Message: Confess your sins and confess God's mercy.
For Lent we are focusing on First Things: Encountering Jesus and making that relationship the most important. On the First Sunday of Lent we saw the central role of prayer - going into the desert with Jesus - to fast from some other activity so we can have daily prayer time. Last Sunday we focused on the fruit of prayer - children. By prayer and then witnessing to our experience of Jesus, God gives spiritual sons and daughters.
This Sunday we talk about something related to witnessing, that is, confession. Confession means to admit who I am before God. Like Pope Francis we acknowledge, "I am a sinner." There's several ways of doing that. One of the most powerful is the Sacrament of Reconciliation - Confession.
Perhaps you remember that of the 168 parishes who took the Disciple Makers Survey, St. Mary of the Valley turned out to be number one in frequency of Confession. That result may have been a fluke, but I am proud of it. I personally love the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Even though it can be a little scary, I've found it a great help as I stumble through life.
We'll have a great opportunity for confession next Saturday. I'll say more at the end of the homily but first I want to address the deeper meaning of confession. Confession involves something more than admitting one's sins. It means to confess God's Mercy. We see that in today's reading. Moses encounters God in the burning bush. He tells Moses that he sees the people's affliction in Egypt. "I know well they are suffering," God says. Mercy means to have a heart for the one who suffers. We confess the Divine Mercy when we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
By confessing one's sins and by confessing God's mercy, we get a second chance. In today's Gospel Jesus tells about a man ready to cut down a fig tree that has not born fruit for three years. But the gardener - who represents Jesus pleading for us - shows patience. He prunes away the useless parts, provides better nourishment. Jesus does that for us when we go to confession. He gives a new chance. People come out of confession with joy. They have both confessed their sins and confessed God's mercy.
I recently met a man with a powerful testimony about mercy. By a series of circumstances - including mistakes on his own part - he lost everything that matters including his children, his job, his self-respect. He sank into despair and drinking. When he hit bottom, God was waiting. Through AA and the Sacrament of Reconciliation he made a new beginning. He got involved in his old parish and he gives his testimony when appropriate. The man radiates hope and he bears fruit - spiritual sons and daughters.
Our lives bear fruit when we connect with Jesus and tell others about that relationship. It doesn't have to involves something super dramatic. It can be simple - inviting someone to a parish activity. It shouldn't be so hard, "Would you like to come to Mass with me? Or join me for a parish breakfast or dinner? A study group? Generations?" That doesn't sound too difficult, but according to the Disciple Makers Survey only 14% invite someone weekly. At the other end 22% say that, in the past year, they never invited anyone. The rest - 64% - are in the middle. They may invite someone once or twice a year. We can do better.
We have something wonderful we can invite other to. Next Saturday we will have the Day of Mercy at St. James Cathedral. From 9 to 5, priests (including me) will be available for confessions. While there you can walk the Way of Mercy. I talked to a family that did that self-guided tour. They said it fascinated their children.
By inviting others you perform an act of mercy. Do you remember the Scripture verse, "Of you my heart speaks." Our hearts speak of God. We need God. Only he can fulfill our hearts deepest longing. We see that in the scrutiny prayer this Sunday. The prayer says, "Grant that these candidates, who, like the woman of Samaria, thirst for living water, may turn to the Lord." The devil wants you to turn to alcohol, porn, drugs. As anyone knows who has had too many drinks, you wake up the next morning dehydrated. The devil promises Palm Springs but he delivers Death Valley.
God, on the other hand, does make demands. I won't deny it. Some of God's demands require heroic sacrifice - for example, to forgive someone who has deeply wounded you. Or to crowd out evil by daily prayer. But if you follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, he will lead you to springs of water, he will refresh your soul. He gives peace that lasts. "I am the Living Water," Jesus says.
We are in a daily spiritual battle. We need Jesus' power. Did you see the movie, My Bodyguard? It's about a boy who constantly gets picked on, especially by one particularly cruel bully. The boy is puny, but he's smart. He makes friends with a boy bigger than the bully. With his new "bodyguard" he defeats the bully.
You and I are like that boy. Against the devil we don't stand a chance on our own. We need to make friends with someone more powerful. As I pray the scrutiny prayer over you, I ask you make Jesus your best friend - the most important relationship in your life.
That's the message for today: Confess your sins, confess your need for Jesus. Come to the Day of Mercy. Confess your sins and confess God's mercy. "Bless the Lord, O my soul," says today's Psalm. "And forget not all his benefits." Amen.
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