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Contrition and forgiveness

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Gospel Commentary Jn 4:5-42

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.” 

fr robert wagner
Immediately, the 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.

Fr. Wagner is Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge’s secretary.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017