Sunday, January 12, 2014

'Stand where Jesus stands'--in line for confession (Sunday homily)

There are three things going on with this event.

First, John’s baptism was about repenting and confessing sins. 

It’s a funny thing--when we get into trouble, 
one of the temptations we face is to look around 
for someone to blame. 
“Someone else” did this to me.

Of course, that can be true; but it’s not always true. 
But notice how often that’s our first instinct?

God’s People were in trouble. 
They’d lost their country to the Romans. 
And it wasn’t just about politics--it was about survival.

So when we’re tempted to look for someone to blame,
John’s call makes sense: maybe we need to look in the mirror.

It may not even be about blame at all.
But in troubled times, that’s when we need to dig deep 
in order to stay steady in the storm, 
and not lose our head, our heart, or our faith. 

So John stood up and called everyone to repent.

In many ways, that’s what Pope Francis is doing.
Just recently he talked about how the last thing we need 
in these troubled times is “lukewarm Christians.” 
A lot of the media are taking a few words of Pope Francis 
and trying to paint him as something he’s not.
I notice they never quote him 
when he talks about the devil, 
And talks about going to confession,
and the need for our culture to convert.

The second thing happening here 
is the arrival of Jesus the Messiah.
John knows who he is. 
And when he sees Jesus step up to be baptized, he’s stunned.

It would be like me, sitting in the confessional, 
and the Lord Jesus stepped in!

If I could get out any words at all, 
they’d be something like John’s: you’re coming to me? 
I need to come to you, Lord, for absolution!

So what does it mean that Jesus gets in line with the sinners?

Well, it tells us that if we want to be close to Jesus--
and we want Jesus close to us--get in the line!

Notice--notice very carefully--
Jesus did not stand with those who said, 
I don’t need to confess my sins.

Let’s be candid here. The practice of going to confession 
has collapsed in recent decades. Why is this?

Is it because we Catholics no longer sin? 
Probably not!
Did the Church abolish the sacrament? Of course not.

Some people will say, “Well, Vatican II said…”
I wish I had a dollar for all the times 
I’ve heard people claim 
the Second Vatican Council taught 
Something it never taught!
And one of them would be, 
that there is no such thing as mortal sin,
And we no longer need frequent confession.

There are a thousand excuses for not going to confession, 
but the truth is, that’s all they are: excuses. 
And that includes me, your priest.
I don’t like it. I wonder what the priest will think.
And I often say, “oh, I’m too busy.”
I’m going to confession next week. That’s a promise.

And if you do the same, when you get in line, remember: 
that’s where Jesus chose to stand--
and not with those who said they didn’t need it.

There’s one more thing happening in this episode.
And it’s what takes place after Jesus is baptized.
Listen carefully:
The heavens are opened; 
the Holy Spirit--as a dove--comes upon him;
and the Father speaks.

What does it mean?

Jesus didn’t need heaven to open--
he came down from heaven.
He didn’t need an anointing of the Holy Spirit--
he already had that from eternity.
And he already knew the love of the Father.

He didn’t need any of those things; 
but we need all those things!
Jesus receives these things when he is standing with us;
What he receives, he receives for us!

So if you want heaven open: get in the line with Jesus!
If you want an anointing of the Holy Spirit: 
get in the line with Jesus!
If you want to hear the Father say 
he is “well pleased” with you,
Stand where Jesus stands!

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