One week ago I had the blessing of traveling to Omaha to attend the priestly ordination of one of my seminary friends. The day after the ordination we went to the Zoo to see the aquarium. It was amazing to witness the bright and vivid colors of the fish, the textures of the corals, the hypnotic movements of the jellyfish, the musculature of the sharks. It was amazing to be reminded of the beauty of creation, and of how harmonious it is. I found myself mesmerized by the glory of these fish, and as I watched a thought came to my mind: If creation is so beautiful and harmonious, where does the ugliness of the world come from? Where does human trafficking, drugs, addiction, violence, hatred, and war stem from? In this moment I was reminded of the British author G.K Chesterton who said: “Original sin is the most obvious of Christian doctrines.” I believe he is right; there seems to be “something” wrong with us. Original sin is the most obvious of Christian doctrines, and if this isn’t obvious today it is because we have lost a sense of sin in our society. We are so focused on what we can do, and what we want to do, that very seldom do we think about what we should be doing. And yet, it seems to me that to lose our sense of sin is to lose our sense of mercy, our sense of repentance, and our sense of love.
Contemporary society tells us that we can only be loved if we are lovable; we can only be accepted when we have the right body, a high social standing, and loads of money and fame.But God tells us that we are loved because we are made in his divine image and likeness. We are loved not in spite of our sins, but through our sins;hat is why we begin our Holy Mass with the recognition of our sins. We know that God can find us and love us through our sins; even though the world may reject us because of them.
I wonder how the story of King David in the first reading would be different, or how the story of the adulterous woman in the Gospel would have changed, if they had thought; God loves me. He forgives me. I don’t have to say my sin to the prophet Nathan; or, I’m a king. I don’t have to say my sins to Jesus in front of everybody. How would the story have changed if neither of them addressed the evil they had committed and just “pretended it away”? What would have happened if they had trivialized their sin, or rationalized it away? But they didn’t. They chose to address their sin. They chose to address the evil that they saw, and that they had committed. Their conscience said to them, “Hey, this was not good. You cannot let this evil leech on to you,” and so they addressed it and chose the path of conversion. Take the example of King David. First of all, he recognized his sin; he admitted the evil he had done. “I have sinned against the Lord,” he said “I have committed murder. I have committed adultery. I have sinned.” The next step was forgiveness. The prophet Nathan told him, “The Lord has forgiven your sin” (2 Sm 12:13). Forgiveness comes through sincere repentance.
Paul reminds us in the Second Reading that in order to receive the mercy of God we need to have faith, and not just an intellectual faith but an operative faith; we need to have faith in action. Paul says, “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me, and given himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Our faith brings with it the opportunity to address our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is a marvelous occasion to go to confession, where we can verbalize, articulate, and address our sins, just as it was a marvelous occasion for David to visit the prophet Nathan, and for the sinful woman to visit Jesus.
Two months ago I was in Mexico and one of my friends asked me, “So, you’ve been ordained for almost one year now.” “Yes.” I replied. “How many confessions have you heard?” he asked. I told him, “Well, easily in the thousands.” “Okay,” he said, “Here is a question. When a person goes to you for confession, does your way of seeing them change after they confess?” After reflecting for a moment, I told him, “I think I find myself thinking much differently of them” Surprised, he looked at me, “What do you mean? Are you judging them?” “No,” I said. “See, before confession they’re seeking God’s mercy, God’s love; after that great act of humility and faith of asking for forgiveness in the sacrament , they are restored in their dignity of sons and daughters of God; hey are the image and likeness of God, a holy man, a holy woman.They are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, that soul is the beating heart of Christ in the world, worth all the blood of its Savior on the Cross, worth all the life of the Resurrection. , So you ask me ‘does my thinking of them change? Does my image of them change?’ Yes. Yes!I would bend at my knees and kiss their feet. They are the holy people of God. They are works of art in progress, saints in action. So yes, it changes.” To live a life of faith in Christ is to live knowing that He is greater than my sin; that, through repentance and confession He restores and heals me.
I would like to offer three encouragements for us to address our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The first one is in answer to the question: “How often should I go to confession? And do I need to be carrying a mortal sin in order to go?” As in the readings, Let us go when see that there is an evil in us that we should address, let us go when we hear the voice of God saying, “You need to let go of this evil.” I hope we will hear that voice more than just twice a year, in the Advent or Lenten reconciliation! There may be times in our lives when we need to go once a week; at other times we can go once a month. But it’s important to recognize when we need to go to confession, because confession keeps us ready to receive the Word of God; staying close to the Sacrament of Reconciliation helps us to receive the mercy of God without “pacting” with sin.
Second, let us be courageous. Do not be afraid. Often when we are called to address evil we find that fear kicks in. All sorts of thoughts go through our heads: What is God gonna think of me? How could I possibly tell him about this? I’m just going to brush over it, or trivialize it, or find a way to justify myself, somehow. Feeling the need to justify ourselves stems from fear. To go to confession is to bring our sin before God without any makeup; we must bring our sin out, in the raw, and exposed, this leaves no room for fear. God appreciates our faith expressed by humility and courage in confession, just as he did with the sinful woman, and he is moved by it. God is never more God than when He forgives. When we bring our sin to God we allow Him to be the merciful Father who restores our fallen state by His love. Christ is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, but He can only take them away if we give them to Him. Perhaps, an easy way to view this is to consider that we are not the ones on trial when we go to confession; it is sin itself, and Christ has already won that battle. Christ only needs our humble action of giving Him our sin through our voice.
Third, let us be clear in confessing our sins. It’s too vague to say: “Father, I haven’t exactly been the best of Christians, and I’m sorry for that.” In truth none of us have been the best of Christians, and it’s a sign of fear to articulate our sins in this vague and abstract form, a sign and an invitation from Our Father to trust in him beyond the uneasiness of the moment.Let us call sin and evil by their names because to do so is to loosen the grip that sin has on us. Let us be clear, and let us be concrete, in order to fully give ourselves to the mercy of God, and not the fear or shame of sin.
Finally, let us ask the Blessed Virgin Mary to show us, to lead us, and to guide us in courage and humility to word our sins with confidence in God’s mercy.
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