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”.


At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

During Mass when the congregation prayed the Confiteor, it reminded me that the body of the church is also important in the rite.

I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I have failed to do; and I ask blessed Mary, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.

Whether it is in actually praying regarding one another’s sins, being the example for accepting God’s forgiveness or being the example in extending forgiveness to one another- it would seem that we each have a role to play in one another’s acceptance of God’s mercy. So, my question/comment is on related topic- forgiveness.

My challenge is not forgiving (well, okay- sometimes it is) but in continuing a relationship- or NOT continuing a relationship- after I have forgiven another. It seems to me that often forgiveness is misunderstood. Forgiveness doesn’t turn back the clock. Actions change things, sometimes irreparably, and if I am unwilling to go to a place within a relationship because of those actions, it doesn’t mean I am unwilling or incapable to forgive the actions. It’s a hard thing to convey to another, “I forgive you, now you may go,” but sometimes that’s the healthy thing to do. What’s the saying about forgiving but not forgetting? Sometimes it wouldn’t be wise to forgive then forget and get right back into the thick of things. There are times when I’ve forgiven someone’s transgressions but prudence dictates that I maintain my distance and let time show me the correct way to re-approach the relationship. I know that forgiveness is meant to be given selflessly, but what about being wise in the process? I’m not so sure many understand what it means to receive forgiveness. I’m not always so sure I know how to extend it selflessly and be responsible to self at the same time.

At 1:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know where to put the following thoughts, but world peace is something I would love to witness in my lifetime.

A week ago (3/1), I read an article in the Metro section of The Washington Post that left me inquisitive and in search of a “summary thought” as I put the article down. After I saw the front page of Friday’s (3/7) Washington Post, “Gunman Kills Eight at Seminary in Jerusalem.” the connection of the two articles became clear to me; we, as individuals have only one world, one Mother Earth. For our world to exist in peace, we must learn to be respectful and tolerant of other religions and their traditions. We and our religions all struggle with dichotomies; good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, hatred vs. love, pure vs. impure and the list goes on. Killing, again and again, in the name of religion? I can’t imagine any religion or tradition teaching hatred and murder.

The article on March 1st, titled “Full Emersion, Body and Soul” discussed the old ancient Jewish tradition of immersion in “sacred water” or immersion in a mikvah as a means of transition from one part to another in the continuum of life. Wikipedia defines mikvah as a "collection" - generally, a collection of water. The definition continues to explain that “several biblical regulations specify that full immersion in water is required to regain ritual purity after ritually impure incidents have occurred. Most forms of impurity can be nullified through immersion in any natural collection of water.” The article intrigued me as it went on to say that Judaism is a religion with boundaries and immersion in a mikvah is a means for Jews to deal with a violation of a boundary. My first thought was that this tradition sounded a lot like a combination of our baptism and confession. After doing some research, I discovered there are many forms of Judaism and each looks at the mikvah immersion through a slightly different lens. The one central theme I found between our baptism and confession and the Jew’s use of a mikvah is the desire to achieve purity, transition, elevation from one state to a higher state. I think all religions want their people to live a pure, good life. In my opinion, tolerance and respect for all human life, regardless of religious orientation, rather than hatred and murder because of religious orientation, is necessary if we are to live our life with the goal of achieving purity, grace, tolerance and peace.

The theme of acceptance and tolerance is not new to the Catholic Church. In Pope Benedict XVI’s first message delivered in Latin (April 20, 2005) to the members of the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, the concept of tolerance was again addressed. Following are three short excerpts from His message:

“For Those Who Believe Differently”
“Reflecting on the Psalm 136, Benedict reminded us of St. Augustine's meditation on that Psalm in which he commented that among those who do not share the biblical faith, there are people who are committed to peace and the good of the community. "They have a spark of desire for the unknown, for the greatest, for the transcendent, for a genuine redemption." Even among persecutors, among nonbelievers, Benedict said with St. Augustine, there are people with this spark, with a kind of faith, of hope in the measure that is possible for them in the circumstances in which they live.”
“From God I invoke unity and peace for the human family and declare the willingness of all Catholics to cooperate for true social development, one that respects the dignity of all human beings.”

“I will make every effort and dedicate myself to pursuing the promising dialogue that my predecessors began with various civilizations, because it is mutual understanding that gives rise to conditions for a better future for everyone.”

On Saturday, March 8th the Catholic News Service’s website, reported that 24 scholars from each side of the Islamic and Catholic religion will participate in a three day seminar in Rome, Nov. 4-6, 2008. The meeting is the result of a letter signed by 138 Islamic scholars that was sent to the Pope when He was first elected. The presence of leaders from both religions, standing together in love of God, love of neighbor, will hopefully display true respect in "that the religious communities can be a help to getting humanity out of the cruelty cycle it is in, rather than being a cause of the cruelty cycle." (

So what did I take from the mikvah, murder and CNS articles? They made me spend a few minutes, actually, more than a few minutes, thinking about my own approach to love, tolerance, purity, knowledge, acceptance and respect for other people and their beliefs. It made me think that most religions aim for purity during this life; we just have different ways and words to achieve and describe it. It made me research tolerance and respect in the Bible and re-read Matthew 5: 43-48. It made me curious about other religion’s traditions. Lastly, despite the media’s news, it reinforced my belief, that each of us was and is created with love, grace, tolerance and respect for each other in mind and that one day the world will live in peace and good will win over evil.

The website: offered the following thought:
“Imagine the results if more people accepted their religion as the best faith for them, but at the same time recognized that there are other religions which teach about other deities, other systems of morality, other religious practices, etc. Yet almost all of them motivate people to lead better lives. There might be fewer people willing to defend their particular religion by oppressing or killing followers of other religions and spiritual paths.”
Let us pray we learn to accept each other and live the words in Mat. 19:19. Let us pray, regardless of our religious beliefs that we live our life in a state that honors our God and promotes a world filled with peace.

At 2:10 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

I think world peace/tolerance isn’t a far reach from the topic at hand here. God’s mercy extends to all, but unless we choose to extend it to one another, it is meaningless for our experience in this lifetime. We each have expectations about others in regard to their roles in our lives, and when they fall short of our expectations, it’s easy to look to ourselves with lower expectations- kind of like, “If they did THIS, then I can certainly do THAT.” Our responsibility lies, NOT in the reaction to another’s action, but what is in our hearts to begin with. Others’ actions should not change what we do, how we react, but should serve as an opportunity to solidify our beliefs in action. If all got his, world peace world be a gimme.

At 2:52 PM, Blogger fran said...

To the first anon -

The answer to your question lies in the very words of your post. Prayer! If you pray for those whom you have forgiven, you maintain the relationship, without having to "get right back into the thick of things," as you say. If you pray for those whom you have forgiven, you strengthen your relationship with Jesus Christ.

Prayer, in this regard, is always selfless.


Post a Comment

<< Home