Sunday, June 13, 2010

Homily 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

    As we continue with the Season of Ordinary Time we continue our focus on the day-to-day duties and responsibilities of a faithful Catholic. These include remembering that every Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation, returning to normal routines of prayer, renewing those small acts of penance that make up the penitential lifestyle of the Catholic, and examining our conscience regularly to see how prepared we are to receive Holy Communion. These are not extraordinary acts, these are the common practices of every mainstream Catholic in the pew. But today, the Holy Spirit highlights one in particular: Reconciliation. This should be as common as all the rest – one of those "ordinary" practices, so to speak, of Ordinary Time. Saints and popes have consistently encouraged us to go to Confession eat least on a monthly basis. But, for most of us, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation is above and beyond the call of duty.

    Our reticence toward Reconciliation can be for many reasons. Our society in general has lost a sense of sin. None of us likes to acknowledge that sometimes we do what is wrong. We can easily become unconvinced that we sin at all. We can fall under the illusion that we really wouldn't have anything to confess even if we were to go to the sacrament. If everything I do, or don't do, comes from my feelings or my upbringing or someone else then nothing is really my fault. Under this mindset, we can approach going to confession more like a discussion or a therapy session than a sacrament and the whole thing becomes very down-to-earth. In that case, I could say to myself: "That's a session I can put off until next month." In fact, all of these thoughts I have had myself, before I began to take my faith seriously, about 10 years ago.

Throughout my adolescence and early adulthood I never realized the real power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and what it really meant. But, thank God, it has become an indispensible part of my life and one of the greatest motivators, along with the Eucharist, of my vocation to the priesthood. Through it, my Baptism continues to work in my life, washing away my sins, changing my heart and soul with the very love and mercy of God, turning back-on the wellsprings of Faith, Hope, and Love, renewing my sonship with God and brotherhood with the Church, fortifying me to never sin again and to avoid the near occasions of sin, and removing all obstacles to God's grace. Now I hunger and thirst to hear Jesus Christ Himself say, through the priest, "I absolve you of your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His Mercy endures forever."

A couple of years ago, I had an experience of the sacrament of Reconciliation that helped me to realize that sometimes people… sometimes I… avoid the sacrament beyond reasons of laziness, or ignorance, or misunderstanding. Sometimes great shame is involved. The setting was a Rachel's Vineyard retreat, named after Rachel in the Old Testament who weeped for the loss of her child. This is a weekend retreat for women, and increasingly men, who are suffering from an abortion, an abortion in their own life or in the lives of their daughters or granddaughters. A fellow seminarian, from another diocese, had volunteered at these retreats before, to assist with the Masses and other rituals that take place during the weekend and he invited me to come along. He knew I was passionate about the pro-life movement and wanted me to experience the other side of the picket line. Not only did this weekend become one of the most powerful examples for me of the beauty and power of the sacrament of Reconciliation, but it became one of the most powerful moments of my entire life.

Part of the weekend consisted of breaking the group of mostly women up into small groups, each with its own licensed counselor and another person with experience in the program who had walked, herself, with Jesus on the road from shame to healing. In these groups, each of the women was allowed to tell their story, how their abortion happened. I participated by telling the story of how one of my friends had an abortion and I felt ashamed because I thought I could have done more to help her. It was very difficult to hear the stories. You could feel the tension in the room.

Some of the women simply got carried away with themselves, like David in the account we heard from the second Book of Samuel. Before they knew it, they were at the brink of destruction. In David's case, it was lust. He saw a woman he wanted so he took her and sent her husband to the front lines of battle to get him out of the way. It took the prophet Nathan to help him realize that he was on a road of suffering that would last his entire life. When David finally confessed that he had sinned against the Lord, the Lord forgave him, and set him on the road to life. Nathan answered David: "the Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die."

Since that first retreat as a participant, I've gone to three others as a volunteer. I certainly have not been counting, but I guess I have heard close to fifty abortion stories. Abortion always hurts. Women, and many men, we are learning, always suffer. It not only takes the baby's life but it ruins the mother's as well, sometimes in ways she doesn't realize. It often comes from abuse and leaves a legacy of abuse. And many women end up spiraling into drugs, alcohol, depression, promiscuity, or rabid advocacy of the pro-abortion cause, in order to justify the choice they made. Sooner or later their suffering catches up with them and they come anonymously, courageously, to these retreats for healing. The Friday they arrive is like Good Friday. But by telling their stories and hearing the stories of others, they become able to admit their share of the wrongdoing and turn to God for mercy and forgiveness. This opens the door to tremendous healing and sets them on the road not to death, but to life. They come to him as on Good Friday and at the end of the weekend, they go back into the world as on Easter Sunday.

By this time, the shame has gone away. They have named their children and adopted them from heaven. They have written them letters of remorse with the hope that their children are in a place now in which they do not know pain or resentment. They have placed themselves, through prayer, into each of Jesus' miraculous healings in the gospels. And we even celebrate a memorial Mass for their children. All of this is made possible for them by the sacrament of reconciliation.

Many of you may be regular confessors and I applaud you. Keep it up! Make sure it is always something you hunger and thirst for. It is necessary for a good life. If you are having difficulty going to confession, I tell you this story of the Rachel's Vineyard retreat, because I know that shame is a particularly difficult thing to overcome. If it's laziness, ignorance, or misunderstanding, snap out of it! But if its shame, a much harder obstacle, know that it can be conquered too. Throw yourself at the feet of Christ's Divine Mercy, like the woman in our Gospel today, like so many people who have gone through the Rachel's Vineyard retreats, for example. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is offered here at St. Gabriel every Saturday from 3:30 to 4:30pm and there are some parishes in the Archdiocese that even offer it daily. Shame need not keep you from the sacrament forever or sentence you to a vicious cycle of confessing the same thing over and over. God's Mercy endures forever, I've seen it unfold before my very eyes. Let Jesus say to you too, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Let his forgiveness enflame your heart with love, love for those who suffer, but especially love for Him, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Listen to this Homily: Recorded mp3 


Karinann said...

Dear Matt,
I found your blog through this month's issue of Vine & Branches (Rachel's Vineyard newsletter). I made my weekend in Nov. 2002 and it truly saved my life.
I just wanted to thank you for your testimony here and for being a part of this ministry. We need good solid Catholic men and good priests in this ministry. I always say the men in this ministry are my heroes.
Thanks for this great post.
God bless!

Matt1618 said...

My pleasure Karinann! Thanks for your note. I commend you for your courage in going on the retreat. Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, His mercy endures forever!

In Jesus, through Mary,
Deacon Matthew Hardesty