Sunday, 13 December 2015
The Joy of Confession, 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C
Today is Gaudete Sunday, a Latin word meaning ‘rejoice’. And the reason we are called upon to rejoice today is the reason we heard St. Paul refer to in our second reading: “the Lord is at hand”(Phil 4:5).
There are many things that can weigh us down in life, but the coming of the Lord is the coming of strength, of grace, of renewal, of new life –it is truly something to rejoice in.
For that coming to be EFFECTIVE in us, however, we need to be READY.
We have an analogy of this in our Gospel text: St John the Baptist was preparing the way for the Lord by calling the people to repent of their sins. And the people realised that their repentance wasn't supposed to be just a vague feeling but needed to involve something concrete. So they said to St John, “What must we do?” And he told them specific things in their lives that they needed to amend. The soldiers needed to not intimidate or extort, the tax collectors needed to take no more than the set rate, and those in plenty had to share with those who had no clothes or no food.
Specific things needed to change in their lives.
What of OUR lives? What in my life and in your life do I need to change and you need to change?
The answer to this question can only be found by WANTING to change and by careful THINKING about our individual lives. As usual, the examination of conscience inside the newsletter is offered to you as a help with that.
BUT it is only when my desire to change meets the POWER of the Lord that something real can happen. And this is something to rejoice in.
As you hopefully remember me preaching last Sunday, the Pope started the Year of Mercy this week. Mercy is the power of the Lord operative towards weakness, reaching down to us in our weakness. Concerning change, and sin, in takes the particular form of FORGIVENESS. And this happens especially in the sacrament of Confession.
Let us return to my opening point about this being Gaudate, “rejoice” Sunday.
There are people who think of Confession as something far from ‘rejoicing’. And let me acknowledge that for me too it has moments when it feels burdensome –I can be embarrassed to confess my sins, to voice them to another human being.
And yet, though it can sometimes be awkward to voice my sins to another, it is NEVER awkward to hear the sound of the priest’s voice SPEAK the words of forgiveness to me.
You, and I, we NEED to HEAR this.
And, even more, we need not so much to hear it but to receive the REALITY of the forgiveness that is imparted in this sacrament. The sacrament is an “instrument” of forgiveness. As our Faith teaches, it “CONTAINS” grace (Council of Trent, On the Sacraments, Decree 1, Canon 6; St Thomas ST III q62 a3) –it does not just declare that you are ALREADY forgiven, rather, it actually “CAUSES” grace, causes the forgiveness of your sins (Trent; St Thomas ST III q62 a1).
This is my key point to you today: though confessing may sometimes feel awkward, receiving forgiveness does not!
HEARING those words of forgiveness is a thing to “REJOICE” in for Gaudate Sunday.
As Pope Francis tells us, he himself goes to confession because he knows he needs to experience God's mercy. As he says, "How good it feels to come back to Him whenever we are lost!"(Evangelii Gaudium n.3), to know the JOY of the "encounter"(n.1) with the Lord in this way.
So, this Year of Mercy that Pope Francis is starting, it connects joy, forgiveness, and confession.
Let us rejoice that the Lord is at hand
Let us, like the people who came to St John, consider what needs changing in our lives.
And, let us experience the joy of forgiveness by returning to Him in the sacrament of Confession in this Year of Mercy.