Year A Ordinary 16
One of the abiding questions people ask about the Church is why in the world the sacrament of confession exists. Some ask why God makes us tell our sins to a human being when God is capable of hearing us anywhere. Some want to know why sin is so important and if it’s even such a big deal. And of course one of the biggest problems with confession is that it is embarrassing! When I go, I hem and I haw. I try to say things in such a roundabout and obscure way that I confuse the priest to point where he simply sighs and gives me absolution. I really don’t want him leaning forward and saying, “No kidding, and what happened next?”
I will say this, though, even if as a priest it is hard work hearing confessions – and let me tell you, your sins aren’t as interesting as perhaps you may think, that’s not because you’re boring…it’s because sin is boring – even though hearing these sins is hard work, or sometimes I don’t know what to say to a penitent, or it takes patience, hearing confessions is one of the most rewarding parts of the priesthood. This is because in the confessional I have witnessed so many grace-filled moments, and at each and every one I get to be there as an instrument of forgiveness, to tell people that God has judged them and his judgment is mercy.
There are a few things I want you to know about confession.
- To those who wonder why we see a priest for confession when God is everywhere…
Before I was Catholic, I would whisper my sins to God over and over. I was never quite sure if he had heard me, or if I had been sorry enough. Confession isn’t about having to tell something to a man, it is about telling it to a priest who stands in the place of Christ and receiving absolution; you hear it with your ears, you see the sign of the cross made by the hand of the priest and it is the very hand of Christ himself telling you that you are forgiven, to go and sin no more. St. Thomas Aquinas says, “The minister to whom confession is made is the delegate of Christ, Who is the Judge of the living and the dead.”
Judgment belongs to God alone. Our reading today from the book of Wisdom says, “you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us…you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.” Our Psalm says, “You, O LORD, are good and forgiving.” This means that we don’t judge ourselves. I don’t get to decide if my sin is not-that-bad or justify my actions. God is my judge.
Jesus meets us there in the confessional as a merciful judge. St. Paul says,“The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness” meaning that He makes our imperfect sorrow and our mixed motivations perfect. He doesn’t care about how bad you think a sin is, he doesn’t mind how or even if we are questioning Church teaching. He simply wants to meet us there and for us to be honest with him so that he can forgive us, totally and completely. The confessional is God’s chosen avenue of grace.
- To those who wonder if sin is such a big deal…
Yes. Yes it is. I’m not going to belabor this point, but every time we sin, we remove ourselves further from our true selves, we deny the dignity of our human soul, and where we look for pleasure through sin we end up only finding heartache. Sin damages us and leaves us unhappy. This is why God thinks it’s such a big deal. He isn’t trying to control us, he’s trying to guide us to become our best selves. But God won’t take over for us, if we prefer to sin he will let us, but he also respects our choices to the extent that if we live in such a way as to reject his mercy, he will give us every opportunity to repent but eventually, as our Gospel says, the weeds must be collected from the good plants and sent off to be burned.
It is a lie of Satan to convince us that sin isn’t such a big deal or that mine aren’t all that bad. Confession isn’t for bad people, bad people are desensitized to their behavior. Confession is for ood people, people who have sensitive hearts. Pope St. John Paul II says, “Confession is an act of honesty and courage – an act of entrusting ourselves, beyond sin, to the mercy of a loving and forgiving God.”
- To those who are embarrassed about what you have admit to that you’ve kept secret…
All confessions are good confessions, good people confess! This is because as you grow in holiness, the Holy Spirit will make your conscience more and more sensitive and sins will bother you more and more, even if they seem small. This is a good development, because it means that you are thinking more and more like God does and you want sin totally gone from your life. And whatever you’re embarrassed about, the priest has probably confessed similar things. Typically, when people are brutally honest, I’m impressed more than anything.
- A few practical tips…
Just say what you need to say and don’t worry. Go to confession regularly, maybe once every few months as a habit, and if you have a mortal sin on your conscience go as soon as possible! You don’t want to receive communion with a mortal sin on your soul. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to the sins in your life. Even the saints went to confession. In fact they went the most!
So I’ve just challenged you all a bit, it’s only fair that I challenge myself, too. We will have a new confession time at Epiphany starting next week, 10am-10:20am every Sunday morning. I realized as I was writing this homily that, if I wanted to talk to you about how important confession is, I need to prove that by offering more confession times. So, next week, I’ll be there. More importantly, Jesus will be there.