In my teaching about the Paschal Mystery, I emphasize that the point of Jesus’ suffering was not his suffering as such but that in and through that suffering Jesus continued to love others (his Father, and, in Luke 23:34, asking forgiveness from the Father for those crucifying the Son). We talk in my classes about how God’s saving plan involves forming men and women into a people, a community (Lumen Gentium 9). Community requires self-offering love on the part of its members. No one joins a club whose motto is “Each of us looks out for No. 1.” Though the divine mandate to love others is binding on each and every person in each and every circumstance, when I engage in love of others I make it easier for them, in turn, to be loving. When I am ill, is it easier for me to love others when they extend care to me or when they ignore my illness? When I am tired, is it easier for me to love others when they offer to help me with my burden or when they add to my burden? In short, in and through loving others we find our truest selves (Gaudium et spes 24) and whatever else this means, it means capacitating others to be self-offering in turn.
All of this comes to mind in view of a session I had recently with parents of children preparing for First Penance. As we talked about sin and free will, a parent asked about her child. It seems that when the parent asked the child if there was anything the child wanted to mention in Penance, the child simply said no. The parent asked what she should do. I was initially at a loss until I recalled the emphasis I place on self-offering love when I am teaching college students. Perhaps, then, a good question for an examination of conscience is this: Have I done anything that made it harder for people to love others? Harder to love me?
The sacrament of Penance is a celebration of God’s steadfast love and mercy. Recapacitated by this celebration, being assured of God’s love, may we find it easier in turn to take up once more the task of self-offering love by which the Body of Christ (and the human community at large) lives.