Sunday, December 14, 2008

3rd Sunday of Advent - homily

A Penance Service Announcement – you’ve heard of a Public Service Announcement – this is a penance service announcement. We will have a Penance Service this Tuesday, December 16, at 7:30 pm. We will have several priests here to offer confessions. I hope that all of you can take advantage of this great opportunity. The second reading suggests that we should be fully ready for the coming of Christ – spirit, soul, and body. Confession is the best way to be fully prepared for Christ’s coming.

I wish I could tell you of all the good things that have happened in Confession the past 2 ½ years. What I can tell you in general terms is that many, many people have seen a change in their lives by making a regular confession. They have seen the effects of Grace and it has been powerful. They are moving away from those things that they really don’t want to do – anger, impatience, pride, lust, envy, and the like. None of us really wants to sin; this is something that even our kids see…that sin is like, yuk! The Grace of confession helps us to move away from sin and to do what we really want to do.

If we take a step back from all of the stuff leading up to the 25th – all of the busyness, all of the preparation – we can ask, why Christmas? Why was Jesus born? Why did He become one of us? Theologians debate the exact, main reason. But, one of the biggest reasons is to save us from sin. The forgiveness of sins is at the heart of all of this.

Sin entered the world thousands of years before Christ with Adam and Eve in the garden. They offended God in a serious way, they knew it was seriously wrong, and they freely chose to do it. That was the first mortal sin; it broke their relationship with God and closed the gates of Heaven. For thousands of years, mankind tried to offer sacrifices and all kinds of stuff to God to have his sins forgiven. None of them worked; man cannot bring about the forgiveness of sins on his own.

Not even John the Baptist had the power to forgive sins. He hints at this in today’s Gospel when he says that he baptizes with water only. His baptism is symbolic only; it is for external cleansing. But, one is coming after him who baptized with the Holy Spirit. His baptism will wash away sins; it will be an internal cleansing. So, not even John the Baptist who Jesus said was the greatest person born of woman had the power to forgive sins.

What had to happen was that God had to become one of us and sacrifice himself for the forgiveness of sins. The event of our salvation, then, is Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. His death and resurrection is our salvation; it opened the gates of Heaven for us. We will hear this in a few minutes in the Eucharist: “this is my body…this is my blood…shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven”. When we come to Mass, we not only witness Christ’s sacrifice to the Father – the only acceptable sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins- we participate salvation in salvation.

What if we lose salvation due to sin? Christ has given us another sacrament after Baptism that wipes away our sins: Confession. Again, it’s participating in salvation – we nail our sins to the Cross and the blood of the Cross wipes away our sins. So, we see many attractive reasons for going to Confession; on a big level, we honor Christ’s sacrifice and fulfill his mission.

Let me offer one more reason for going to Confession regularly. It has to do with freedom. The people I described earlier have experienced freedom through the Grace of Confession. I really believe that the first reading is referring to Confession: “liberty to captives, release to prisoners”. Scripture says that we are “slaves to sin”; we are in bondage. Confession helps to break free the chains of sin! We become the people we really want to be. We become free to choose what we want to choose. We experience true freedom which is the ability to choose the good.

May we rejoice in our God! May we rejoice in the freedom of the Cross of Christ! May we rejoice in the freedom that God offers each and every one of us.


At 4:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there should be a lot of Redskins in the pews on Tuesday.

They've much about which to be penitent.

At 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been asking God to help me for years, and He won't. I've tried but I don't have faith that He is there for me.

At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To Anon 10:32-

God is always helping you, but you may not recognize His ways.

I’ve realized that even if I don’t understanding how He is working in my life (or like how He’s working), God is present. If He is good and He is present, then He must be doing good in my life. I don’t know God’s plan for me, but I believe that all that happens in my life prepares me to fulfill that plan. When I’m suffering in something- really, honest to goodness, aching-in the-middle-of-my-chest kind of suffering, and it seems like I’m going through it alone, I can now (almost) embrace those times- NOT b/c I enjoy it (I’m not morose), but because know it must be happening for some greater good. Who knows why- maybe I’ll be in the position one day to help someone who’s suffering is great and without my the experiences, I’d never have been able to understand.

God’s greatest gift to me has been my children. The experience of parenting them has helped me look at much in simple terms. There have been times when I’ve let my children experience something painful. Because I don’t shield my children from all life’s pain doesn’t mean I cast them in harm’s way or am not present in their lives in a significant way. With my older son, in particular, there were times I stepped back and allowed him to make his own choices, right or wrong, good or bad. Sometimes there were adverse consequences from his actions. Sometimes I stood hip to hip with him to help him with his problems, but other times I let him struggle- NOT because I was “absent” from his life or didn't care but because I knew the struggle would make him stronger. My oldest son is now an adult and points to some of those struggles (uses them as examples in talking to his younger siblings) about how he is better for having had some of those “hard” times. While I don’t presume to know that this is God’s method with me, I’d like to think so.

At 10:15 AM, Anonymous Katherine said...

There was many a time when I thought God wasn't there for me, especially in my tough times.

I used to think that if God really was helping me, then He wouldn't let me go through some of the stuff I've been through. But I've learned that if God didn't let us go through the tough stuff, we wouldn't be the people we are today. I've also learned that while things might be tough at the moment, they always do get better. Prayer has really helped me to get through the tough times, because I pray for God to help me handle it better, not for it all to go away.

When I first started working in oncology at 17, I was faced with dying patients. I used to pray to God that they wouldn't die so that I wouldn't have to watch the spirit go out of them the way it did to my grandparents and other relatives before them. I've now realized that that was a selfish prayer, and now I pray for God to do whatever is right for those patients. If it is their time, and they are suffering, let them go. I've learned that prayer and faith must be an integral part of my life in Emergency and hospital work, because I see and deal with a lot of difficult things on a day to day basis, and without God, I would fall apart.

At 7:15 AM, Blogger fran said...

The hardest part of prayer is the waiting.

At 6:44 PM, Blogger fran said...

I wanted to add that while waiting in prayer is hard, it is also important, as waiting offers us the opportunity to conform ourselves to God's will for us.

Waiting also allows us the opportunity to re-evaluate how we are praying, as Katherine mentioned. Rather than asking God to do this or that for us, perhaps it is necessary to acknowledge whatever hardship is before us, and instead ask for the strength and wisdom to endure it.


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