Here’s another homily from over the summer. One I gave to a parish I was visiting for the weekend while the pastor was away on vacation.
As a young priest, I frequently get asked many questions about why I became a priest, as well as many general questions about the faith. Sometimes these questions come from someone who wants to start a debate, sometimes from someone who is just plain curious.
One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot, is why do Catholics have to go to confession to a priest? I mean can’t we just go to confession straight to God? Why does a priest have to be present? What’s the point of confessing anyway? Why even bother? Can we really sin anymore?
Thankfully today’s readings give us answers to a lot of these questions.
Though first we must recall the image that St. Paul uses to explain the Church if we are to understand what he is saying in today’s readings. We as individuals, the members of the Church make up the Body of Christ. As a body we are meant to be united, not separated. Nor are we meant to be a static, lazy body that kind of just stands around, no, like Christ we are to return to the Father.
However, as we all know too well with our own bodies, sometimes something gets out of whack? Needs fixing. And if you’ve got one problem, it can drag the whole body down too.
The reason for reconciliation is not just that it gives us the opportunity to confess our sins to God but also repair our relationship with those whom we have offended. To restore our relationship to the whole, the Church.
In today’s reading from Paul he exerts that both those who far off and those who are near need to make peace both with God and the one body of Christ. This is why the last thing we do before we receive Christ in the Eucharist is what? The Sign of Peace.
So ok that’s great, we confess our sins to God so we can have peace with God and be united with our brothers and sisters in Christ. But why the sacrament? Why so formal? Why the priest?
First the priest acts in persona Christi that is, in the person of Christ. So above all the person is still confessing their sins to God. Secondly, he acts as a representative of the Church, that body of Christ, aiding those who have fallen away, or are struggling to be reunited with the whole body, the Church.
To really understand the question of why a priest? Why the sacrament, we can turn to today’s Gospel reading, for Christ laments that the people were a sheep without a shepherd. The priest isn’t in the confessional to judge someone, rather to shepherd them back to the flock, to guide and assist them. If we were to just do it on our own, us and God, we would be like sheep without a shepherd.
Ok you say, fine father. But do we really need the sacrament? Do we really need to confess our sins? My life’s pretty good as it is…
When I was in Albania doing missionary work, I worked with some sisters in a health clinic. Our goal there was to provide whatever care we could for whoever showed up at our door. The health system there, as you can imagine is terrible and underdeveloped.
Here in the USA, we are blessed. Take for instance something like diabetes, we see commercials all the time advertising machines to test our blood sugar, then we take shots and other medicines to keep it under control.
That’s not the case in Albania. I met multiple people there who suffered from diabetes. They didn’t have machines to check their score, nor medicines to help them control things. Instead effectively have to play a guessing game with their diet, or come into the health clinic on occasion to get tested.
More often than not, that’s not enough, and over time, they start to suffer complications. That’s when they would come to us. The side effect that was most common, a loss of circulation to their feet. So by the time people would come see us, their feet were literally rotting away, decaying. Awful images in my mind. Then they couldn’t walk, they became totally debilitated, bedridden, and then death.
So you ask me, why bother going to confession? Everything’s alright? So as it is with diabetes it is with our spiritual lives. We think everything’s fine. Or we know life’s difficult, but we just keep playing that guessing game, trying to figure things out on our own, like sheep without the shepherd. If we keep coasting, operating on our own, things get worse, then it’s seemingly too late and we don’t know what to do, we’re overwhelmed, dare I say, debilitated.
In the sacrament of reconciliation the Church provides that care you need, the spiritual insulin if you will. By confessing one’s sins to God, you can let go of those things which lead you away from God, away from the community, make sense out of the confusion and hurt, find healing.
When we find that healing, when we’re able to let go, that’s when we find peace, that’s when we are brought near to the blood of Christ, who nourishes and strengthens us. For united as one body of Christ, in peace, through the sacrifice of the Son, we have access in One Spirit to the Father.