Saturday, March 27, 2010

Passion (or Palm) Sunday, Year C (Gospel: Luke 22:14-23:56) The greatest healing ministry of the Church is the forgiveness of sins

I think that it’s good to hear an account of the passion every so often. It’s very powerful. While Jesus walked the earth as a man he healed many people. And he said that when he left, his followers would do even greater works, or miracles. So how come we don’t see more people healed of different illnesses? Is the Lord not being faithful to his promises?

God does actually continually heal people, but there are more spiritual healings and miracles than physical ones. Why? Because the spiritual is more important than the physical. Our physical bodies are only going to last a certain length of time anyway. That’s not to say that they’re not important, they are, but our spirits, or souls are going to live forever. So what happens to our spiritual selves is much more important than what happens to our bodies.

The whole reason for the passion was to break the power of sin and death that we were under. Through his sufferings he made forgiveness available to us, and he made the mercy of God available to us. That was the whole purpose of his death and resurrection. God still wants us to have this forgiveness, so that we can be free from our sins, so that we needn’t be burdened by guilt and fear. Guilt, fear and shame are all consequences of sin. When we do wrong, guilt and shame usually follow and the Lord wants us to be free of these so that we can get on with our lives and not be carrying around big burdens. And so this is the greatest healing ministry of the Church, the power to forgive sins, which Jesus entrusted to his priests, as a gift for all of us, so that we could be healed.

As human beings we have a deep psychological need to confess to another person what we have done wrong. And you can really see this today on a lot of the chat shows on radio and TV. The strange thing is that people are confessing in public, to the whole nation. I listened to part of the Gerry Ryan show one morning and I was amazed at what I heard. He was talking to a woman who knew that her husband was seeing another woman. A few minutes later the other woman came on the phone and began to confess to all that they were doing together, to the whole country! I couldn’t believe it. Whatever about telling your sins to a priest in secret, what about telling the whole nation?! And this is what is happening because one way or the other, we need to tell someone when we have done something wrong. And the Lord knows this and that’s why he gave this power to his priests so that it would be there for all of us. It is his gift to us so that we can be free. That’s why he said to the apostles, ‘those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven. Those whose sins you retain, they are retained.’ This is the greatest healing ministry in the Church.

Now one difficulty that we’re up against is that Satan knows how powerful this forgiveness is, and so he works very hard to convince us that we have no need to confess to anyone, especially not a priest! And he has convinced many people that confession is a burden, something that we ‘have’ to do, something that the Church has 'inflicted' on us. And he reminds us of just how sinful priests are anyway, (just as sinful as everyone else). And he whispers to us, 'why should you confess to a priest, he is a sinner.' Why does he do all this? To keep us away from the healing power of God. He knows that unforgiveness is one of the biggest obstacles between God and us, so he will do everything to convince us not to confess. He doesn’t want us to have what God has made available to us. He is 'the deceiver, the father of lies,' as Jesus called him.

What if the priest is not a holy man? Does that affect whether or not you are fully forgiven, even if the priest is a terrible sinner? Not even slightly. God would never make his forgiveness depend on the holiness of the priest. It doesn’t matter how good or bad the priest is, God works through him just the same. The forgiveness is just the same, because it is God who is working through the priest.

One other thing. When I was in the seminary and we were being given some direction about hearing confessions, a Franciscan priest who was teaching us said: ‘what do you do if you are brought to court and you are asked to give evidence that you heard in confession? If you refuse to give the evidence you could go to prison. Are you allowed to break the seal of confession?’ Do you know what he said? He said, ‘no, you keep your mouth shut and you go to prison.’ That’s how seriously we take the seal of the confession. I was impressed when I heard this, as this is how I believed it should be.

The forgiveness of sins is God’s gift to us, which He makes available to us through his priests. Don’t let anyone deprive you of that gift which God wants you to have.

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