Every time I celebrate the mass there is one line more than any other that seems to stay in my mind. It is the last line of the prayer the priest says over the chalice at the consecration: ‘This is the chalice of my blood…It will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.’ That phrase ‘so that sins may be forgiven’ is really what the whole mass is about, and indeed what the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was about: ‘so that sins may be forgiven.’
Jesus came among us so that our sins could be taken away, so that we could be healed. That fact alone should give us great courage because it means that God is totally for us, even when we have fallen into sin. The Lord is not interested in our sin, He is interested in us. He wants us to be healed, to be at peace, but He also wants us to acknowledge and confess our sins. And that is also why He challenges us to repent and to keep coming back to God, no matter what happens, because God knows much better than we do that sin is the one thing that can block us from God who our ultimate happiness. If we lose God we will also lose our happiness, because nothing else can fulfil us.
There is a powerful story in the Old Testament about King David. It has all the ingredients of a modern movie. David—who is now a very powerful king with everything he could ask for—is walking one day on the roof of his house and he sees a beautiful woman in a nearby garden taking a bath. He asks who she is and he is told that she is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. But because he is king and he is used to getting his own way, he has her brought to him and he sleeps with her. Sometime later she sends a message to him to tell him that she is pregnant. Now he is afraid because he knows he is going to be found out. So he sends for her husband Uriah, who is away at war fighting for him. When Uriah comes David asks him how the war is going, how the morale is among the men, etc. Later he invites him to dinner with him and then he sends him away and says ‘Go home to your wife and tomorrow I’ll let you return to the battle.’ But Uriah doesn’t go to his house. Perhaps he is suspicious. Instead he sleeps at the door of the palace with the servants.
The next day when David finds out that he didn’t go home to his wife he invites him again to come and eat with him. This time he gets Uriah drunk and then tells him to go home to his wife, but again Uriah sleeps at the gate of the palace. So the following day David sends Uriah back to the battle with a letter to his senior officer telling him to place Uriah in the thick of the battle and then to pull back so that he is killed. So Uriah goes back to the war carrying his own death warrant and he is killed.
So we have lust, adultery, lies, betrayal and murder; quite a list of evil, all committed by the so-called ‘great’ King David. But because God loves David He doesn’t let him away with it and so he sends the prophet Nathan along to David, who tells him the following story:
Nathan says to David, ‘There was once a rich man who lived in a city. He had all he wanted: huge farms, many servants etc. There was also a poor man in the same city who had just one little lamb. And he loved the lamb like one of his own children. One day a stranger came to the rich man, but instead of taking one of his own flock, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and had him killed for the meal.’ When David heard this he jumped up in a rage and said, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die.’ And Nathan says to David: ‘You are the man.’
Now David is considered one of the greatest kings of ancient Israel and the reason is because of what he does next. When David hears the Prophet Nathan’s accusation he says, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ David was powerful enough to be able to do anything he wanted, but when God challenges him he is big enough to confess that he has done wrong and he repents of the sin.
It is because God loves us that He challenges us to acknowledge our wrongdoing and repent of it, so that we can remain close to him. The Lord doesn’t want our downfall. On the contrary, the Lord wants us to be able to live in peace, which is why He offers us the extraordinary gift of his mercy and forgiveness through confession. And we can have this gift as often as we ask for it, but we must ask for it. The way to look at it is not to focus on our sinfulness so much as to see God’s desire for us to be healed and to be at peace. But in order to experience that peace we must receive the Lord’s forgiveness through confession.
‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church... whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven’ (Mt 16:19b)
The most important thing about going to confession is the very fact that we go there at all. None of us could possibly know all the sins we have committed against God and against each other, but it doesn’t matter. By the very act of going to confession we are saying, ‘Lord I know I am a sinner, these are the sins I can remember, but I ask your mercy and the grace to start again.’ So that is what we do. We confess what we can remember and leave the rest to the mercy of God. If there is something important the Holy Spirit will prompt us. The most important thing to remember is that the Lord loves us and that He has given us the gift of confession for our benefit, so that we can be healed.
All of us have plenty of sins. We are jealous, we judge people continually, we put people down or make comments against others, we lie, we resent, we don’t forgive, we put so many other things before God. There is no shortage.
There is one sin in particular that I want to mention. It is probably the sin that most of us struggle with more than anything else. It is the sin of unforgiveness. I’d say there is hardly anyone here—including me—who doesn’t need to forgive someone, because we have all been hurt. The key thing to remember about forgiving someone is that it’s not about whether you feel like it or not. Forgiveness is a decision of your will. I forgive someone because God asks me to. Most of us never feel like forgiving someone who has hurt us. And the deeper the hurt the less likely we are to want to forgive them. But if we want to heal we must take the first step, which is to forgive them. By doing that we are opening the door to God’s grace to help us to heal. To put it the other way around: if I refuse to forgive someone, I am blocking God’s grace from helping me to heal from the wound. In other words I am the one who is going to suffer. If I make the decision to forgive someone who has hurt me, regardless of whether I feel like it or not, then God can begin to heal me of the hurt. Think about who you need to forgive and bring it to the Lord in confession. So if we want to see life in our families improve, life in our society improve, we must begin by repenting ourselves. The first step in being healed is repentance.
‘This is the chalice of my blood…It will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.’