They Acknowledged Their Sins

(Homily for Second Sunday in Advent, Year B)

Recently I asked a medical professional if marijuana causes any long-term effects. He told me that some studies suggest it may affect the part of the brain that enables a person to move from intention to action. They might form good plans, which they announce to friends, but when it comes to realizing their goals, they seem stymied or even indifferent - as if their good intention was the only thing which counts.

Whether these studies are accurate, I will let others judge. However, it seems all of us have some difficulties in bringing good intentions into reality. Today's Gospel offers a remedy. When the people came to John seeking a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” they did not passively participate in a rite. Rather,

“They acknowledged their sins.” (Mk 1:15)

The Anglican author, C.S. Lewis encouraged confession of sins to a priest. The practice can help a person move beyond vague goals. “I want to be a better, more loving person.” (Whoopee!) You know, those people near you don't care about your wonderful plans; they would like some specific changes. It's amazing what happens when one reviews the Commandments and expresses to another human being where one has fallen short - not ten years ago, but in the last ten days: I lost patience, took out my anger on the wrong person, I swore five times, I looked at Internet pornography, I returned a barbed comment.

C.S. Lewis suggested that if a person does not practice confession to a priest, he, at least, should list his most significant failings. Acknowledging specific sins can have a salutary effect. It not only enables us to make genuine progress, but to do something even more profound. Unless we recognize our failings and make an effort to correct them, we will never face who we truly are.

John preached a baptism of repentance. Why? To prepare the way for one mightier than himself. Our striving - and at some point, failure - to live God's law can open us to the gift John prophesies: a baptism with the Holy Spirit (1:8). The near unanimous Christian tradition testifies that he is referring to the Sacrament.

Jesus tells us that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, it is necessary to be "reborn by water and the Holy Spirit." (Jn 3:5) That is the greatest gift the Church has to offer, whether conferred upon an adult or a child of faith-filled parents. But it sometimes can be like a Christmas gift which gets lost in the shuffle and somehow remains unopened. For that reason we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation which the Fathers described as a “second baptism.” I encourage you to avail yourself of that stupendous grace by acknowledging your sins.


Versión Castellana

From Archives (Second Sunday of Advent, Year B):

2014: Preparing Our Hearts Week 2
2011: The Collect
2008: Sins of Impatience
2005: Unmasking Sin
2002: They Acknowledged Their Sins
1999: They Confessed Their Sins

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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PBS Program on Mark Twain neglected his "most important and best work."

Hardly a Martyr (Article by Deal Hudson concerning pastor opposed to Cardinal Law)

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