Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sin turns us from God; confession turns us back (Sunday homily)

As you may have noticed, there are copies of a book 
at the doors of church called the Seven Secrets of Confession
We are providing this to everyone to help us all grow this Lent. 

If you’ve started reading it, in the first few pages 
You saw the author describe the idea he had 
about confession growing up: 
it was something he had to do; it was a chore;
he went unwillingly, with his “grocery list” of sins, and moved on quickly. 

As he said, this isn’t bad, but there’s so much more. 
And he added, this understanding kept him, and keeps others, 
“from discovering the real beauty and value of this sacrament.”

So for the Sundays of Lent, we will go through this book, 
in order to discover all that’s wonderful about this sacrament. 
After all, Jesus gave us seven sacraments – seven special gifts.
Not six, not eight. This is one of them.
Why should any gift from God cause us unhappiness or worry? 
Surely we are missing something if that is the case.

Now, let’s look at the Scripture readings, and as we do, 
let’s bring the first chapter, about the first “secret,” 
which is that our sin doesn’t change God – rather, it changes us. 
And in that chapter, Mr. Flynn quotes a wise priest 
who told him that “sin is turning your face away from God.”

And that’s what you see in the readings: 
Adam and Eve turn their faces from God, while Jesus never does. 
And that makes all the difference.
It’s a shame the first reading ends where it does, 
because if you read on in Genesis, here’s what it says next: 
“When they heard the sound of the LORD God 
walking about in the garden…the man and his wife 
hid themselves from the LORD God….
The LORD God then called to the man and asked him: ‘Where are you?’”

This is one of the saddest lines of the Bible. 
Think of it: God has created his beautiful Garden, 
and created his son and his daughter, and given this garden to them.
Now, something has wrecked it all. 
Worst of all, his children are wrecked. 

As our author said, our sins don’t change God – but they do change us. 
So Adam and Eve went from being happy in God’s presence 
to being fearful.

Of course, isn’t that how we approach the sacrament? 
A lot of us are afraid to go – but why? Why are we afraid?

Well, because it’s embarrassing to admit our failures and our vices.
And, second, it’s humiliating to own up to our repeated failures, 
week upon week.

True enough. But how often have we also thought this: 
God is angry. Just like Adam and Eve. See how that works?

On the contrary, God has not changed toward us. 
Nothing we can ever do, nothing at all, can ever change God. 

Many here are parents. Isn’t it true that, 
despite all that is frustrating and all your own weaknesses, 
the love you have for your children…
it just can’t be put into words, can it? 

I saw a video last week of a new father, 
holding his tiny child, born prematurely. 
As he gazed as his daughter, with just a finger, 
he kept stroking her back, over and over. 
Every father and mother here knows what that is like. 

And that’s just the flicker of a match 
compared to the heat of a thousand suns 
with which our Father in heaven loves us.

When we come to confession, 
it may feel like we’re being called to the Principal’s Office, 
but in reality, we’re being welcomed back into God’s friendship. 

God, for his part, has not changed toward us! He never does. 

OK, you may ask, then why does anyone go to hell? 
And the answer is, because sin changes us: we turn our faces from God.
And some, after turning, never turn back.

The danger of neglecting to come to confession 
is that we get used to being away, it gets to feel normal,
and whatever makes it hard to go back only gets worse, 
the longer we stay away. 

At some point, our stubborn pride kicks in. 
Or laziness, or procrastination, or waiting till we’re “good enough.” 
The devil will tell us a thousand different lies, 
all aimed at the same outcome. 

Sin takes us from enjoying the light and warmth of God’s life, 
to the darkness of being off by ourselves.
As with Adam and Eve, that may not have been the sales pitch; 
the enemy convinced them they were putting one over on God. 
So it can be with us. When temptation comes, 
it looks pretty fine, doesn’t it? 
But we always end up somewhere cold and empty.

The Gospel, on the other hand, shows us Jesus, 
who despite all that assails him, never turns his face from his Father. 
That fact alone explains everything* so much about Jesus. 

How can go through all these temptations? 
How can Jesus face the frustrations, the misunderstandings 
and the rejection, as he walks that long road to the Cross? 
His face and the Father’s face are always toward each other. 
Love can inspire unbelievable courage.

And the reason this Gospel is good news for us 
is that Christ came to share this courage with us, 
by sharing his Father with us. 
This gives us the courage to turn from sin 
and turn our face back to the Father.

Now, we all know that this doesn’t just happen all at once. 

When we’re in the habit of turning to the bottle, or to anger, 
or to gossip, or to dark places on the Internet, 
we will find ourselves so easily returning to those sins, 
and be ashamed that we turned from God’s love so readily.
Once again, the voice of the tempter will say, “God has had it with you!”

But Christ meets us in the sacrament of reconciliation, 
as often as we return, again and again – as often as necessary.
His courage becomes our courage. His strength is ours.
He will teach us, if we let him, to fix our gaze on the Father.

* I made this change when I delivered the homily.

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