Building on Strength Week 3: Sacrament of Reconciliation

(Homily for Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Year B)

Message: Open your hear to Jesus. He has enormous compassion for you.

Note: I realize many are not in a position to do "homily series." Still, I hope you will find these homilies helpful by skipping the parts in brackets. []

[This is the third - and final homily - about increasing faith by building on strengths. The Disciple Maker Survey showed that in comparison with other parishes we have three wonderful strengths: First, our overwhelming conviction that the Bible is the word of God. Second, we believe in the teaching authority of the Church.

We have a third strength which really surprised me. It turns out that in one area we are the top parish - of the 92 that took the survey. That strength is frequency of confession. Of St. Mary of the Valley parishioners, 24% said they go to confession weekly or monthly; 22% quarterly and 37% once or twice a year.

When my brother priests heard this, one asked, "Are you the Cure d'Ars?" (referring to the French priest who heard confessions 16 hours a day). But another said, "No, they take a look at Bloom and think, 'I can tell him anything and he will forget it in five minutes.'" (smile)]

Anyway, what I want to talk about today is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. St. Paul speaks about how Jesus came to reconcile us to the Father. Jesus, says Paul, "is our peace." In the Gospel we see Jesus' compassion for the people - disoriented and in great danger, "like sheep without a shepherd."

The Sacrament of Reconciliation, the confession of sins, can bring a person closer to Jesus. It can help make that great step we have been talking about: that the relationship with Jesus would be the most important relationship in your life.

I have been a priest for almost 44 years and have heard thousands of confessions.* It is an awesome responsibility. Pope Benedict spoke to the priests of Rome about Jesus giving us "the power to absolve." This power he said, "makes us share in his (Jesus') awareness of the misery of sin and the darkness in the world."

That is so true. Confession does reveal human misery and darkness. But that's not the whole story. Confession also reveals human greatness. More than anything, the fact that you and I can admit our failings and take responsibility for them shows our greatness. Let me make a comparison:

I've talked to you about my dog, Samwise. In the thirteen years I owned him, he never once let me down. If he did something wrong - for example, the time he tore up my brother's sofa - no one blamed Sam. They blamed me. And rightly so. I have a responsibility - a Stewardship - that Sam simply did not have.

Samwise - like all animals - was beautiful in his innocence. You and I do not have that innocence, but we have something much greater. We can take responsibility. We can admit our mistakes and resolve to do better.

Confession is a sacrament of hope. In it we humans acknowledge our failings, receive absolution and grace to make a new beginning.

Those who participate in prison ministry know this truth. The offenders have often committed horrible crimes. Society defines them as murderers, rapists, thieves. But prison ministers usually do not know their crimes. They see only the person - often someone who feels great remorse and wants a fresh start. That's how God sees us, especially in the Sacrament of Confession.**

When I was a young priest, I used to give a bunch of advice in confession. I don't do so much any more. I remember a guy telling me, "Father, I came to you years back and you really helped." Thinking that I had given some great wisdom, I asked him what I said. He said, "Father, you told me to trust God."

Well, people usually don't need a lot of advice. Maybe a word of encouragement: Hang in there. Don't give up. Keep coming back. Even if you keep falling into the same sin, do not despair. God has his own timing. Meanwhile he wants us to learn the great virtue - humility. Trust God.

I will return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation in August. We will have five weeks to focus on the Bread of Life discourse. Each Sunday I will focus on a dimension of the Eucharist - including Forgiveness of Sins. Please do your best to be here each Sunday. If you are away for whatever reason I will have a recorded version available.

For today whether you receive reconciliation once a month or every three month or once a year, I ask you to open your heart to Jesus. He has enormous compassion for you. He has a good path for you. He's the only one who recognizes how hungry you really are. Today's Psalm speaks about the table he will spread before us. Next Sunday we will begin to see the food he offers. Amen.


*I am drawing on personal experience and assume that most priests can draw on similar experiences. A deacon - or priest - could generalize: "For priests the Sacrament of Reconciliation is an awesome responsibility..."

**Some even say that convicted prisoners are among the most genuine and beautiful people they have met. That doesn't mean you have to go out and commit a crime. That's not necessary. You have already done plenty. It's really a matter of facing facts and getting that new start.

Spanish Version

Plan for the summer months:

June 7: Through Him Week 1: A Dynamic Presence
June 14: Through Him Week 2: How It Is With the Kingdom
June 21: Through Him Week 3: Love of Christ Impels Us
June 28: Through Him Week 4: Do Not Be Afraid, Have Faith
July 5: Building on Strength Week 1: Scripture as Word of God
July 12: Building on Strength Week 2: Teaching Authority of Church
July 19: Building on Strength Week 3: Sacrament of Reconciliation
July 26: Dimensions of the Eucharist Week 1
August 2: Dimensions of the Eucharist Week 2
August 9: Dimensions of the Eucharist Week 3
August 16: Dimensions of the Eucharist Week 4
August 23: Dimensions of the Eucharist Week 5

From Archives (16th Ordinary Sunday - Year B):

2018: Ephesians Week 2: He is Our Peace
2015: Building on Strength Week 3: Sacrament of Reconciliation
2012: The Way to Heaven
2009: Rest a While
2006: Come Away
2003: I Will Appoint Shepherds
2000: Leisure: A Misunderstood Activity

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