On Confession and Cremation

(Homily Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A)

This Fifth Sunday of Lent, the elect (those chosen for baptism) will receive the Third Scrutiny. It includes this prayer of exorcism:

Lord Jesus,
By raising Lazarus from the dead
you showed that you came that we might have life
and have it more abundantly...

Rescue the elect from the tyranny of death,
for they long for the new life of baptism.
Free them from the slavery of Satan,
the source of sin and death,
who seeks to corrupt the word you created
and saw to be good...

The prayer indicates two types of resurrection. The first is spiritual. It happens when turn from the dreariness of sin and embrace the new life Jesus offers us. For the elect this will occur most dramatically when they are washed baptismally at the Easter Vigil. For those of us who are already baptized there is a second baptism which awaits us.

I'm not talking here about being re-baptized, about going to a river or swimming pool and repeating a baptismal rite. St. Paul is very clear in that sense there is only "one baptism." (Eph 4:5) The Church Fathers considered re-baptism (for example as practiced by the Donatists) to be a mockery of God's grace which is once and for all. Nevertheless the Fathers did speak about a kind of second baptism. It is what we know today as the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penance.

I'd like to invite you to that second baptism, especially in these days before Holy Week. Many parishes are having Penance Services with a number of confessors available. I've already helped out at several--and this week it is our turn at Holy Family. Our Penance Service will be Thursday evening, beginning at 6:30 and there will be eight or nine priests here so everyone should have an opportunity to individually receive the sacrament.

It will not be a counseling session although if someone has a more complicated problem the priest might invite him to come again at a less busy time. My experience shows most people do not need a long lecture, but maybe a brief word of encouragement after telling their sins.

For some people that can be a scary thought. "If I really told Father what I did, he might shout at me or even hit me." Well, I can assure you I have never hit anyone in confession--or, as far as I can remember, shouted. The same goes for every other priest I know.

Confessing ones sins to a priest can relieve a heavy burden. "Father, I've been lazy. I did not go to Sunday Mass. I did not spend time with my children. I wouldn't give my wife the listening she needs." Or: "Father, I have been unfaithful to my calling. I have taken things that do not belong to me. I told lies to cover up. I need the strength to break a bad relationship I have fallen into." Or simply: "I did not honor my father and mother. I have not been honest about where I have been spending my time. But now I want to put them ahead of my friends."

The Seal of Confession often gives people confidence to tell a priest what they have told no one else, perhaps some hidden secret--like abortion, homosexual behavior or child abuse. Still it often takes great courage (and grace) to express it. Whatever is eating inside of you, whether it is pornography, birth control, alcohol or something else that has you trapped, I encourage you to say it to a priest. There may not be an instantaneous solution, but just by confessing it, you will once again be in the shadow of the cross. Hope will return to your heart. That, brothers and sisters, is a spiritual resurrection.

There is also a physical resurrection which I must also mention briefly this Sunday. There is no getting around Lazarus being physically restored after the corruption of death. His body had begun to deteriorate, as all bodies do, but it was brought back.

Raising Lazarus after four days in the tomb was arguably Jesus' greatest miracle. One of the reasons he performed it--beyond his own personal affection for Lazarus and his sisters--was to teach us reverence for the human body, especially in death. Unfortunately we live a culture which does not appreciate that reverence. One of the indications is the fact cremation has become such a common practice, especially here in Western Washington. A funeral director told me that in a single decade it has jumped from one third to two thirds. Rather than reflecting on the implications of cremation, we Catholics seem to have simply followed suit. For sure it costs less, but there are reasons which justify the extra expense of a full Christian burial. Not an elaborate splashy show, but a dignified funeral which doesn't need to break the bank.

The problem with cremation is not so much reducing the body quickly to dust (altho that in itself sometimes precludes having a Mass with the body present). The real problem is what can happen to those mortal remains afterwards. I've heard of urns being put on a shelf adjacent the television or being used in a party joke. Worse is sprinkling the ashes and bone chips. That might be appropriate in a pantheistic, nature worship religion, but it what place can it have in ours? For us the key values are care and respect for the human body, having a Mass of Christian burial with the body present and marker where those remains finally as a focus for remembrance and prayer.

There is much more to be said about the implications of our belief in physical resurrection: the reverence we should have for our own bodies and those of others which ultimately do not belong to us, but to God himself. We ask of him a spiritual resurrection, a second baptism, that one day with these very eyes we might contemplate Him.

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More on Confession of Sins

Homily with more detailed explanation of Catholic Burial Rites

From Archives (Year A homilies for Fifth Sunday of Lent):

Revive (2011)
Overcoming Power of Death (2008)
Joining Body with Soul (2005)
He Was Buried (2002)
On Confession and Cremation (1999)

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Announcements

my bulletin column

SMV Bulletin (be patient - sometimes we have problems uploading)

Parish Picture Album

40 Days for Life (Everett, WA)

Q&A about Planned Parenthood

An Audio Lenten Retreat by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain (thirteen talks, 10 to 15 minutes long, on topics such as temptation, grudges, surrender, mercy, etc. - well worth listening to)

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