St Francis Q&A

Sunday, March 09, 2008

5th Sunday of Lent - homily

Which sacrament is the only sacrament where the priest (or bishop or deacon) is NOT the celebrant? Marriage. The spouses are the celebrant of the sacrament of marriage when they exchanged vows (give consent); the priest is only a witness for the Church. But, many people, by the way they live, would answer the question by saying Confession; they feel that they do not need a priest to celebrate that sacrament. They think they can go to God directly for the forgiveness of their sins, including mortal sins. Many of these same people, though, will come to the priest to baptize their baby or call the priest to anoint a sick relative in the hospital. They recognize that they don’t have the power to celebrate the other sacraments, but think that they have the power to bring about the absolution of their sins.

I have heard many reasons why people don’t go to Confession; I call them “excuses”. These excuses are many: I can go to God directly with my sins; I am worried about what the priest will think of me (I have more respect for people who show humility and courage going to Confession than people who never go); I don’t have any sins to confess (how about pride!). An old proverb says, “if you really don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as the next”. I think that the underlying reason for the excuses is embarrassment. We are embarrassed to go to a priest and confess our sins. It is embarrassing and humiliating. But, two words about this embarrassment: SO WHAT! So what if it’s embarrassing. It’s only a few minutes of embarrassment and it’s worth it: we receive an eternal reward, God’s forgiveness. It’s too bad that some people will live their entire adult lives missing out on one of the greatest gifts on Earth.

In general, it’s too bad that some people miss out on the life in the Spirit about which St. Paul writes in the second reading and of which Confession is a big part. Life in the Spirit – as opposed to life in the flesh – is radical and awesome! We’ve been hearing about the fruits of this life in the Spirit in the Gospels the past few weeks. Today’s Gospel we hear about a dead man being brought back to life. Last week, we heard about a blind man seeing.

Even more impressive than the miracles is when the Spirit of Christ changes hearts. It’s more impressive when we hear about someone who has been away from the Church for over thirty years, goes to Confession, and they are back in the faith. It’s more impressive when we hear about someone who has struggled with a serious sin for many, many years, goes to Confession, the priest offers some advice, and the sin is gone – out of their lives. It’s more impressive when we hear about someone who went to Confession and tells the priest they can’t think of anything to confess, the priest helps them to examine their conscience, and they remember a serious sin from their past that they had buried and forgotten about; the Spirit brings it to the surface and treats it for healing. Confession is an experience of life in the Spirit; Confession is an experience of the Resurrection.

Lazarus is symbolic of people who go to Confession with mortal sin on their souls. They go into the confessional dead because of their sin; they come out with new life, having been raised by the Spirit. By the way, I don’t think that Lazarus had an initial feeling or thought of embarrassment! We all will die some day; it’s not something about which to be embarrassed. Also, his focus is on the new life he has. The same is true for Confession. We all commit sin and we are all sinners. The focus, though, is on the new life that we have through Confession.

The bottom line is that if we believe in the Resurrection and want to live this life in the Spirit, we go to Confession. It’s the same with the Eucharist: we are here at Mass because we believe in the Resurrection. If we believe in the Resurrection, we go to the Eucharist. We come here to not only see but also receive the Risen Body of Christ. As we receive our Lord in a few minutes, let us say in our hearts what Martha said out loud: ‘Jesus, we believe in you…we believe that you are there in the confessional in the person of the priest…we believe that it is truly you in the Eucharist - Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity…we believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God”.


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