23rd Sunday, Ordinary - Homily
I have to confess that, while I don’t watch much television, I’ve gotten hooked on a couple of the “reality” shows, from time to time. They say reality shows, and they are real people and real experiences, but they are definitely “made for television”. I used to watch “Fear Factor”, where contestants would do all kinds of stuff for money. It is amazing what people will do for money! On this show, they would eat gross stuff (like animal parts!), and do all kinds of crazy challenges and dares for a big prize of money. The show did give the lesson of overcoming fear, and would say to each winner, “fear is not a factor for you”.
One of the slogans of our culture is “no fear”. We see it on bumper stickers, cars, t-shirts, etc. But, God said it first! We hear in our first reading from Isaiah 35, “be strong, fear not”. God does not want us to live in fear. Fear is doubt or a lack of trust in ourselves, others, and God. Fear is the opposite of faith. With fear, we doubt God and his power; maybe we even doubt if He is there. We might hear this story from the Gospel where Jesus shows his healing power with the man who is deaf and mute, and still doubt that he can do the same for us, even though we are all in need of healing.
Let’s take the example of going to Confession. Many, many people are afraid to go to Confession. Now, I understand it is hard to go to the priest who is representing God, and admit all that we have done wrong. It is very humbling to say, ‘I’m sorry, God, please forgive me’. It is very hard to reveal our deepest, darkest faults. But, it is a sacrament of mercy! It is one of the main reasons I became a priest: to be a minister of mercy.
On the back of my ordination card (which are available in the rear of Church), it says that I’m “open for Confessions 24/7”. (Some of my friends have threatened to call at 3 am!) What that means is that I am always available to offer you God’s mercy in this sacrament…not condemnation…not judgement…not anger. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been or what the sins are, if you are truly sorry, you will receive Mercy.
But, we come up with excuses for not going because of our fear. “I don’t need to go to Confession; I just go to God directly for forgiveness”. For venial sin, yes, but not for mortal sins. We need the Grace of Confession to be absolved of mortal sins, if we have any. “I am afraid that the priest will tell my sins to others”. If a priest reveals anything from Confession, he is automatically excommunicated and kicked out of the priesthood. “I’m a good person, it’s not like I’ve killed anybody. As long as my sin doesn’t hurt anyone else”. From the very beginning, we have understood that sin affects all of us (St. Paul taught this). It’s like my little pinky finger. When I injure it, I think, ‘oh, this won’t bother me at all.’ But, then I go to use my hand, and the whole hand is affected. All sin, no matter how big or small, affects all of us.
Whenever we go to Confession, we show great faith. We show faith that:
A) Jesus has the power to forgive sins. Not everyone has believed that, especially many people back in his day.
B) He gives this power to his priests. He does this in John 20 (v. 20-23). He gave the power to the first priests, and they passed it on…to where now Fr. Mike and I have the power to forgive sins.
C) It is really Christ in the Confessional. Every time a priest celebrates a sacrament, he acts in the person of Christ. It is Christ who celebrates the Eucharist, saying “this is my body”. It is really Christ in the Confessional, hearing our sins and giving us absolution. We see and hear the priest, but it is really Christ.
Whenever we go to Confession, then, we show faith.
Having said all of this, there is fear that is good: fear of the Lord. Fear of the Lord is awe or respect for God. We show this when we come to Mass – dressed well, on time (!), staying to the end (!), and bowing humbly before the Eucharist. We show our belief in and respect for this Eucharist. It takes great faith to believe in the Real Presence! It looks like bread and wine, but we believe that it is the Body and Blood of Christ. Once we approach this with faith, it changes everything. Faith in the Eucharist changes lives…changes marriages…changes families. It is really Him! It is His life, His peace, His joy that we receive. It is His love - the great love that He has for each and every one of us.