I don’t know if it’s ever easy to listen to the news any more. Unrest in the middle east, abuse scandals in the entertainment industry and political arena, crime in our cities, and so much more. And all of those are the man-made problems: they are byproducts of the reign of sin in the world.
And so as we enter into Advent this year, I think we Advent more than ever. We need Jesus to come and put an end to all our foolishness, to fix all our brokenness, and heal all our sin and shame. I am guessing the followers of Saint John the Baptist felt the same way. They dealt with all the same stuff that we do: corruption in government, poverty, racism, and crime – none of this is new to our day and age, unfortunately – it never seems to go away. And so they did what I think has to be a model for all of us today: they came to John, acknowledged their sins, and accepted the baptism of repentance.
They came to John, because at that point, Jesus wasn’t in full swing with his ministry, and they were seeking something new and something good. We then, might come to Jesus in the same way, come to the Church, seeking something good and something new. And then, like them, we have to acknowledge our sins – personal sins and those in which we participate as a society. And then we have to accept the process of repentance. We can’t keep sinning; we have to repent, literally be sorry for our sins and turn away from them, as we turn back to God. That’s an important Advent message for every time and place.
It genuinely strikes me that, if we’re ever going to get past the bad stuff going on in our nation and our world, if we’re ever going to finally put an end to whatever sadness this world brings us, we have to begin that by putting an end to the wrong that we have done. That’s why reconciliation is so important. What each of us does – right or wrong – affects the rest of us. The grace we put forward when we follow God’s will blesses others. But the sin we set in motion when we turn away from God saddens the whole Body of Christ. We are one in the Body of Christ, and if we are going to keep the body healthy, then each of us has to attend to ourselves.
So today, I am going to ask you to go to confession before Christmas. I don’t do that because I think you’re all horrible people or anything like that. I do that because I know that we all – including me – have failed to be a blessing of faith, hope and love to ourselves and others at some point, and I know that so many people struggle with persistent sins, nasty thorns in the flesh, day in and day out. And God never meant it to be that way. He wants you to experience his love and mercy and forgiveness and healing, and you get that most perfectly in the Sacrament of Penance.
So speaking of confession, here’s one of mine: There was a time in my life that I didn’t go to confession for a long time. I had been raised at a time in the Church when that sacrament was downplayed. It came about from what I came to realize was a really flawed idea of the sacrament and the human person. But the Church has always taught that in the struggle to live for God and be a good person, we will encounter pitfalls along the way. We’ll fail in many ways, and we will need forgiveness and the grace to get back up and move forward. That’s what the Sacrament of Penance is for!
One day, I finally realized that I needed that grace and I returned to the sacrament. The priest welcomed me back, did not pass judgment, and helped me to make a good confession. It was an extremely healing experience for me, and now I make it my business to go to the sacrament as frequently as I can, because I need that healing and mercy and grace. And you do too. So please don’t leave those wonderful gifts unwrapped under the tree. Go to Confession and find out just how much God loves you.
When you do find that out, you’ll be better able to help the rest of the Body of Christ to be the best it can be. When your relationship is right with God, you will help the people around you know God’s love for them too. That kind of grace bursts forth to others all the time.
This year, we have plenty of opportunities to receive the Sacrament of Penance. We have a Reconciliation Service scheduled for Thursday, December 21 at 7:00pm. We are also hearing confessions twice a day every Saturday until Christmas: after the 7:30am Mass, and again at 3:00pm.
If you have been away from the sacrament for a very long time, I want you to come this Advent. Tell the priest you have been away for a while, and expect that he will help you to make a good confession. That’s our job. All you have to do is to acknowledge your sins and then leave them behind, so that Christmas can be that much more beautiful for you and everyone around you. Don’t miss that gift this year: be reconciled.