II Sunday of Easter
28 April 2019
This past Thursday the Diocese was blessed to be able to welcome the relic of St John Marie Vianney – the patron saint of all priests. The relic is of his heart – which is incorrupt. It is enclosed in a glass case and is clearly visible. Bishop Rozanski presided over a Mass that afternoon with several priests and deacons and packed church. In his homily Bishop spoke about St. John Vianney as a priest dedicated to his people. When appointed by his bishop to serve the people of Ars he got lost. On the way he encountered a farm boy and said to him: “show me the way Ars, and I will show you the way to heaven.” And indeed he did – between teaching catechism to the children, delivering powerful sermons, celebrating Mass everyday, his penitential way of life and spending a great deal of time in prayer he proved to be a deeply devoted spiritual father. Yet, it was not just these practices that proved him to be so dedicated to God, the Church and his people… he also spent 12-16 hours per day in the confessional. People from all over France would line up early to have their confession heard by this holy man. His dedication to administering the Sacrament of Confession would prove to be the hallmark of his ministry and indeed, it would be the way he guided the faithful to heaven.
All around the world the Church today celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday – a feast inaugurated by Pope St. John Paul II. He did so in fulfillment of Jesus’ messages and appearances to the Polish nun, St. Faustina. Also, because he felt that the Church was in need of a reawakening to the celebration of the great gifts of Easter – that the message of the Resurrection is a message of reconciliation and mercy. Jesus’ Heart is a heart of mercy. And yet, so many Catholics in the Church today do not confess their sins. Many folks think that they can just confess privately to God and that’s enough. Many think that they don’t have sins. They are simply depriving themselves of this mercy. And in a way become like the prodigal son but never returning home to where they truly belong, never realizing that mercy, the forgiveness of our sins this is what Jesus was all about… and that when we seek out His mercy in the confession of our sins, He shows us the way to His heart – He shows the way to heaven.
We often forget that the sacraments of the Church were instituted per the will of Jesus Christ. They are meant for our spiritual benefit … they are an extension of Him and His ministry of healing and reconciliation. We the priest speaks the words of consecration, we know that bread and wine are transformed into Christ’s Body and Blood; when the words “I baptize you…” are spoken, we know that a child/adult truly has been baptized; when the words “be sealed with gift of the Holy Spirit” are spoken on a person receiving confirmation we know that the Holy Spirit rushes upon that person’s soul … all of these words, gestures, rituals are meant to touch the senses and lift up our souls. They give us the certainty that Christ is present to us in these ways… In the confessional it is not different… When the priest pronounces the words “I absolve you…” we know for certain that our sins are burned up in the fire of God’s mercy and that heaven has been opened up to us once again.
I don’t have a magical answer for how to bring souls back to confession or to get folks to confess more regularly … I’m no saint – this should be very obvious! And I am also no St. John Vianney … but if it takes being more dedicated to the sacrament of confession, making it more readily available for people, I will do that. I will be in the confessional after Mass today and there are confessions available this afternoon at Blessed Sacrament in Greenfield from 2pm-3pm.
The point is simply this … at the very heart of Christianity and our faith is mercy. And that first step on the path that leads us to heaven is turning to Jesus and confessing our sins, showing Him our hearts … confession opens our hearts to Him… showing Him that we have hearts that are in need of His love, mercy and forgiveness. And then that’s when He enters and shows us, proves to us what He is all about – mercy.