Friday, March 9, 2018

4th Sunday of Lent Year B (Gospel: John 3:14-21) For the forgiveness of sins.

Almost every time I celebrate the mass there is one line which strikes me more than any other. It is the line the priest prays over the chalice, ‘This is the chalice of my blood. It will be poured out for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins.’ That short phrase sums up what the whole mass is about, what the death and resurrection of Jesus is about and what the whole celebration of Easter is about. God takes on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and dies for his people, for the forgiveness of sins. This is what our faith celebrates above everything else.

We believe in a God who not only created us, but is so interested in us and our happiness, that when we had lost it through sin, He made the ultimate sacrifice for his people, so that we would reach the happiness which He had created for us. If I don’t believe that much, then I am not a Christian, because that is exactly what the Christian faith is all about: a God who loves us so much that He has given everything for us. That is why we call it ‘good news.’ We have been given an incredible freedom, because of what God has done for us. It is the freedom of knowing that something wonderful is waiting for me when I die, if I choose to accept it.

There is an Arabic proverb which says: ‘It is easier to see a black beetle, on a black stone, on a black night, than for someone to see the pride in their own heart.’  How true that is. It also says in one of the Psalms, ‘[The sinner] so flatters himself in his heart, that he knows not his own sin’ (Ps 36:2).

In confession it is amazing how often people will say to me, ‘It is a year (or more) since my last confession, but I don’t really have any sins.’ It says in the first letter of St. John, ‘If anyone says they have not sinned, they are calling God a liar!’ That might seem a bit extreme, but it is not, because if we haven’t sinned, then the death and resurrection of Jesus was pointless; and that would also mean that the mass is meaningless. For us to deny our own sinfulness is more serious than we might think. If I fail to admit my own sinfulness, then I deny the need for God and for all that God has done for me. I am sure that if we could see our own souls before God, we would get quite a shock.

Let me share something personal with you. Years ago I was given this experience of seeing my own soul before God and it was quite terrifying. It lasted just a few seconds, but I will never forget it. For a brief moment I was shown what my soul, as a sinner, was like before God. At the same moment God allowed me to realize that if his mercy hadn’t sustained me, it would have killed me. It also helped me to realize how serious a thing sin is, because it is the one thing that can come between us and God. It is the one thing that could cause us to lose eternal happiness. That means that we need to take it seriously.

Of all the ways that we prepare for Easter, abstaining from things, giving to charity or whatever else, there is nothing more important in the eyes of God than confessing our sins. Why? because this is what God asks us to do. Confessing our sins is not just about us, it is also a way of saying that I recognise all that God has done for me, and I am responding to that.

Now I know that people say, ‘I can tell God I am sorry myself.’ Yes you can if you want, but that is also saying that I know better than what God asks me to do. Why did the Lord say to Peter and the Apostles, ‘Whoever’s sins you forgiven they are forgiven; whoever’s sins you retain they are retained’ (Jn 20:23)? He also said, ‘Whoever listens to you listens to me and whoever rejects you rejects me’ (Lk 10:16). It is good to remember those words.

A priest friend of mine who was an exorcist, told me the following: When a priest has to do an exorcism, if he can get the person who is possessed to make a confession, the job is already half done. Why? because when we confess, we turn back to God, we break the power of sin/evil and we open the door to God’s grace.

Just recently I was reading an article written by an exorcist here in the US and he was saying that when confession lines get shorter, evil increases. God has given us the means to break the power of evil, to continually bring his grace into our lives, but we don’t use it.

So, if you really want to receive God’s blessing this Easter, then do as He asks you and confess your sins. God gave us this purely for our benefit, not for his, or to keep the Church happy. It is a most extraordinary gift to us, to help us come closer to him, to be at peace and to be healed. The Lord doesn’t want us to be dragging our sins around with us, but He wants us to be free and at peace and that is why He has given us this extraordinary gift. At the end of a confession I often hear someone say, ‘I feel like a great burden has been lifted from me,’ and it has!
This is the chalice of my blood. 
It will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven.

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