Contrition and forgiveness
by Rev. Robert Wagner
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” – For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans. – Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”
At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” They went out of the town and came to him. Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here?’ I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”
Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
The encounter between Jesus Christ and the Samaritan woman offers a glimpse of the powerful transformation that is possible when we greet the Lord with faith. There was a turning point when the conversation changed from confusing banter between the Son of God and a person who did not recognize Him to a truly salvific experience. It was not at a point when Jesus spoke a beautiful truth about God, such as when He said only He could give her life-giving water. Instead, the woman recognized that Jesus is a man of God when He revealed her sins to her. Only after Our Lord told her of her immorality was she able to say, “I can see that you are a prophet.”
conversation turned to worship. The Samaritan woman spoke of the difference
between the temple of the Jews and Samaritan temple. In her contrition, she
wanted to know where she could offer sacrifice for her sins.
In her humility, this woman offers the perfect example of how we are called to face our own sinfulness. When Jesus named her sins, she did not react with pride and become defensive. Instead, she recognized her faults with honesty. She saw how she had offended God and damaged her community. She acknowledged how she herself was damaged by her sins and thus sought the forgiveness and healing of God.
In her search for
atonement, she was able to identify the man in front of her as the Messiah who
offers the living water that washes us clean and brings us eternal life.
Each of us knows how hard it is to confront our sins. As Catholics familiar with confession, we also know how hard it is to admit our sinfulness in front of others. For these reasons, we may find ourselves avoiding the sacrament that washes us clean by thinking that our sins are not that bad and that God loves us despite them all.
The truth is that God does love us despite our sin. We see this in Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman. Even as Jesus confronted her with her immorality, He does not intimidate her or judge her. Instead, He draws her closer with charity, courtesy and patience. Through His gentleness, her heart burns for forgiveness. In His mercy, He invites her to receive it.
Confession is never a time
for fear. It is a time for healing, for peace, for joy. We priests are called to
invite others to enter into God's grace. We are called to be Christ, for it is
in His power that we forgive. We strive, sometimes in vain because of our
weaknesses, to make each confession an experience of that love.
Please pray for all priests that we may better reflect the Sacred Heart of Jesus who welcomes sinners. At the same time we pray for ourselves, that we may share the honesty and humility of the woman of Samaria, who is not defensive or dismissive, but welcomes the opportunity to atone for her faults.
Jesus Christ stands before us today as He stood before the Samaritan woman, longing to heal and forgive us. Let us pray that we may respond to Him with faith, humility and contrition. Let us also pray for those of us who have been away from confession for an extended period, no matter what the reason.
May the grace of God turn our hearts toward Him that we may know His love and mercy this sacred season and always.
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