Saint Ignatius High School

Acts of Contrition

As students are given the opportunity to participate in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation this week, Mr. Healey reflects upon the temptations of Jesus in this past Sunday's Gospel, and how this Sacrament enables God to share his healing and forgiveness with each one of us--and so we should go to receive it!
Twice each year we afford our students, and the rest of the school community, the chance to participate in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.  During the penitential and preparatory seasons of Advent and Lent, theology classes meet in the St. Mary of the Assumption Chapel to experience the sacrament of God’s mercy and healing.  Thursday and Friday of this week are set aside for the celebration of this often misunderstood and underused sacrament.
As I sat in church on Sunday and listened to the homily delivered by our pastor Fr. Kevin Estabrook, I could not help but draw a connection between his theme and our Lenten trip to the chapel.  The Gospel reading was from St. Matthew and described the events immediately after the Baptism of our Lord in the Jordan River at the hands of St. John the Baptist.  Matthew tells us that, once baptized, Jesus was led into the desert by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil.  These temptations are well-known to anyone familiar with the life of Jesus, and they show us that temptations, like the ones we experience every day, were a part of the earthly life of the Son of God.
What struck me most sharply about what Fr. Kevin had to say about the relationship between the temptations of Jesus and those that plague us throughout our lives, was his focus on the source of this story.  Unlike other major stories in the Gospels, the temptation in the desert had no witnesses.  From this it is easy to draw the logical conclusion that the source was Jesus Himself.  We can’t know when He shared this story, or to whom, but we can pretty easily discern why He shared this story.
When God became human in Jesus, the Divine Logos or Word, the Son, the Second Person in the Blessed Trinity, experienced a kenosis, a “self-emptying” that enabled Him to enter into our human nature and to experience all that we experience - joys and sorrows, successes and failures, trials and temptations.  What Jesus experienced in the desert was real, and His human nature would have felt a tug similar to what we feel when we are tempted.  What better reason to relate this story to His disciples than to show that, as difficult as it can be - especially when the temptations are so alluring, we, in our human nature, can turn away from evil.  Our Lord would have used this experience as a way of showing solidarity with His followers and to give them the strength and courage to face and defeat their temptations.
We live in a fallen world, and this goes back to the very beginning of human life on this planet.  Adam and Eve were tempted in a garden, but the temptation of Jesus took place in a desert.  From the moment of the Fall from grace in Eden the human condition has been worsened by sin piled upon sin as numerous as the grains of sand in the desert where Jesus fought with the devil.  Is it possible that He saw each grain as a sin for which He would suffer and die?  Did that strengthen His human and temptable nature to focus more clearly on the mission that He had been given by the Father?
Lent is a season of penance, and penance is the outcome of contrition.  When a person walks into a confessional that person does so because of lost battles with temptation, because of sorrow for what those sins have done to hurt lives, and because there is a longing for the grace to help in future confrontations with temptation. 
Because the priest is an alter Christus (“another Christ”) each penitent is sharing her or his life with the same Lord Who fought the devil face to face in the desert and came out victorious.  His victory is the penitent’s victory.  And in the miracle of the sacrament He, through the priest, bestows first His forgiveness and then His strengthening grace so that each penitent can go back to her or his own desert and strive to turn it back into the Garden it was created to be.