Sunday, March 06, 2016

Confession is necessary if we want the Promised Land (Sunday homily)

Maybe you’re wondering just why the first reading was included – 
what it means for us. 

The point of the first reading is that it is about us, and our journey. 
We are the people who are wandering in the wilderness. 
God wants to bring us to the Promised Land of heaven. 
Those who cooperate with his grace will get there. 
Those who are stiff-necked and hard-hearted and stubborn 
are those who fell along the way. 

As we make our way, we are sustained by the sacraments, 
like the Manna; in heaven, we will have God himself.

When the Children of Israel were in the desert,
God kept confronting them about being stiff-necked and stubborn. 
Am I stiff-necked? Are you? 
It occurred to me that the real problem 
isn’t the stubbornness I know about; it’s the things I don’t even see! 

Do we want to get to the Promised Land? 
Will we do anything to get there? Will we sacrifice? 
Will we change our lives? 
Will we let go of anything that holds us back?

This is why frequent confession is so critical. 
Because we don’t see what we need to see right away; 
we don’t recognize what we need to let go of all at once. 
And when we do see it, 
it can take awhile before we finally peel each finger away and let it go. 
Change comes slowly.

Father Amberger, from time to time, 
would take homily time to review the examination of conscience. 
That’s what I’m going to do today. 
You can take out the books with the readings – 
the booklet is in the back – and follow along, beginning on page 29. 
I will be delicate about certain matters; 
there are some grown-up words in this examination. 

Father Amberger also created these purple booklets; 
many of you have it. 
There are some in the front entrance, near the baptismal font, 
and some at the side entrance. 
This is very good at answering all the questions you may have.

Let me talk about mortal and venial sins. 
It’s a good idea to bring all sins to confession, 
but we must bring mortal sins. 
“Mortal” means they deal a deadly blow to our relationship with God. 
It’s a lot like a couple, or a friendship. 
There are little annoyances and slights that don’t help, 
but they don’t wreck the relationship. 

But some things we say or do can’t be overlooked. 
And they have to be spoken out loud, and repented of, 
before restoration takes place. 
The prodigal son understood that; and the Father, did too. 
So when we confess mortal sins, 
we also specify the number as best we can. 
That’s part of being truly honest with God and ourselves.

The First Commandment is God comes first. 
There are lots of ways we treat other things 
as more important than God, such as work or the cares of the world. 

When we openly and explicitly deny a teaching of the Church, 
doing so is a mortal sin; as is any false worship, 
which is what the occult and fortune telling and astrology are. 
Receiving holy communion while in a state of mortal sin 
is itself a mortal sin. 
Lying or concealing mortal sins in confession is a mortal sin.

The second commandment: not taking God’s name in vain. 
This sin becomes mortal when the harm we cause is grave: 
when our insult to God or what is sacred is deliberate. 

The third commandment is about the Lord’s Day. 
Missing Mass for no good reason – 
let me say that again, for no good reason – is a mortal sin. 
Some people misunderstand this. 
If you are sick or don’t have a ride or the weather is bad 
or you have someone at home to care for: these are good reasons. 
That said, it is disrespectful of Mass to leave early, 
again, without a good reason. 
And one way we trust our Father, rather than disdain him, 
is by setting aside Sunday as a day of rest and spiritual renewal – 
trusting that the other six days will be enough for what we need to do.

The fourth commandment is about respect, humility and gratitude. 
If you have trouble obeying your parents, 
or doing your part to help the family, ask yourself: 
what are you grateful for regarding your family? 
The flaws and failures of our family are easy to see.
Our own? Not so much! 

The fifth commandment: you shall not kill. 
Obviously this is about destroying human life – including in the womb. 
It also includes when we injure other people. 
These become mortal sins when the injury is serious. 
But don’t forget the way we hate and “kill” each other 
with words and in our hearts. God sees these, too. 

The sixth commandment is about honoring marriage. 
Sex is for husbands and wives; that’s where it belongs. 
Not because it’s bad, but because it’s so good and sacred. 
Before marriage? No. Outside marriage? No. Alone? No. 
With the lifegiving part deliberately left out? No. 
Seeking to create life in a laboratory, rather than in an act of love? No. 
Pictures I won’t describe or the wrong sort of entertainment? No. 
All these are mortal sins because they do grave harm. 

The seventh commandment: you shall not steal. 
Not paying our taxes – no, I don’t like it either – is stealing. 
Not paying employees a fair wage – 
and I think that includes tipping waiters and waitresses, 
because that’s part of their wage – is a sin. 
Not doing our own work is stealing. 
So is destroying someone’s property. 
Neglecting to help the needy is stealing from the poor. 
When what we steal is a significant amount, that makes it a mortal sin.

The eighth commandment: you shall not lie. 
Anytime we misuse our words and harm others – 
even with the truth, if we didn’t have a good reason – that is a sin. 
If the harm is great, that’s a mortal sin.

The ninth and tenth commandments are about coveting – 
which means they are about being content with what we have. 
This was the sin that led the prodigal son away from his Father.
And one way to combat this sin – which is also the sin of envy – 
is to remind ourselves of what we have, instead of what we lack. 

Sometimes it seems so hard to go to confession, but it really is easy. 
You don’t have to come to me, if that’s an issue; 
you can go to any priest. Remember you can go anonymously. 

The prodigal son took a long time to come to his senses. 
And, I suspect, as he trudged home, 
he reproached himself over and over; 
he worried about what Father would say, 
and how bad it might be. 
Maybe even he thought about turning around.

But he did come home – 
and his Father caught sight of him “a long way off.” 
God sees us a long way off – and rushes to embrace us. 
When God’s mercy surrounds us – that’s what happens in confession – 
that is a taste of the Promised Land.

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