I remember very clearly my struggles with the sacrament of confession. For years, there was one sin in particular that I could never bring myself to confess. I am not going to tell you what that sin was, but it was something that I struggled with in High School and into college. Time and time again, I didn’t confess the sin because of shame. I didn’t want to have say what I done out loud, and for this reason I had kept it hidden. But guess what, it wasn’t until I could express in words my sin that I was able to overcome it.
In addition to the sacramental grace, the supernatural cleansing of the sacrament, there is a human good involved with confession. Part of the spiritual life is about articulating who we are and what we do, and through that articulation to come to greater understanding. God always builds upon our human nature. The sacraments aren’t a reality completely separate from our everyday living. Simply put, confession would be a good idea even if it wasn’t a sacrament. There is something healthy about expressing those things we want to keep hidden, and doing so in an appropriate way.
In the Gospel, the Prodigal Son takes the first step by putting into words what he is thinking and feeling. He vocalizes his guilt and what he believes to be the solution. He imagines telling his father, “I have sinned against heaven and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” What we see in the prodigal son is something that is healthy for all of us to do. Taking stock of our weaknesses, and asking for forgiveness is a healthy and good thing to do.
I imagine that if you asked the Son at that very moment what this admission felt like, he would probably say it was difficult and saddening. On the surface, it would appear as the son is at his lowest point. He has nothing left; he is weak and vulnerable and he has nowhere to turn but to humbly come back to his father. However, I bet you that if you asked him about this same point several years later, he might say it was the best moment of his life. There is a sense in which the Son is finally realizing what he needs.
He needs the Father.
The Father’s love for his son is meant to teach us about our heavenly Father. We too are in need of a Father. We need God in our lives because without the love of the Father, we would soon squander our inheritance. Without God’s grace, our obstacles would overcome us, but through the grace provided by the sacraments, we are able to not only overcome sin in our lives, we are able to flourish.
Let me see a raise of hands, how many of you here want to flourish? How many of you want to love and be loved with a spontaneity and freedom that is both exhilarating and life giving? How many of you want that inner peace which comes from Christ, a deep peace in which you rest in the Father’s house?
In this life, we are called not only to cope with the problems that present themselves; we are called to conquer the world through the gifts of faith, hope, and love. And how do we do that? Through regular confession and the Eucharist. Ultimately, it is sin and the disordered attachments caused by sin which prevent us from loving with complete abandonment and inner peace and joy. Sin keeps us from the Father and his bountiful love.
In the Gospel account, the Prodigal Son returns to the Father. The scripture proclaims, “But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion.” Because we are attached to sin, because we are addicted to sin, we too are still at a distance. In our imperfect and immature ways, we search and grope for the Father’s plenty, we search for the good things he provides, but it seems like we can never quite get to the Father by our own means. But like the Father in this Gospel, God loves us and forgives us while we are still far from him. He sees us in the distance, in our confusion, and he comes to us. He desires us to be with him, and he comes to greet us with arms wide open.
And what does the Father do when he comes to us in our sins? He doesn’t just provide the minimum. No, his love is extravagant. Our heavenly Father wants to pour out his mercy and love upon us; he wants to lavish the extravagant gifts of the Holy Spirit into our lives and shower us with his blessings. What we have to learn is how to receive these gifts with greater trust and surrender.
In the sacrament of confession, we begin the process of learning to deepen our trust and surrender to the Lord. Right now, you might feel like you are still at a great distance. It may seem as though you have a far way to go, and the truth is that all of us have a far way to go. What I recommend to you today is that you must put faith in the things the Christ proclaims through the Church.
First, we must believe that in the sacrament of confession, we receive forgiveness for our sins and we are restored to communion with God. We don’t have to feel that this is the case. Rather, we must trust this based on authority of Jesus Christ who conquered sin through his death and resurrection. We believe not because we have reasoned to this awesome gift of forgiveness, but rather because it was revealed by Christ. In the parable, the Prodigal Son trusts that his Father will forgive him. This is what motivates him to turn back. We too must trust in the forgiveness of our heavenly Father based not on what we feel or think, but on the faith given in Christ.
Second, we must be patient. You will be forgiven today and you will sin tomorrow. One of the sayings of the Desert Fathers was that the just man sins seven times a day. They called these the daily sins. We must realize that we will sin again, and we must be patient and vigilant. The fight against sin in our lives is ongoing, and we must take up our cross daily. The good news is that our victory is guaranteed as long as turn to the Lord and ask for forgiveness.
In the fight against sin, confession is one of our greatest weapons. In confession, the enemy is defeated and we are given the strength to persevere. I recommend that you go to confession frequently. I hope and pray that it becomes a source of blessings and growth for you as advance in the Spiritual life.
In the beginning, I expressed how I had struggled for years with sin. It had made me feel ashamed and defeated. I felt far from the Lord, and I longed for greater peace and joy. The truth is that when I came back to confession, it took years before I started to see its effect in my life. Change was gradual, and continues to be gradual. But now, I am finding that I have made progress. I have won some of the battles of my youth, and this has filled me with a renewed vigor and energy. It has unleashed love in my life in a way that gives me great joy. I want to share that joy with you today. I want you to know the great love Our Heavenly Father has for you, and how he wants you to be a Saint.
This is lovely. So well written and so theologically sound. This is a great line: “We don’t have to feel that this is the case. Rather, we must trust this based on authority of Jesus Christ… ” Amen.