This morning Fr. Aaron spoke powerfully on our need, our total dependence, on God's grace and mercy. Without it we can do absolutely nothing as all goodness, all holiness, all love and joy and forgiveness come from Him and are His gift to us. He is so generous, so patient and loving to each and every one of us; we rebel and sin time and time again but each time we turn back to Him we are gently and warmly embraced as a parent does his child. Jesus wants us to have a true communion with His Father, He wants nothing more than to bring us to God which is why He willingly suffered and died for us upon the cross but despite our knowing this, although we are so, so thankful for His sacrifice we, because of our fallen nature, continue to push Him away, we keep on sinning. But Jesus knows this about us, He knows us all more intimately than we even know ourselves, and has made sure that when we go astray there is always a road back. We are never abandoned, never cast away, through His ultimate act of love and through the ministry of the Church we are always able to turn back to Him. It can be hard, it can be scary but it is always worth it. God wants us to have a relationship with Him, to be one with Him. And despite the fears and apprehension that come with going to Confession once you get in there you can be quite sure that you will be welcomed with open arms.
What I find amusing (or should it be disturbing) when I am visiting Medieval English Cathedrals is that when you walk in and pay your £10 entrance fee, rather than smelling burning incense and the celestial sound of monks chanting the daily offices, you are more often than not met with the smell of a cooked breakfast from the cafeteria that has been built next to the baptistery and the soothing sound of pan piped moods gently playing in the background. I wander what would Jesus think, of what has happened to his Father’s house? Well we know what he did feel 2000 odd years ago. Today we see, as one of my confirmation candidates put it, Jesus’ sacred humanity, demonstrating the human emotion of anger; it is an episode where Jesus is seen as one like us, we identify with him. In many respects we can often idealise Jesus as superman, like some sort of Marvel comic superhero, this is not satisfactory and it doesn’t bear any relation to who He was and is.
In Herod’s temple precincts - a vast complex, there consisted 4 courts, the court of the priests, the court of Israel, the court of women and the court of the Gentiles, it was likely that it was in the Court of the Gentiles that Jesus drove out the merchants and money changers. Our Lord was so angry with these people for having turned the temple into some sort of marketplace, and he would have been angry for many reasons; one would be that there was injustice going on, people being ripped off and cheated left, right and centre, another would be that the central place of worship and prayer was being profaned by shopping and other non-religious activities, but a most significant reason lies in the fact that the court of the Gentiles, was an area where foreigners and strangers to the Jewish religion would have gathered in a place near to God, it was a place where they could have the possibility of encounter; encounter with the God who has revealed his name. If you like it was a place of opportunity to come across the divine, for Jews or otherwise. By trading and dealing there a barrier was being put up preventing any possible experience with God, and Jesus wanted that barrier torn down, swept away. Jesus himself in his death and resurrection would be the mediator between heaven and earth, nevertheless in his life here on earth, he still stresses the importance and holiness of God’s house, the Temple as a place of meeting.
However I believe there is a deeper spiritual significance to this account for each and every one of us here. As St Paul says in his letter to the Christians at Corinth, Our bodies are all temples of the Holy Spirit. Over time we tend to clutter our body and minds which prevent us from encountering God’s love and mercy. Perhaps this Lent through this Gospel today, our Lord is wanting and reminding us to sweep out all that clutters our lives, in other words to get rid of sin and repent. Jesus doesn’t want our souls to be filled with rubbish and sinful baggage of the past, and I am sure you agree with him. The way to do this, and I will say it simply; if you have not been for a long time, be reconciled & go to confession!
In a time set aside in particular for repentance, penance and prayer, we often turn to things we give up, such as chocolate, sweets, as if Lent were a spiritual diet or money saving exercise, but what good is that, will we be a different person at Easter, will we have grown in holiness, will we have become closer to Christ, if we are honest probably not. Whereas if you can say to yourself by Easter, I went to confession for the first time in years, I am realised from the burdens and decluttered my past, and I am closer to Jesus, then Lent 2012 would have been a success.
Whenever I preach about going to the sacrament of reconciliation, of going to confession, there is a palpable groan, and people just ignore what I have to say, thinking it applies to other people. But think, when was the last time you went, why have you not been in a long time, maybe you have had a bad experience in the past of confession or daunted? As I said last week the longer you have been away the bigger the welcome will be. God rejoices and is happy, when we make the effort, it is a victory over the devil. In that room, Fr Richard and I sit there waiting, as Christ, we are given the authority by Him, to forgive sins in his name. Akin to the Father waiting for the prodigal son, for someone to sweep away all that hinders them from moving on towards holiness, towards a grace-filled relationship with God.
Someone remarked to me recently having been away from the Church for many years, that they were shocked at Sunday Mass to see everyone go to Holy Communion, and no one go to confession, the last time they were in church around 50 years ago, the opposite was true. I am not saying to go back to that, far from it, but the reality has to be somewhere in the middle.
Historically – and it remains so today that Confession, absolution and penance are strictly linked to Holy Communion, in the Orthodox Church, it is confession on Saturday, and holy Communion the next day, you can’t do one without the other. Can we in all conscience go to communion if we are aware of serious sin? Again in St Paul we read, "Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord."
That begs another question, are we even aware of what sin is nowadays? “I haven’t murdered anyone” people say, we have just heard of the Ten Commandments in our first reading. Yes, the Ten Commandments are a basis for our examination of conscience but it is much more than that. What about killing the soul, mine or someone else’s? Read a good examination of conscience, and you will discover things that you think are alright, things that we have become desensitised to; things we mistakenly think are not that sinful but actually are damaging: abortion, gossiping, wasting time, money and food, making fun, racist thoughts, meanness, disrespect, manipulation, the perils of the internet, speeding, deceit, lies, bullying on the web or in action, drunkenness, pornography, sins of the flesh, overindulging, laziness at home, laziness in prayer.
It is also not about the priest making you feel bad, I was away from the sacrament for years, I went wild at university going to communion aware of sin but I had a change of heart and rediscovered it as a young adult, and have never looked back, and now I go fortnightly. We as priests harp on about it because we have seen lives transformed and turned around by the love of Christ in this sacrament.
Perhaps the Pope is right, and there is a generation of those from 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and 00’s completely lost to this sacrament, a generation that was made to think that everyone has the right no matter what we have done or failed to do, to receive the Lord in Holy Communion. Or perhaps we are all saints. There is a lot of pain and hurt today and so the healing is all the more needed particularly in this sacrament.
If we are embarrassed or don’t know how to go, or can’t remember. Just explain to the priest and he will lovingly guide you through, you won’t shock him -we have heard everything under the sun!
Make a real difference this Lent, and experience the free and liberating sacrament of reconciliation, recognise its direct link to Holy Communion, and the importance of receiving Holy Communion in a state of grace so that God’s gifts, of Faith, hope, love and strength may grow in you.
Jesus wants to clear out your temple - of mind and body and spirit, this Lent just allow him to do that, hear those words of absolution again, Through the ministry of the church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This Lent there are lots and lots of opportunities to be reconciled to God in this amazing sacrament. Here are a list of the times but you can always ring the office on 01403 253667 and make an appointment (you can also email Fr. Richard here and Fr. Aaron here), both priests will be more than happy to meet at a time to suit you if none of the following fit into your schedule.
- Every Friday and Saturday confessions are heard after the 10am Mass.
- Every Saturday from 5:15pm to 5:45pm.
- At the parish reconciliation service on Friday 30th March at 7:30pm.