Sunday, December 12, 2010

Again With Eyelashes



Homily from the 2nd Sunday of Advent - Year A

One of my former professors from the seminary, Monsignor Bill Cleves, is a language wizard.  He knows a handful of different languages, many of them, he taught himself.  And he spent a number of years working at the Vatican, translating documents.

He would often reveal to us the fuller meaning of a word by breaking a word down into parts, then translating those parts from their original source language.  One word that he broke down for us was “reconciliation.”

Reconciliation has three main parts: “re”, “con”, and “cilia."  Most of you probably know that “re” means “again”. For example “reread” means “read again.”  “Con” means “with” as in “chili con queso” which means “chili with cheese.”

Then there’s the last part: “cilia.” You may remember the word “cilia” from your high school biology class, when you were studying about cells such as protozoa.  Cilia are tiny hair-like structures that protrude from tiny cells and help them move around.  “Cilia” is the Latin word for “eyelash.”

You may be wondering what eyelashes have to do with reconciliation.  Well, when you put the translations of these three parts together, “re”, “con”, and “cilia”, you literally get: “again with eyelashes.”  Or, we would say, “to see eye to eye again with”

Jesus has given us the Sacrament of Reconciliation because he wants us to see eye to eye again with God.  In today’s Gospel, St. Matthew reports that the very first word out of John the Baptists’ mouth is “Repent.”  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

St. Matthew also tells us a few chapters later in his Gospel that the very first word out of Jesus’ mouth when he begins his public ministry is “Repent.”  In fact, he repeats the cry of John the Baptist word for word: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

If the first word out of John the Baptist and Jesus’ mouths is “repent”, it’s probably a very important word worth listening to and heeding.

John the Baptist cries out, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”  He’s telling the people to remove the obstacles that stand in the way of seeing eye to eye with God. And so the people come to John the Baptist and, the Gospel tells us “they acknowledged their sins.”

This season of Advent is a season of preparation for welcoming Jesus into our hearts.  We would do well to prepare ourselves by following the command of John the Baptist and Jesus: to repent, to be reconciled with God.

I’m well aware that there are a great many people who do not feel the need for confession.  Some might say, “I don’t need to go to a priest. I can just pray to God and express sorrow for my sins that way.”  Well, we certainly should express sorrow for our sins in our personal prayer with God. In fact, we should do it everyday.

However, to refuse to confess one’s sins to a priest is to refuse the will of Jesus.  Jesus said to St. Peter, our first Pope, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 18:18)

Jesus gave St. Peter and the Apostles, and their successors the bishops, and their assistants the priests, the same authority he had to forgive sins

One of those Apostles recorded this sharing of authority in his Gospel. St. John wrote that on the day of his resurrection, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and said “‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven and whose sins you retain are retained.” (Jn 20:21-23)

The denial of the need for a priest for sacramental reconciliation is not the only obstacle that can get in the way of our seeking God’s forgiveness.  There are other fears about the sacrament that keep the way between us and God crooked; that keep us from seeing eye to eye with Him

John the Baptist told the Pharisees and Sadduccees, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’”  Don’t presume to say to yourself, “God and I love one another. I don’t need to go to confession.”  Of course God loves us. But he’s not going to let us rest in our sin.  When you’re children break the rules, you don’t stop loving them.  But they don’t get away with it either. You lovingly offer them correction that is for their well being.

You might say, “I don’t want the priest to know what I’ve done.”  Well, you can go behind the screen.  And trust me, being a priest in a parish of 10,000 people is a blessing, because you can’t tell one voice from another.  And you can go to a priest other than Monsignor John or myself – Advent Penance Service – December 20th, 7PM.

Perhaps you’re worried the priest might tell someone what he heard in confession.  This will not happen.  First of all, it’s a very serious mortal sin and I don’t want to put my soul in jeopardy.  Second of all, it’s an excommunicable offense and I don’t want to put my vocation in jeopardy.  The priest can never repeat what he’s heard in confession.  Not even to another priest.  In fact, not even to the person who’s confession he just heard.

Perhaps you don’t remember how to make an examination of conscience.  We have printed copies right outside the confessional door.

Perhaps you don’t remember how to say the Act of Contrition.  We’ve got it written down on cards in the confessional.  I need stuff written down for me. That’s why I use that big red book on the altar.

Perhaps you’re not sure what to say.  Just say your sins and say you’re sorry.  If you get stuck, the priest will walk you through it.

Perhaps you’re thinking you’ve committed a sin so horrible it can’t be forgiven.  To think that is to pretend that God is not all-powerful.  God is more powerful than sin.  And He graciously and abundantly pours out His mercy on every heart that asks for His forgiveness.

Perhaps, you’re just afraid. Perhaps you’re thinking it will be painful.  I won’t insult you by pretending that confessions aren’t a little scary and a little painful sometimes.  But I guarantee you, you will feel much, much better afterwards. 

Conversion can hurt.  John the Baptists tells us today, Jesus “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  Fire is scary and sometimes painful.  But Jesus is not unleashing the “unquenchable fire” on you in the confessional.  It’s a controlled burn that scorches off the bad stuff. A refining fire that purifies you the way fire purifies precious metal. A transforming fire that recreates you into your authentic self.

Remember, you’re meeting two men in the confessional who love you: Jesus and the priest.

Perhaps, you’re saying to yourself, “But I can’t stop sinning.”  Welcome to the human race.  None of us can completely stop sinning in this life.  It’s called concupiscence, our inclination to sin due to the fall of the human race in Adam. 

But we try.  And we can stop sinning less.  And with frequent, regular confession, you will notice yourself sinning less and less over the years.

When we commit venial sins we take our eyes off God.  And when we commit mortal sins we turn completely away from Him.  God wants to see eye to eye again with us.  Reconciliation helps us see eye to eye again with God and with one another.

Through Confession, Jesus brings us back into harmony and balance.  As St. Paul says in our second reading, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another.”  Through Confession, Jesus restores creation to the way he intends it to be

And as the prophet Isaiah says in our first reading, “The wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.”

That little child is the child Jesus.  Let him guide you to himself in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  And let him guide you to the Father so you can see eye to eye again with Him.

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