A Priest's Examination of Conscience

(Third Sunday of Advent, Year C)

Today we light the third candle of our Advent wreath. In the Gospel we see John washing the repentant - after leading them thru a quite specific examination of conscience.

Recently I've been examining my own conscience, especially in consideration of my 29th anniversary as a priest. It seems like yesterday I knelt before Bishop James Hickey who silently placed hands on my head. So much has happened and these years have overall been happy, satisfying. As a priest I have had the opportunity to help people in important ways. At the same time I am vividly aware of my failings. Just as a priest can profoundly help people, he can also deeply hurt.

I remember once, I think I had been ordained about fifteen years, a former parishioner approaching me. She said, "Father, can I talk to you alone?"

"Sure," I replied and we went apart.

She then said to me, "Father, I want you to know I forgive you."

"Thanks," I said, "but what did I do?"

She then reminded me of what I had said to her. The words were so poorly thought out, so ill chosen, they bordered on grossness. When she reminded me a burning feeling of embarrassment rose from my stomach to my face. As other concerns pressed on me, I had forgotten the words, but they had left a wound in her.

I want to say on this anniversary of my ordination, if I have hurt one of you by word, act or omission (perhaps especially the latter) I ask your pardon.

St. Paul says we should "have no anxiety at all." (Phil 4:5) In Mass after the Lord's Prayer, we ask the Father to "protect us from all anxiety." And what causes so much anxiety in our hearts? To be honest most comes from the failure to ask forgiveness from God and others. Think about it. Why are you anxious the cancer test will come out positive? Or that you will go broke? I'm not saying such things would not scare me. I am acknowledging that, like you, I am still far from complete dependence on God - and peace with my brothers.

Today we lit the rose candle of our Advent wreath. It calls us to rejoice, to put away anxiety. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. If you haven't completely arrived, do not despair. If you let some light in, it will continue to augment. There is more to come.

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From Archives (Homily for Third Sunday of Advent, Year C):

2015: Are You Missing Out? Week 3: Joy
2012: What Should We Do?
2009: Joy as a Duty
2006: To Be a Happier Priest
2003: Profile in Courage
2000: A Priest's Examination of Conscience
1997: Rejoice Always!

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