We don’t like to confess our sins; well maybe some of us do, but what about those of us who don’t? For two weeks now the scripture has been telling us to get ready for a visit. Christ is coming to visit us. He has visited us before, when he was born in the manger. And the scripture asks us to learn from the ancient people, to learn how to welcome him again. John the Baptist is telling us, “Prepare the way for the Lord.” Are we preparing the way for the Lord?
John called for a baptism, of repentance… for forgiveness of sins, and our baptism has forgiven us the original sin of Adam and Eve. But is that the only sin on our soul? Baptism opens up for us a life of grace, of freedom in God. But sometimes we allow ourselves to fall again. Hatred, lust, lack of charity. St. Paul promises that “the one who began a good work in us will continue to complete it.” So how did God prepare the ancient people to receive him? By asking them to go to a man, to St. John the Baptist to express their repentance. And us, the new people, God asks to go to the priest.
So if we see the pattern, why do we struggle with confessing our sins to a man? Because we are afraid of being judged. The world teaches us that if we admit our guilt, we go to jail, but with God it’s the exact opposite. If we admit our sin, his forgiveness sets us free. Our confession is a return to God. Coming back to Mass is not enough, God wants us to experience his acceptance and forgiveness through a person he has chosen.
To be sure confession is not a mechanical “get out of jail free card.” No, God seeks true conversion of heart; he expects contrition… sorrow for sin. But in the world sadness is treated like a disease, and in the case of chronic depression it is, but in the case of sin, scripture teaches us that sadness is the right path to joy. This is why the Psalmist says, “They who go forth weeping, shall come back rejoicing.” From God, we don’t need to fear punishment, Christ has endured the punishment already, but we must endure the change of heart, contrition, genuine sorrow for sins.
Finally what about regret? The world tells us, regret nothing; but what about those terrorists who murdered civilian people. Don’t we expect them to regret what they have done? The world is uncomfortable with regret because it means we did something wrong, we are faulty, and what do we do with faulty things? We get rid of them; but not so with God. He never gives up, and he heals, he fixes, he reconciles.
True love is that which loves unconditionally and honestly. This is what God does for us; this is what he asks for us to do with ourselves. Without judging, we recognize our failings, ask for forgiveness, and strive to do better. This is the path to true joy, to true freedom, and true love. As the first reading says, “God is leading Israel in joy, both with mercy and justice for company.”
We begin the year of Mercy on Wednesday and we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Tuesday. As the ancient people accepted John the Baptist’s help to be prepared to receive Christ’s birth , let us accept the help of priests to prepare us for his second coming. Tomorrow night, there will be seven priests to hear confessions from 6:30pm until 8:30pm. Even though we may not like to go to confession, let us accept the help of God so that “we may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”