One of the things we do a lot as priests is go to people who are dying to ‘anoint’ them, or give them the sacrament of the sick, which is the same thing. I always think that it is a lovely thing when people request this, because it is a sign that they want to prepare for their journey to meet the Lord when they die. It is not just for when people are dying, it is also for when people are sick, but I think it is usually a great consolation to those who receive it. Often when I am praying with someone who is dying I can see that they are praying with me. Sometimes I see them move their lips and try to say the prayers as well, or sometimes they try and make the sign of the cross. They want to be prepared to meet the Lord as I think probably all of us do.
In one way we all know that we will never be prepared to meet the Lord as we would like to be, but that is not important because the Lord is not looking for perfection. What God is asking us for is the right disposition of heart. Think of the man dying on the cross beside Jesus. He was being punished for whatever crimes he had committed and given the dreadful death of crucifixion and in his own words he said, ‘We are getting what we deserve’ (Luke 23:42). But when he asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus replied, ‘In truth I tell you, this day you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:43). This reminds us that what the Lord wants for us is only goodness, only the best, just as you want for your children, even if they mess up as we all do. It is also good to remember that even when we mess up seriously and we are written off by our society, or put in prison, God does not write us off. The Lord assures us that He is still with us. He asks us to repent in our heart and that is what is most important.
Advent is one of the seasons we have where we are asked to prepare for the wonderful feast of Christmas. But it is not just for Christmas, it is a time of reflection for us to prepare ourselves in our own hearts for whenever we will meet the Lord. None of us know when this will happen, but what is important is that we try to have the right disposition to be open to God for whenever He will bring us to heaven.
The best way we can do this is to go to confession. Although confession is not the most popular thing for most people, I think it is important to remember that this is God’s gift to us so that we can know that we are forgiven and to be encouraged and help us to start again. It is the greatest healing ministry of the Church. In his mercy and love for us, the Lord continually helps us to begin again as often as we need to. Who else could do this? What person on earth would continually allow us to start again no matter how many times we messed up? Not many, I suspect.
The most important thing about going to confession is the very fact that we do go, because each time we come before the Lord in confession it is a way of acknowledging that we are sinners. It is a way of saying, ‘Lord I know that I am a sinner. This is all l can recall right now, but I want to ask for your mercy,’ and that is what the Lord gives us. We confess whatever we can remember, but what is important is the very fact that we come before the Lord in this way. This is what He has asked us to do, even though we may not always feel attracted to it. Who wants to admit that they are a sinner and have done wrong? I certainly don’t! But I know that I need to.
Coming before the Lord in confession also helps us to keep the balance; to remember that
Let me just finish by repeating the words of absolution which the priest recites in the confession, because they are words of forgiveness and consolation.
God the Father of mercies,
Through the death and resurrection of his Son,
Has reconciled the world to himself
And sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.
Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace
And I absolve you from all your sins,
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.