7th / 8th December 2019

posted 2 Dec 2019, 05:27 by Parish Office   [ updated 9 Dec 2019, 02:35 ]

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B (7 & 8/12/19)


Our Lord said:  “I tell you solemnly, of all the children born of women, a greater than John the Baptist has never been seen; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is” (Matthew 11:11).  John the Baptist is an amazing prophet, who wasn’t afraid to stand up to those in authority, those who thought they knew better, and those who had corrupted their faith.  As some would say, he spoke truth to power, and faced the consequences, putting his hope in God.  So today, he gives the Pharisees and Sadducees a good telling off:  do not presume that repentance is only for other people.  Look into your hearts.  See what you find there, and repent.  Don’t think that just because you are a Jew, Abraham will save you no matter how you live.  God’s justice applies to everyone.


In the book of Genesis, we see how righteous Abraham was, how he put his faith and trust in God, and as a result was told that he would be the father of a great nation, and that his descendants would be as many as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.  But by the time of John the Baptist, things had become a bit exaggerated.  To the orthodox Jew, Abraham was so unique in his goodness and his favour with God, that his merits could not be exhausted, and they sufficed for all his descendants.  So a Jew, simply by being a Jew, would be safe in the next life, without needing any merits of his or her own.  “All Israelites have a portion in the world to come”, they thought.  They thought that Abraham would wait by the gates of hell, to turn back any Jews that might have somehow strayed and ended up there.  You can guess what this might lead to.  If I’m going to heaven anyway, then who cares how good or bad I am whilst on this earth.  As long as I can get away with it, then why should I worry?  It’s a perversion of religion.  Now, rather than religion being a cause of people’s moral improvement and growth in goodness, it becomes a licence to sin.  I’ll be forgiven, so why worry?  It’s an abuse of God’s mercy and called the sin of presumption.  And it ends in the next life with the shock that God can’t be abused and deceived:  “I have never known you; away from me, you evil men!” (Matthew 7:23)


Sometimes, Catholics can be accused of a similar fault.  Okay, so if you can go to confession and have your sins forgiven, doesn’t that mean that you can go out and sin for the rest of the week, knowing that you can go to confession on Saturday and then be ready for Sunday?  Well, here’s news for you.  Just the same as marriages can sometimes be invalid, so can people’s confessions.  In plain language, that means that it’s possible for someone to go to confession, and leave the confessional with no sins forgiven, and an extra sin or two added on top as well.  Now that sounds worrying.  But how is that possible?


Easy.  Confession is not a machine, where you go in, put in your coins, press the button and out comes forgiveness.  It’s not a magic wand.  It’s about a relationship with God, and in that sense, it’s just like any other relationship.  If two people have a falling out, and then the one person goes to the other and just pretends to be sorry, without actually being sorry, and the other person knows that it’s all an act, then there is no reconciliation.  In fact, it just puts up another barrier.  You offended me, and now you’re just trying to abuse and manipulate me by claiming to be sorry when you clearly aren’t sorry in the slightest.


So how does this relate to confession?  Well, it has to be done with the heart.  So what this means is, that we have to first be sorry for what we have done, then we have to actually confess it, and thirdly we have to be willing to make amends for what we have done.


First:  be sorry.  Hopefully that’s not too complicated.  If we aren’t sorry, and are quite happy with what we have done, then there’s a bit of a problem.


Secondly:  confess the sins.  We are obliged to confess all mortal sins.  These are the bigger sins that cut us off from the life of grace.  If you are a soldier and are mortally wounded in battle, that means that you are going to die.  Mortal sin is a similar thing.  If we die unrepentant after having committed just one mortal sin, then we go to hell.  It’s that serious.  But whilst we are still alive, there’s the chance of turning to the Lord and  being forgiven.  Venial sins, the smaller sins that send us to purgatory rather than hell, don’t all need to be confessed – that might be impossible.  But we should still have a good look at our souls and confess the sins we find there.


Thirdly, make amends.  It’s important that we do the penance the priest gives us.  It’s usually not too difficult – just a few prayers to say.  Occasionally it might be something practical, such as restoring something you have stolen.  Confession shouldn’t be used as a way to benefit from sin.  It’s once again a perversion of the sacrament to think I can use it in order to benefit from stealing.  In Mrs Brown’s Boys, one of the characters said that one Christmas, he prayed for a bike, but didn’t get it.  So the next time he stole a bike, and then he asked for forgiveness.  Proper repentance would mean that he either somehow returns the bike, or if that’s not possible, then he maybe gives it to a charity shop or something similar.


Lastly, tied in with all three, is amendment of life.  If you’re sorry for it, then the idea is that you don’t want to do the same thing again.  Sometimes this is easy; at other times it’s easier said than done – bad habits are not always so easily broken all in one go.


John the Baptist called the people of the time to true repentance.  God has no favourites.  We are called to true repentance as well.