4th/5th December 2021

posted 6 Dec 2021, 01:18 by Parish Office

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year C (4 & 5/12/21)

This Sunday our focus is on St John the Baptist, proclaiming a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. When we celebrate the Church’s liturgical year, we take part and immerse ourselves in the different events of salvation history. So if we are to truly “immerse” ourselves in today’s celebration, we first need to know what sin is.

Sin is something that goes against God, and maybe also against ourselves and others. When you switch the lights on in your house, the light doesn’t just stay in the one room, but it can also spread outside, through the window, and also into the next room, when the door is open. In the same way, both sin and goodness can spread, and we can’t always keep them so tightly confined to our hearts. Some people think that certain sins only affect themselves and are harmless to others. But they all affect our relationship with God, and change us as people, for the worse, which then has a knock-on effect on others. So, for example, if we give in to uncharitable thoughts about others, putting them down and condemning them as stupid, or careless, or whatever it might be, it can help perpetuate a cycle of negative thinking, which then spreads to other areas of our lives and how we speak to others. If, on the other hand, we are people of hope, who trust in God to be able to transform people and situations, and if we spread that hope and encouragement around us, we become a positive force for good – a much better situation.

Going back to what is a sin, we can sin in a few different ways, and it says in the I Confess: “I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do…” - so sin can involve, not only things we have done, but things we have thought, things we have said, and also, things we have failed to do. So that’s quite a few things to think about!

Then, next in the prayer, comes a very important point: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”. For something to be a sin, there has to be an element of personal choice about it. We can’t sin whilst we are asleep. If you fall asleep on a chair, and then fall onto the floor, and someone trips over you, your responsibility is very small! Maybe you should have gone to bed instead, but it wasn’t your intention to trip someone up. If, on the other hand, you pretended to fall asleep, and then made yourself fall on the floor to trip someone up, then that could be a sin.

A few more points: obviously some sins are more serious than others. If you tell a small lie, it’s not quite as serious as if you tell a big lie in court and an innocent person gets locked away and later on leaves prison with a criminal record. We also make a distinction between sins that we call venial and sins that we call mortal. If you’re a soldier and you’re mortally wounded in battle, that means you are going to die. So mortal sins are the more serious ones that mean we die spiritually – we lost the grace of God, and if we don’t repent and go to confession, we shut ourselves off from heaven – it’s that serious. Venial sins weaken our relationship with God, but they don’t cut us off from heaven – they just mean that purgatory is needed to cleanse them, if we haven’t been perfectly cleansed from them before we die. Hence the importance of confession, indulgences and the Last Rites.

So how do you know if a sin is mortal or not? For a sin to be mortal, it has to be something rather serious, such as breaking one of the Ten Commandments in a big way – perjury in court is serious enough, but a young boy telling his parents he has done his homework when he hasn’t isn’t serious enough. Also, for the sin to be actually mortal it needs to be done with the knowledge that it is really serious, and also with full and deliberate consent. So if people are under extreme pressure, or they act because of some sort of addiction, then it doesn’t count as mortal, and the same applies if they act in genuine ignorance. The Catechism says that drug-taking is a serious sin, but obviously when people are addicted, full consent is lacking.

Moving swiftly on, the whole point of repenting and confessing sin is to be free of it. And once that happens, it’s a call for celebration. A bit like the first line of the first reading: “Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress, put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever.” If you find it difficult to go to confession, plan some sort of celebration for once you have been. The Prodigal Son got to eat the fatted calf. Maybe your sin wasn’t as great as his, so you might want to scale down the celebration a bit – but celebrate you must.

Next, we know that we can fall into temptation again. Some say, what is the point in going to confession if you are going to sin again? My response is: what is the point in washing the car if it is going to get dirty again? What is the point in vacuuming the house if it will only get dusty again? What is the point in having a shower if you are only going to sweat again? I think you get the point. We can’t guarantee that we will always be able to resist, or that, if we do resist, that it won’t be a struggle. The I Confess puts it this way: “therefore I asks blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God”. Let’s

pray for one another this Advent. Here’s a new resolution for you: every time you spot what seems to be a fault in someone else, pray for that person. Perhaps if you’re a bit of a fault-finder, you might think: but that way, Father, I’ll be on my knees all day! Well, I never said becoming holy was going to be easy.

One final point: during the Year of Mercy some wondered if there might be calls for services of general absolution. These services can be bad because people see them as a replacement for confession, which they aren’t. Apart from in danger of death, forgiveness of mortal sins requires confession: general absolution is invalid as a replacement for it. But it was observed that things have gotten worse today than that. Rather than going to the inconvenience of leaving the house and going to a service of general absolution, many people today decide to give themselves absolution: they tell themselves not to be guilty and not to worry about it. That is actually quite serious. Jesus tells us: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” [Mt 12:31; cf. Mk 3:29 & Lk 12:10] The Catechism (no. 1864) explains this saying like this:

“There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence [which means you’re not sorry for what you’ve done] and eternal loss.”

It’s that serious, I’m afraid. We must repent of our sins and seek God’s forgiveness. We must never tire of asking God for His forgiveness. God wants to save us. He’s like an examiner giving us the right answers to write down. He wants us to pass the test. But only we can decide if we will.