in meeting their basic earthly needs so they can find life, security, and the strength to continue seeking after Christ and their Heavenly home.
As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, the Church calls us to reflect on our own part in the sinfulness of humanity that caused Christ to choose death for our sake. During the Lenten season, all Catholics are asked to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, to repent and turn from our sinfulness as we prepare to walk with Christ on His road to Golgotha. It’s quite fitting, then, that the First Confessions for all three primary schools in the parish have been held in the past two weeks, during this season of repentance and reconciliation. The children from Scoil Mhuire and Kennedy Park School, the two Catholic schools in our parish, were tremendously well-prepared by their teachers in the schools, and Cameron, Ben, Joy and I were privileged to get to assist in a small way in the beautiful liturgies they prepared for their First Confessions. The First Confession that tugged the hardest at my heartstrings, though, was that of the seven students from the local Educate Together School who have attended the Religious Education classes I teach every Sunday morning since last autumn. These boys and girls have faithfully woken up early each Sunday, come to the church, and made teaching them an absolute joy with the openness and enthusiasm they bring to our class. Watching them grow in knowledge and understanding has been one of the richest joys of my work here in Ireland. It was with my heart in my throat, then, that I watched the joy that lit up their faces and the pride in their parents’ eyes when they walked back to their seats in the pews after receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the very first time. A few weeks earlier, I had told them the story of the Prodigal Son as a parable of forgiveness and reconciliation, and they were mesmerized. Something about that tale of a “naughty” son who runs away from home, realizes what an ungrateful fool he’s been, and is received back home not with scolding but with a loving embrace really fascinated these little ones, so I chose to use that same parable for the celebration of their First Confession. After Cameron retold the parable, Fr. Denis spoke a few words, remarking that though these little children hadn’t strayed very far from home, the forgiveness extended to the son in the story would be offered by God not just to them but even to those of us who, as adults, have strayed far further from home than these little second-class students had. The beauty of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that no matter how many times we recklessly and selfishly choose to run from our Father’s house, He will always call us home and, like the father of the story, run down the road to meet us while we are still struggling our way back to Him, embrace us, and rejoice that we who were lost have been found and returned home to Him. Whether we’re eight years old and nervously approaching Confession for the first time or eighty and returning to the sacrament after years of neglecting it, God is always waiting for us in the confessional, deeply longing for us to come home. Time after time, no matter how far we run, He is always calling us home. This beautiful, solemn season of Lent beckons us deeper into an awareness of and sorrow for our sins – not so that we might lose ourselves in the desert of guilt and despair, but so that we might seek the spring of life-giving grace poured out for us in the sacraments.
For me, the call home this Lenten season has been echoed by a call to return to the home of my childhood: this past week, after much prayer and discernment, I accepted a position to teach Theology at my former secondary school. After seven years of living thousands of miles from my family, I can hardly contain my joy at finally hearing God’s call beckoning me to undertake new work in His name at a school I love, so close to my family’s home. It is with new and grateful ears, that I hear Christ’s call to all of us to turn from our sinful ways and follow Him home this Lent. I am blessed to be going home in more ways than one, but regardless of where we find ourselves on this earth, one thing is certain for all of us: God is calling, beckoning us to be turned from our sins and returned to His love this Lent, that we might truly rejoice with Him in the triumph of Easter morning. I pray that we might all heed the call, confess our sins, and run with childlike glee home to our God.