A few weeks ago, I had the great blessing to be with Father Ubald Rugirangoga for an event at the Sheen Center for Thought and Culture. The event was covered by Catholic New York and appeared in the March 14 edition. After we viewed the hourlong documentary on Father Ubald’s experience during and after the Rwandan genocide Mother Clare Matthiass, C.F.R., and I, who were emceeing the event, had the chance to ask Father Ubald some questions to delve further into the incredible experience of mercy and healing that he has fostered in his country following the unimaginable atrocities there. At one point, I asked him about the way in which the sacraments have helped to bring reconciliation and peace. He commented that so much of his work has been to bring people before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and to let Him heal hearts that are hardened and broken. Eucharistic Holy Hours and Masses for healing and forgiveness have been played a central role to bring about the transformation of the area where Father Ubald is ministering to the needs of his people. He spoke about the power of the Sacrament of Confession, the way in which the Lord’s mercy is lavished upon those who are lost in sin and enchained by their past mistakes and failures. It is through the power of Jesus working in these sacraments that has made the reality of healing possible in Rwanda.
It is easy for us sometimes to forget that in the sacraments we encounter the healing presence of God and the strength to live more faithfully as disciples. When we face a major life choice or some challenging event, how quick are we to bring those problems before Jesus in the tabernacle or simply sit in a quiet church and seek to understand more fully what the Lord is doing? In the season of Lent we are reminded about the importance of doing this. On Ash Wednesday, we heard the Lord say in the gospel that when we pray we should close the door and speak to our Father in secret and He Who hears that prayer will answer us. It is important to realize that Jesus does not say “if we pray” but “when we pray.” He knows how essential this is for us.
Another crucial part of our Lenten observance, and something that should be part of our constant practice of the faith is the Sacrament of Confession. Sometimes, we think of Confession as simply rattling off a list of our sins and faults, being absolved and that’s all there is to it. The reality is there is something much more profound happening in those moments. Every time we receive the sacraments, we receive grace, the unearned gift from the Lord that allows us to share more fully in His life. In Confession, we receive “medicinal grace,” which is ordered to healing the wounds sin causes. Sometimes, people that have been away from the sacrament for a long time or are carrying heavy burdens will remark after going to Confession that they feel lighter or better. I do not believe this is just a psychological reaction to being absolved but is a much deeper spiritual reality that has happened in the person reconciled to God. I think this is why one of the most grace-filled days in the archdiocese every year is Reconciliation Monday, which is the Monday of Holy Week. Priests throughout the archdiocese are in the confessionals from 3 to 9 p.m. and one estimate a couple of years ago was that 48,000 people went to confession that day alone.
The power and grace of the sacraments, which only come to us from the hands of the priest, are the keys to bringing about the inner transformation all of us need and the transformation of the world all of us want. One priest in Rwanda brought this about in his community and we pray that the Lord will call more men to bring the healing power of the sacraments to those who need the touch of the Divine Physician.