As we approach the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we are at the half-way mark of our Lenten journey and definitely our Easter destination is getting ever closer. I don’t know about you, but I know my high hopes for Lent have not panned out as I planned (at least in my mind). In some regards, I might want to throw in the towel and say, “Maybe next year!”

However, one Lenten practice I remain committed to (and there have been others as well like the Rosary and charitable works and moderation in eating) is listening to a Lenten homily series by Father Mark Bernhard, a priest of the Diocese of Joliet and pastor of Notre Dame Parish in Clarendon Hills, IL. I find Fr. Mark to be a very fine preacher with excellent material who each Sunday is catechizing his flock.

His Lenten series is titled, “Getting on Track.”  The image he is using as a background for his homilies is something very familiar to his Midwestern roots—the train track—a very common part of Midwest landscape. On the First Sunday of Lent his talk focused on “Removing Obstacles.”  The following Sunday he noted that following the tracks means “No Shortcuts.”  Yet, it was this Sunday’s homily that especially moved me about being “Broken Down” on the tracks and what can one do.

Now, each Sunday Fr. Bernhard shares a task with his listeners to help personalize the lesson. The first Sunday on the way out of church, he invited parishioners to write on a wall-size piece of paper what obstacle they needed to deal with to get back on track with God and their spiritual life. The second Sunday, the priest had a book for his parishioners to read on prayer, and from comments in his homily, it was making the rounds in family homes in the parish and they had to order more copies.  His task was a bit different and he acknowledged it probably wasn’t going to be received well, but it could provide the ultimate repair job for broken areas in one’s life—go to Confession—celebrate the Sacrament of Penance.

Although, I have alluded that I consider Lent 2022 thus far somewhat lackluster in my life, I do recognize some seeds struggling to sprout. Even before listening to Fr. Mark, in my own prayer I felt the desire that I need to go to confession at least twice a month, rather than just my usual once a month. I have also continued to read Dr. Brant Pitre’s book on “Introduction to the Spiritual Life.”  I am now in the section pertaining to the “Seven Capital Sins” and their opposing Virtues.

What is meant by a “Capital Sin” is one from which other sins originate. Traditionally, seven sins are given the denotation, “capital”—Pride, Envy, Anger, Avarice (Greed), Lust, Gluttony and Sloth. The opposing virtues are seen as the antidote to these sins. They are—Humility, Mercy, Meekness, Generosity, Chastity, Temperance and Diligence. However, like any antidote, the virtues need to be used—that is, practiced—if they are going to counteract the sin in our world.

For me, this is where the Sacrament of Penance (aka—Confession), the Church’s Rite of Reconciliation, comes into play in our lives. I have chosen the word, “play” deliberately because the purpose of this healing Sacrament is to lift the burden of sin from us and to bring renewed vigor to our walk with the Lord as members of His Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

1468 “The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship.” Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament. For those who receive the sacrament of Penance with contrite heart and religious disposition, reconciliation “is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation.” Indeed the sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings about a true “spiritual resurrection,” restoration of the dignity and blessings of the life of the children of God, of which the most precious is friendship with God.

A saint whose life illustrates being broke down on the tracks, but finds new purpose through repentance and the practice of virtue is St. Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador who was gunned down at the consecration of the Mass on March 24, 1980. Those who reflect upon his life see one who goes from a “bookish sort of fellow” to one who takes the Gospel of Jesus Christ to heart. He comes to embrace Jesus’ preferential option for the poor and for the oppressed and marginalized in society.

On August 6, 1977, the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, he issued his second pastoral letter as Archbishop of El Salvador. In it he wrote these words which can help us understand the direction we need to take when we are broke down in our tracks:

“In good conscience, I believed my position to be that of the Gospel. It has aroused a variety of reactions. Now it is necessary to give an explanation of the Church’s stance as a basis for understanding, in the light of our faith, the different reactions aroused. Some have been delighted. They feel that the Church is drawing closer to their problems and anxieties, that she gives them hope, and shares their joys. Others have been disgusted or saddened. They feel that the Church’s new attitude makes a clear demand upon them, too, to change and be converted. Conversion is difficult and painful because the changes required are not only in ways of thinking but also in ways of living.”

Yet, as Fr. Mark shows us in his reflection on the Word of God, you and I do have a vehicle to help us in the conversion of life that we are all called to and need as disciples of the Lord Jesus—the Sacrament of Penance. This moment of healing and grace can help us get out of any rut we find ourselves in and it can make us a new person within minutes!  So I make Fr. Mark’s challenge to his parishioners, my own to this Diocesan Family—“Go to confession. … don’t let fear or pride keep us from the wellspring of grace that Jesus wants to share with us in this Sacrament.”  It might just also turn this Lent around you thought was a lost cause in ways you thought impossible!

“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner! Amen.”

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