Sunday, December 07, 2014

You can go to hell -- or you can take this pill (Sunday homily)

The Gospel shows us John the Baptist 
telling people Christ is near, and it’s time to confess their sins
and be reconciled to God.

So this is a good time to talk about the sacrament of confession.

It’s no secret: most Catholics rarely go to confession. 
And while it’s true that we have more folks in Russia 
who are taking advantage of this sacrament, we’re not that different.

I don’t know, but I suspect 
that just like the rest of the world,  
there are plenty of folks in our parish 
who haven’t been to confession in a while.

Let’s be candid – the longer we stay away, 
the more excuses we find for not going to confession. 
“I don’t remember how to do it”; “It’ll take too long.” 
“I’ll be embarrassed.” “The priest will yell at me.”

That last one I believe. 
I actually yell at people at least three times every Saturday. 
Better to come on Thursday evening, I don’t yell nearly as much.

Now, it is true that we get worried about what the priest will think. 
You realize, I go to confession too? 
I go to my fellow priests; they know me, and I know them. 
So I really do understand the embarrassing part, because I feel it too.

But remember, you can stay behind the screen. 
And you can go to another parish – you don’t have to come to me.

If you’re wondering what the priest will say, then I’ll tell you. 
I always say “welcome” to everyone. 
And I’ll also tell you what I think: 
I’m happy that people come. I really am.

Why wouldn’t I be happy? 
I’ve got this incredible privilege: 
I get to give away God’s mercy and forgiveness, all day long! 
Of all the things about being a priest, this is one of the best things; 
because I have seen so many times 
where people bring in a terrible weight, 
and it’s almost as if I can see that burden crumbling into dust!

Those excuses we use for not going to confession? 
You and I know they are bogus! 

Where do they come from? 
They may come from our own laziness and unwillingness to change. 
They also come from the devil – 
who hates the sacrament of penance as much as he hates anything. 
The devil’s plan for our lives is, 
“Don’t do anything. Everything’s just fine. Go back to sleep.”

God’s plan for our life? 
“Wake up! This life is short! Eternity is forever! Get ready!”

Life is short -- as was brought home to some families in our area recently.
The opportunity, the time, to make a difference in someone’s life 
is now—not “someday” that may never come. 
The chance to make peace with someone, to tell your friend, 
your family, your parents, you love and appreciate them – 
it’s before you right now; don’t assume it’ll be there tomorrow.

So why don’t people go more often?
I wonder, do we think that we don’t really need it?

Well, there are an awful lot of people in this world, 
Who are mostly decent people, 
and yet we still manage to do and say a lot of hurtful things 
to one another.

Maybe people figure they don’t have to worry about hell.
And maybe they are right. But I am not so sanguine.
Jesus and John the Baptist and the saints all seemed to think 
hell is real and the danger is great. 
The Lord Jesus kept saying, watch out for hell—
I’m inclined to take his word for it.

Another thing many people say, is they don’t know to forgive.
When we experience ourselves is truly forgiven—
I mean, really experience that—
we will find it easier to give that to others.

Here’s something else that’s funny about confession. 
If you don’t go but once or twice a year, you may think, 
I don’t have much to confess. 
But if you go once a month, you’ll find out otherwise.

Here’s why. Going frequently forces us, 
not merely to glance at ourselves in the mirror, but really to look; 
to look closely. Intently. 

It reminds me of when I was a boy. 
My father would send me to wash up; 
then when I came out of the bathroom, he’d ask, 
“did you scrub behind your ears?” “Yes Sir,” I said. 
“Well, let me check,” he’d say. 
A funny thing would happen: he’d find dirt there I didn’t!

Let me take that point in a little different direction, however. 

One of the things that experts say weighs heavily on people
is when we have unresolved issues. Regrets. Guilt. 
Things in their lives we are afraid to face. 
And I believe that’s absolutely true.
Sometimes the very hardest thing to face is ourselves.

Here’s where the sacrament of confession is so wonderful.

You can have your boy- or girlfriend break your heart. 
You can fail to pay attention while driving, 
and suddenly you’ve got blue lights behind you; 
and a day before a judge. 
You can go before your boss, and she’ll say, “you blew it. You’re fired.” 
You can go to the doctor and get awful news.  

But in the confessional, who do we face? 
You might say, “the priest,” but not really. I’m just there to help. 
Or you might say, “well, I’m facing God.” And that’s true. 
Let me come back to that in a moment. 

But first, you and I face ourselves—as we really are. 
And admitting: Yes, I did that. Yes, I lied. Yes, I cheated. 
Yes, I was unfaithful. Six times. Yes, I hurt someone. 

And that’s when God says—through the priest—
“I forgive you!” “I forgive you!”

That is not forgiveness as the world gives, with ifs, ands or buts. 
The same God who says, “I forgive you” in the confessional 
is the one who spoke the world into existence just with his word, 
and who says, “This is My Body” at the altar. 
That’s power! That’s grace! 

When Jesus says, “get up and walk,” they walked; 
when Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out!” A dead came out! 
And when Jesus says, “I forgive you your sins!” 
They are gone! Forever gone!
If I had a pill that cured baldness, that cured nearsightedness, 
bad knees, arthritis, heart problems, cancer; and that pill were free, 
and I was giving them out—
this church would be full; 
everyone would come.

I do have a “pill.” No, it doesn’t cure any illness, 
but it takes away the one thing that can ruin my life, 
not just today, but with an eternity in hell. 
It takes away sins, yours and mine.
And it’s free. And you can have all you want.

It’s called confession.


Jenny said...

Well, Father, you may have procrastined writing this on Friday, but you hit the ball out of the park! Thank you, I needed that...

rcg said...

Yes, very well made points. Did you see that recent situation where the fellow was dressed up like an Army Ranger and was discovered by the real Ranger in the shopping mall? In a way, not going to confession is like that. We are sort of lying that we have nothing to confess. It might fool some folks, but not everyone, certainly not God. How do we want to be found out? The part that is strange is that not being a Ranger is not nearly as bad as lying about being one. Being a sinner is not nearly as bad as not admitting it when you know it is true because it interdicts the cure.