June 4, 2017 – Year A
Readings: Acts 2:1-11 / Ps 104 / 1 Cor 12:3B-7, 12-13 / Jn 20:19-23
by Rev. Paul O’Donnell Duggan, Guest Celebrant
Last Sunday after 5:00 Mass in Moneta and dinner in the parish there, I left at about 10:00 at night. If you remember, last Sunday night it was very foggy. Suddenly, ten minutes into my driving, swirling lights appeared behind me. I’m not a fast driver, so, only a little worried, I pulled over. Thank God, he continued on past me.
But I do remember the first (and only) time I was stopped by a state trooper. That was over forty years ago. Driving up the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, I was wearing my black shirt and white collar. Driving around the bend, I saw him. Was I speeding? Yes, I was, but only two or three miles over. However, I heard those dreaded words, “Father, please pull over.” He asked, “Father, are you in a hurry?” Unsure of how to answer, I said, “Not really, Officer.” He said, “Good. Can you hear my confession?” I replied, “Yes, step right in.” One relieved priest and ten minutes later, one relieved state trooper!
Today is the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, when we recall the coming of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is like a coin with two sides, and I would imagine every single priest today will speak about the Holy Spirit, one side of the coin. Today, I’m going to speak about the other side of the coin, when scripture says Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit, for those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.”
The “Father, can you hear my confession?” story was forty years ago. Today it would be exceptional for someone to say, “Father, can you hear my confession?” Pope Francis frequently mentions that we are to grow in friendship with Jesus Christ. Not just to have Him as an acquaintance, but to grow in friendship. Here’s the problem: that awful three-letter word, S-I-N, prevents us from growing in friendship with Christ. Do you ever wonder why it is that you don’t feel as close to Him as you would like to? That’s the reason: that three-letter word, S-I-N.
I thought today would be a good day to help us to understand the reasons why so few people go to Confession, considering that the first gift of Easter Sunday is the sacrament of Confession. Pentecost is the origin of that sacrament.
When you go to Confession, you’re going in order to tell your sins to the priest. Right? I think that’s actually why people don’t go to Confession today, because they think they’re telling their sins to the priest. Confession is telling our sins to Jesus Christ. If we’re not aware that this sacrament is all about Jesus Christ, we’re not going. We may not be going to Confession because we forget it’s all about Him.
I’ve been going to Confession about once a week for seventy years, probably because of the legacy of my mother and father. I saw them go to Confession weekly. They never told me to go, but set the example. Then I grew up and realized I wasn’t going because they did, but because I needed to go, to seek His mercy.
But often, because we don’t know He’s there, the embarrassment, the guilt, the shame, become so strong that they overpower us. The Evil One continues to move in and says, “You’re going to commit this sin again and again, why bother to confess?” I say, “Yes, Evil One, I’ve been committing this sin for seventy years, but I’m still not giving in to you. I’m still going to make Jesus the center.” The embarrassment, the guilt, the shame, are terrible, but when I hear those words from Jesus, “I absolve you from all your sins,” the shame, the guilt, the embarrassment, are gone.
The good feeling at the end of Confession far surpasses the shame and the guilt. I don’t want to live in embarrassment, shame, and guilt. I want to live free and that’s what Jesus Christ gives me in Confession: freedom. Now I can walk through the streets of Bedford holding my head up high because the sin is gone.
Oh, I wish it went away forever, but the next week, I’m back in there again. It doesn’t go away forever and you may discover that there is not a great deal of change other than the grace of the sacrament: I am now motivated, I do want to be a better person, I do want to grow in friendship, so the obstacle of sin is now gone. In the words of Pope Francis, now I can grow in friendship with Jesus. That’s the beauty of the sacrament, that it is all about Jesus.
So if it is Jesus Christ that washes away our sin, why is the priest even there? You hear all the time, “I don’t need the priest. I can go straight to God.” What’s the answer to that objection? That excuse is a lie of the Evil One, that I don’t need to go through a priest because he’s just a man who sins like me. The priest represents Jesus. Jesus borrows the voice of the priest to say, “I absolve you.” That’s the great miracle of Confession.
So friends, on this feast day of Pentecost, I want to encourage you to look again at the sacrament of Confession. Do you want to grow in friendship with Jesus Christ? Of course you do. The barrier is sin. Confession is the place where he takes an “eraser” and washes away all our sins, allowing us to leave there with head held high, walking through, free at last. Thank God, free at last!