Friday of the First Week of Advent (December 5th, 2014)

We learned from the prophet Isaiah yesterday that things for the Israelites had gone horrifically wrong. The Israelites had rejected the commandments of God and given themselves over to the worship of idols, and the result of this idolatry was a culture of selfishness and self-interest that brought about great injustice.

The poor turned to the elites of the Israelites for assistance and received little or no help at all. God was not indifferent to this situation and brought the Kingdom of David to an end.

The false gods the Israelites worshipped delivered the people into the hands of their enemies. The affluence and political connections that the Israelites had used to keep the demands of the commandments of God at bay were lost. The people now stood face to face with God and his judgment.

And God compelled the Israelites to see their truth, to reckon with consequences, not out of malice, but so that they could accept a second chance and begin anew.

This is what the prophet Isaiah insists is before the Israelites- a second chance and the opportunity to begin anew. This is what God’s mercy is about.

God is the great giver of another chance. His judgment arrives in our lives, not because he wants to destroy us, or harm us, but because he wants to rescue us from dark powers that have overtaken us, and once rescued, give us a new life that has been renewed and transformed by the power of his mercy.

The prophet Isaiah speaks of this renewal, this transformation, that will take place as the Israelites pass through the clarifying and purifying experience of God’s judgment.

The Christian knows this experience of mercy, of passing through the crucible of God’s judgment and towards renewal and transformation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. What the prophet Isaiah describes in poetic and visionary terms in today’s scripture is what the Lord Jesus delivers to his Church in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation is not, as Pope Francis insists, “a torture chamber”. It is deeply sad that for many that the Sacrament of Reconciliation became such an experience, one that emphasized sin, rather than forgiveness, and imparted guilt, rather than mercy.

But for others, the Sacrament has become not so much a torture chamber, but something trivial, a cheap form of spiritualized psycho-therapy, so innocuous that it has become irrelevant.

For the faithful Catholic, Christ the Lord gives himself to us in and through the Sacraments. The Sacraments are not cultural rites of passage or ethnic customs. The Sacraments are an encounter with the Lord Jesus himself.   The mercy of God in Christ is not an idea or feeling or an inner experience. The mercy of God in Christ is a Sacrament. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, imparts a real presence, a real experience of Jesus Christ. It is the same gift of mercy that Christ gave to blind men who in today’s Gospel cried out for his mercy.

We are all sinners and as such, no less afflicted by darkness than the blind men in today’s Gospel. They cried out for mercy, and mercy was given- and with this mercy they received a second chance, a new and grace filled opportunity.

The mercy of Christ is there for us to receive in the Church’s Sacraments.

If we truly understood our need we too would cry out to receive it.

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