Today I want
to address a question that often comes up when people are talking to
me in confession and it is related to what we celebrate at
Christmas. Actually it is more of a fear than a question.
Almost everyone talks about a particular thing that they struggle
with, whether it be anger, gossip, a sexual weakness, an addiction,
or whatever; and it causes no end of suffering and humiliation.
No matter how hard we try, we don’t seem to be able to overcome
it. In fact I’ve often heard people say to me that they don’t
feel there is any point in going to confession anymore because they
just end up confessing this same sin again and again and they don’t
seem to be getting any better, so where’s the point? It can also
make us afraid that we won’t be able to go to heaven because of our
weakness. ‘Since I can’t overcome this sin, why would God
allow me to go to heaven?’ That is usually the thinking
behind it. However, when we think like that I believe we are
really missing the whole point of the death and resurrection of
The truth is
that no matter how hard we try to be holy and overcome our sins, our
weaknesses, we continually fall short of the mark. That is our
reality. When he wrote to the Christians in Rome, St. Paul put
it like this:
have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are redeemed by
his grace as a gift… to be received by faith (Rom 3:23ff).
English that is saying to us, since all of us have sinned and can
never be good enough for God, it is God himself who has made up the
difference for us. God has made up for us what we cannot do
ourselves, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The
fact that we will always be sinners and will always struggle with
various weaknesses is no longer a problem, because God has made us
‘good enough’ through what Jesus did. That is what being
‘redeemed’ means. We cannot get to heaven by our own
strength, by our own efforts, because we are too weak and too sinful
and no matter how hard we try we keep falling. But we don’t
have to be afraid of that because Jesus has made up for us what we
cannot do ourselves. He has bridged the gap.
St. Paul struggled with some kind of weakness that caused him great
humiliation in spite of the fact he had various visions of Jesus and
of heaven. Listen to what he says about it:
I do not
understand my own behaviour; I do not act as I mean to, but I do
things that I hate. ...the good thing I want to do, I never do;
the evil thing which I do not want—that is what I do. (Cf.
And finally he says, ‘Who will save
me from this wretched state? Thanks be to God through Jesus
Christ.’ That is the exact fear that people keep saying to me
in confession: ‘Who will save me from this wretched weakness?
How can I ever come before God in heaven when this is what I’m
like?’ This is where God calls us to realise what Jesus has
done for us and that can be a key turning point in our faith, because once we realise this then there is nothing for us to be afraid of. It no longer matters that we struggle with sin. God has made up for our weakness himself.
That is why the coming of Jesus among us at Christmas is such an
extraordinary event, because it is the beginning of God making up for
our weakness, our sinfulness. Jesus
has made himself the bridge between God and humanity. Now we
can come before God without fear because Jesus has made it possible.
Each time we celebrate the mass we are becoming present to that
event—the sacrifice of Jesus—which made it possible for us to go
to heaven. No other sacrifice or offering to God will ever be
necessary for us, because the selfless act of Jesus dying for us has
done everything necessary. All we have to do is to accept it.
No wonder we celebrate the mass every day, in every church all over
The mistake we continually make, which
causes us to be afraid, is to think that we have to become ‘good
enough’ for God by our own efforts. But the problem is that that is impossible
for us by our own strength. If we stop there, then we would
have every reason to despair. But once we realize that it is
Jesus who steps in and bridges the gap, then we have endless hope,
because it no longer depends on us being good enough. All we
have to do is accept this extraordinary gift from God.
So is Christmas relevant to us in a
practical way in our day to day living? It totally is, because
the coming of God into our world in the person of Jesus is what
reassures us that no matter how much we struggle, the path to
heaven will always remain open to us as long as we ask God for it.
All we have to do is accept from God this amazing gift which He is
will save me from this wretched state?
be to God through Jesus Christ’ (Rom 7:24).