The Beauty of Confessing


The Beauty of Confessing

September 26, 2021 | N W | Deacon Mark, Forgiveness, Healing, Mercy, Repentance, Sacraments, Sin

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 26, 2021 — Year B
Readings: Nm 11:25-29 / Ps 19 / Jas 5:1-6 / Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon

My hope in today’s homily is that all of us might leave today with one temptation and sin in mind that we are going to root out of our life with an intentional plan of attack that includes changes in our behavior and Jesus’ grace in the Sacrament of Confession.

Here is a true story you may recognize. There was a warrior king who loved God. One day, when he was supposed to be leading his men in battle, he lazed about in bed until evening and then got up and strolled about the rooftop of his palace. He spied a beautiful woman down below, became infatuated with her, had his servants bring her to him, and made her his own. Then he had her husband killed. Yes, this was King David.

This story teaches us one of the ways we fall to sin, being self-centered and lazy. Idleness truly is the devil’s workshop. Now if we look at the flip side of that, we see one of the ways to avoid sin, wake up and go about your day doing what you are supposed to be doing.

But there is more to that story, and it teaches us another valuable lesson: how to receive God’s forgiveness. If you recall, the king before David was Saul, who also sinned, but was not forgiven. His sin seems lesser than David’s, too. He disobeyed God and kept some spoils of war that God had told him not to keep. Why was he not forgiven like David? David committed two mortal sins, adultery and murder! The difference is that Saul did not confess his sin, nor was he sorry for it. He was only interested in whether or not his public image would still be good. In contrast, David confessed his sin and did penance, with a “humble and contrite heart.”

Is confessing one’s sin a Catholic invention? No. Scott Hahn, in his book, Lord Have Mercy, emphasizes how God has always wanted us to confess our sins. All the way back to the beginning of humankind, God tried to elicit a confession from Adam and Eve asking them, “Have you eaten from the tree?” Instead of confessing, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. God did the same with Cain, after Cain killed his brother, Abel. God asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain responded with a lie and sarcasm, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

God knew fully well what all of them had done, but He wanted THEM to know in their heart and mind so that they could ask for and accept His gift of mercy. And so too is it with us. God wants us to recognize our sin, be sorry for it, and confess it.

Confessing our sin is easier if we truly believe it is dangerous, even when it doesn’t appear so. My wife and I once had a boa constrictor. All things need to eat, and so did our pet snake. The food he needed to stay healthy was live rats. After being put in the cage with the snake, the rat would crawl all over and around the snake. It did not recognize the danger until it was too late.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is trying to tell us how dangerous our sin is. He is telling us to aggressively root out temptation and sin in our life; to do so now, with a sense of urgency; to be intentional about it. We need to make a plan of attack against temptation and sin and carry it out. He used exaggeration to drive this point home saying, “If your hand causes you to sin, better to cut it off and enter into life maimed, than with two hands to go into Gehenna into the unquenchable fire…”  He knows that if we allow our sin to hang around, we start to lose our fear and awareness of it, just like that rat.

His strong language can seem overly harsh, but not if we keep the proper image of Jesus in mind. Jesus as the Good Shepherd who has a hundred sheep, one of which goes astray. It represents us in our sin. Jesus leaves the ninety-nine other sheep and searches for the lost one. He finds it, restores it to the flock. And he rejoices more over that one than the ninety-nine who never strayed. That is the Jesus we confess our sins to.

Here is another appropriate, merciful, and understanding image. Though sinless, Christ stands with us. When the good thief was being crucified for his sin, Jesus was right there with him. Jesus’ solidarity with him elicited a confession from the good thief, who said, “I’ve received the sentence my deeds deserve…Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And Jesus did remember him and brought him into paradise that day. That is the Jesus we confess our sins to.

We can trust this Jesus to forgive and heal us, but we need to know what our sins are before we can seek His healing. We begin by examining our conscience. Today’s Psalmist wrote about how tricky this can be, “Who can detect [their] failings? Cleanse me from my unknown faults.” We can have blind spots about our sin, either because we been doing it for so long or because society has convinced us that it is ok. We can overcome this blindness through prayer, the scriptures, a Catholic confession app and through the words of loved ones.

Jesus’ words in the gospel give us some examples of temptation and sin to look for as we examine our conscience. He mentions hands, eyes, and feet. Our hands can be thought of as sins of the flesh, taking things God has given us for our good (food, drink, medication, cell phones, the marital embrace) and using them in unhealthy ways that harm us and others. And feet can be seen as how we walk away from opportunities to love others or how we walk away from the Church. Eyes can be thought of as desiring in our heart to possess things or people that are not ours or just being plain greedy.

Once we have examined our conscience and know what our sins are, we need to confess them like King David, with a humble and contrite heart. Many Christians confess their sins to another, but as Catholics we have the privilege of confessing them to someone to whom Christ has given His authority to forgive sins. In the Sacrament of Confession not only are our sins forgiven, but we receive strength through grace to resist temptation going forward, and we receive grace to be more forgiving to those around us. God is awesome in this sacrament!

These are not just touchy-feely words. I have experienced this firsthand and have listened to others share similar experiences from the Sacrament of Confession. If you go to my Facebook page and scroll down, you will see a testimony I wrote about Confession right after receiving the sacrament. After that Confession, the Holy Spirit flooded my mind with the reality of what had just happened, and I sensed that I was supposed to share it.

King David also wrote a testimony about his confession on his Facebook page, well actually he wrote it in Psalm 51. In it, we can see two powerful weapons for fighting sin. He wrote, “Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow,” which foreshadows the Sacrament of Confession, which restores us to the purity we received at our baptism when our souls were made white as snow. And David wrote, “Purge me with hyssop and I will be clean.” Hyssop was a wild shrub that was dipped in the blood of the sacrifice and used to sprinkle on the people for forgiveness of their sins, which foreshadowed the blood of Christ in the Eucharist, which takes away our venial sins and strengthens us against mortal sin.

Here are some closing thoughts on the Sacrament of Confession. It is unique in that it is the sacrament we receive to prepare ourselves to receive the other ones. We go to it before First Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, and Holy Orders. We want our soul as pure as it can be to receive those sacraments. In contrast, we do not go to Confession with a pure soul. We go to Confession to BARE our soul so that Jesus can make it pure.

I will leave you with one more beautiful image of Jesus that can help us get up the courage to go to Confession and tell the priest all our sins in all their ugliness. St. John Vianney said, “God’s greatest pleasure is to pardon us. He is more eager to pardon a repentant sinner than a mother is to rescue her child from a fire. Our faults are a grain of sand beside the great mountain of the mercies of God.” That is the merciful and healing God to Whom we are confessing.

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