I am 16 years a priest this year. It has been the greatest privilege of my life, although not an easy one, but by God’s grace I am still here. Ever since I was ordained there is one line in the mass which always strikes me more than any other. It’s the line where the priest holds the chalice in his hands and he says, ‘This is the cup of my blood. It will be shed for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins…’ The priest is repeating the words of Jesus at the last supper. That phrase is what explains the whole mass: ‘for the forgiveness of sins.’
We are used to the idea that Jesus becomes present in the form of bread and wine in each mass. It is not something we understand, but we believe it. And although we believe it, I think we can often forget the reason why. This line of the mass is absolutely central to what it’s all about, the forgiveness of sins. This is why God the Son took on human flesh and came into our world as a human being, to teach us about God, about what our life is about and to sacrifice himself for us, for the forgiveness of sins.
When you think about it, sin must be pretty serious and the consequences of it must be very serious, if God the Father allowed Jesus to take on human flesh and then come to such a bloody end. What would cause God to do such a thing? The reason is the seriousness of sin and the fact that the human race was in danger of being lost through its own sinfulness. What do we mean by being ‘lost’? It means we could no longer reach the happiness that God intended for us, which we call heaven. Can you imagine what it would be like if we believed there was no happiness after death, nothing to look forward to, nothing to give us hope? That is what sin meant. Eternal death.
The Jewish people found it almost impossible to accept the idea that God would become man anyway; the same with the Muslims. In fact the Muslims consider the idea that God would become man blasphemy. They say it is impossible. So if God permitted this to happen there must have been a really serious reason for it. There was, the forgiveness of sins. We could not take away our own sins; God was the only one who could do this for us. What would you not do for your own children if you thought they were about to ruin their own life and their possibility of happiness? I’m sure most parents would do just about anything. This is what the Lord has done for us, his children.
In some ways we have lost a sense of what sin is and it really comes down to two things. Either we have no idea of how much damage our sins can do to ourselves, or the mass, which is the sacrifice of Jesus to the Father, is meaningless, a total waste of time.
When people come to me for confession, people frequently say, ‘It’s three months or three years since I was at confession, but I haven’t really sinned.’ I haven’t sinned. They might as well say, ‘The mass isn’t necessary father. Jesus was wasting his time.’ That is really what we are saying if we think we have no sins.
Obviously I am exaggerating to make a point, but I think you see what I’m getting at. We have become used to sin, so used to it that it no longer occurs to us that there’s anything wrong with it. The TV and cinema have made us dull to sin, because everything is seen as acceptable. Yet if we read the teachings of Christ, the commandments of God, we hear something very different. God tells us that it is wrong to kill, to steal, to commit adultery, to lie. It is wrong to misuse the name of Jesus, to ignore God. This is what God teaches us. This is why we keep reading the Scriptures each week, to remind us of what God is teaching us, which is very different to what the world around us teaches us.
What is so important about confessing our sins is that it is a way of acknowledging that we are sinners and always in need of God’s mercy. We confess whatever sins we can remember and these are like a representation of our sins, because we can never know them all, but that’s not important. What is important is that we continually come before God asking for his mercy and thanking him for his mercy.
However, we have also come to see confession as unnecessary, or even a burden that the Church has told us we need. It is not a burden, but rather one of the beautiful gifts that God has given us to help us remember what He has done for us and to give us new courage, new strength.
Satan has managed to convince us that it is outrageous that the Church tells us we should confess to a priest. Why should I have to confess to a priest, and a priest who is probably no better than I am? I can just tell God I’m sorry myself. Yet it is God who gave us this extraordinary gift, so that we could be reconciled to him and so that we can be healed.
If we want to see less evil in the world and an improvement in the way our society is going, then we must begin by repenting ourselves. I have to begin with myself. We must be reconciled to God ourselves first and the way to do that is by confessing our sins.
The holy sacrifice of the mass is what happened on Calvary. Each time we celebrate it we become present to this extraordinary event where God the Son is offered to God the Father. It is God’s gift to us, so that we can be free from sin, so that we can reach the happiness that the Father wants for us.
‘This is the chalice of my blood, which will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.’