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Column: Let the Lord bathe you in his mercy this Lenten season


by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann

The March 27 edition of the National Catholic Register included an interview with Royals’ announcer Ryan Lefebvre. In the article, the voice of the Royals talks about the role his Catholic faith played in his recovery from alcoholism and depression.

Ryan stated: “My priorities were out of whack. I thought that attaining certain outward goals would make me happy, so I was very much into accomplishing them. They weren’t bad in themselves, but when you treat them as more important than they really are, then you’re in trouble. It can become an idolatry of sorts, and then other things which are inherently sinful can intrude as well.

“I learned the hard way that nothing material can make us happy. We can get little highs here and there, but if we really want lasting happiness, then we have to humble ourselves and let God into our lives. Once the focus is off self and material things, we can begin to heal, become happy, and then help others do the same.

“One of the great ways to do this is through the sacrament of reconciliation. Instead of just thinking of it as confessing sins, there really is a reconciling that goes on. It’s about asking for forgiveness from God and from those we’ve hurt, mending broken or bruised relationships. The confessing part is a means to an end, and the ultimate end is everlasting happiness with our Father in heaven.”

Credit Lefebvre with a home run in his reflection on the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation. Go Royals!

Pope Benedict XVI’s second volume is entitled, “Jesus of Nazareth — Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection.” In his treatment of the washing of the disciples’ feet, the Holy Father reflects on the new moral imperative that Jesus gave his disciples. Previously, Jesus had summarized the Law and the Prophets in part as loving your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22: 37-40). However, in his instruction to the apostles after the washing of the feet, Jesus gives a new commandment: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13: 34).

In other words, the disciples are called to love as Jesus loved — to love to the point of laying down their life for the other. The Holy Father states: “If this were the specific and exclusive content of the new commandment, then Christianity could after all be defined as a form of extreme moral effort.”

Pope Benedict observes that many biblical commentators explain the Sermon on the Mount as a summons by Jesus to a new moral standard. Jesus requires his disciples to go beyond the “average way,” the Ten Commandments, to a new moral plane.

The Holy Father challenges this interpretation: “And yet who could possibly claim to have risen above the average way of the Ten Commandments, to have left them behind as self-evident, so to speak, and now to walk along the exalted paths of the new law? No, the newness of the new commandment cannot consist in the highest moral attainment. Here, too, the essential point is not the call to supreme achievement, but the new foundation of being that is given to us. The newness can come only from the gift of being with and being in Christ.”

In pondering the full meaning of the washing of the feet, the Holy Father concludes that “only by letting ourselves be repeatedly cleansed, made pure, by the Lord himself can we learn to act as he did, in union with him.”

The pope further observes: “We must let ourselves be immersed in the Lord’s mercy, then our hearts, too, will discover the right path. The new commandment is not simply a new and higher demand: it is linked to the newness of Jesus Christ — to growing immersion in him.”

Pope Benedict also examines the betrayal of Jesus by Judas. The Holy Father identifies the “second tragedy” for Judas is that, after his betrayal, he no longer can believe in forgiveness. “His (Judas’) remorse turns into despair. Now he sees only himself and his darkness; he no longer sees the light of Jesus, which can illumine and overcome the darkness. He shows us the wrong type of remorse: the type that is unable to hope, that sees only its own darkness, the type that is destructive and in no way authentic. Genuine remorse is marked by the certainty of hope born of faith in the superior power of the light that was made flesh in Jesus.”

The Holy Father also considers the meaning of the dialogue between Peter and Jesus. If you recall, Peter initially objects to Jesus washing his feet. When Jesus tells Peter: “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me” (Jn 13: 8), Peter gives his typical overthe-top response, now asking Jesus to wash his head and hands as well. Jesus counters by saying: “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed” (Jn 13: 10).

The Holy Father interprets the reply of Jesus and this whole exchange as an acknowledgment of the need for the baptized Christian to continue to confess our sins.

“The complete bath that was taken for granted can only mean Baptism, by which man is immersed into Christ once and for all, acquiring his new identity as one who dwells in Christ. This fundamental event, by which we become Christians not through our own doing but through the action of the Lord in his Church, cannot be repeated. Yet in the life of Christians — for table fellowship with the Lord — it constantly requires completion: washing of feet. What is this? There is no single undisputed answer. Yet it seems to me that the First Letter of John points us in the right direction and shows us what is meant. There we read: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 Jn 1: 8-10). Since even the baptized remain sinners, they need confession of sins.”

The Holy Father points out how, in the earliest non-biblical documents regarding the early Christian community, we find several references of the practice of the confession of faults before participating in the Eucharist. The pope concludes: “The point is this: guilt must not be allowed to fester in the silence of the soul, poisoning it from within. It needs to be confessed. Through confession, we bring it into the light, we place it within Christ’s purifying love. In confession, the Lord washes our soiled feet over and over again and prepares us for table fellowship with him.”

I have been encouraged by reports from our parishes that many are taking advantage of the Springtime for the Soul initiative that has priests throughout the Archdiocese available for confessions on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 7 p.m. If you have not yet received the sacrament of reconciliation during this Lenten season, listen to the counsel of Lefebvre and Pope Benedict XVI and allow yourself to be bathed by the Lord’s mercy.

About the author

Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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