In this Sunday’s Gospel, we hear the story of some Greeks who go up to the temple in the hopes of seeing Jesus. They approach Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, with a simple, yet profound request: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” I believe that it is very common for all of us to have this desire. We all long to know the Lord’s presence in our lives and at our sides. Perhaps this longing is the strongest when we are suffering or when our sins have alienated us from God. Certainly, this past year, during the pandemic, many desired, like the Greeks in today’s Gospel, to see the face of Jesus in the midst of their fear, isolation and sorrow.
Jesus has left the Church with seven sacraments to insure that we may regularly see Him in our lives. The sacraments offer us a real and tangible experience of Christ today in our lived realities. In this Lenten season we are all preparing to renew our baptismal promises. Baptism is the first sacrament and the door by which we are established in relationship with Christ and offered eternal salvation. On Easter Sunday, we renew our baptismal promises and re-commit ourselves to living in relationship with Christ. The Sacrament of Reconciliation offers the best way to prepare to renew our baptismal promises at Easter. For this reason, the parish will be celebrating Lenten “Days of Confession” on Saturday, March 20th and Saturday, March 27th from noon until 4:00 pm in the church. If you wish to celebrate the sacrament with another priest, you may consult the website of the Archdiocese of Toronto to find the times that other churches in our area are holding their “Day of Confession” (www.archgtoronto.ca).
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is one of the two sacraments that the Church calls the Sacraments of Healing; the other one is the Sacrament of the Sick. The Sacrament of Reconciliation brings about a spiritual healing in our lives. It allows us to set aside those sins which may have damaged our relationship with God or our neighbour. The advantage of celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently is that it allows us to live a grace-filled relationship with God, always seeking to grow closer to Him in love. The Catechism of the Catholic Church encourages regular celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a way of growing in holiness. I myself try to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation every two weeks. Many great saints in the Church’s history have celebrated this sacrament every week. Anyone who has committed a serious sin (or what is also called a mortal sin) should go to Confession as soon as possible. Those who are aware of having committed a mortal sin should refrain from receiving the Eucharist until they have celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Because I have often found that for many people one of the greatest obstacles to celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that they forget how to do so, the parish will have available at the doors of the church a sheet that was prepared by Archdiocese to assist people to prepare to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Before going to Confession a person usually makes an examination of conscience. This is done most simply by going through the Ten Commandments or by examining one’s life against the two great commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:38-40). It does not matter how long it has been since your last Confession, the priest will joyfully welcome you to the celebration and assist you in whatever manner you require.
The other Sacrament of Healing is the Sacrament of the Sick. This sacrament continues to be greatly misunderstood as many think that it is to be celebrated only immediately before death. This sacrament is intended to be celebrated by all as soon as they become seriously ill or are in danger of death from illness. Those who have a serious illness, are about to undergo a major operation, or are elderly are encouraged to celebrate this sacrament both for the purpose of healing and for the grace to accept their weakened state of life. It helps those who are sick or elderly to “see Jesus” in their reduced state of health. It allows Jesus to remind those who may have a diminished sense of their value because of their age or sickness that they are still loved by God and precious in His sight. This sacrament can be celebrated anytime a person is ill and in danger of death. Anyone can make an appointment to celebrate this sacrament when they require it. I am always happy to celebrate this sarcoma net before or after Mass with anyone who desires to do so.
During this time of the pandemic, when have not been able to celebrate Mass publicly, another way that many have been able to experience the face of Jesus has been in Eucharistic adoration. In particular, over these past few months, as the Eucharist has been exposed each morning in our church, I personally have seen the face of Jesus in the Eucharist as He has shown His steadfast presence in our community throughout this pandemic. While it is always more comforting to sit before the Lord exposed in the Monstrance for adoration, He is always present in the Tabernacle our church for those who wish to visit with Him. My own hope is that we might once again return to a time when Eucharistic adoration is possible in our church throughout the day. At the present time, as many remain at home and our city remains in the grey zone, it is not possible to leave the Blessed Sacrament unattended in the church. As life “returns to normal” in the coming months, hopefully, this will once again be possible. The church is open for those who wish to visit Monday to Friday from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., Saturday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m, and Sunday from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.
All of the Church’s sacraments were established by Christ to help each of us see Him in our daily lives. The Sacraments of Healing help us to see Him when sin and sickness enter our lives. As we prepare to renew our baptismal promises this Easter, the Sacrament of Reconciliation provides the best way to prepare spiritually for this. If diminished health or age has caused us to be less certain of Christ’s presence in our lives, the Sacrament of the Sick allows us to encounter Christ in our weakness and to be confident of his healing grace.
This period of pandemic has been a time when many of us have desired to “see the face of Jesus” amidst the trials and sufferings of this time. Through the sacraments, Christ reminds all of us that He is always with us. This is the great promise of our Baptism and the promises that we prepare to renew this coming Easter. As the Scriptures tells us, Jesus sent His disciples to Baptize with the assurance that He would be with them “always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28: 20). As we continue our preparations for Easter, let us ask for the strength to believe this.
May this Lenten season lead all of us to a closer encounter with Christ each and every day! May we all see His face in our lives!
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor, St. Peter’s Church— Toronto, Ontario
This reflection based on the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B: Jeremiah 31: 31-34; Psalm 51; Hebrews 5: 7-9; and John 12: 20-33.