DECEMBER 4, 2016
On Christ the King Sunday Mgr. Leopoldo Girelli, a Representative of the Pope in Asia, came to a Marian Shrine, near to my hometown, marking the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. About 30,000 people gathered there. We were so proud that he could speak 2 sentences in Vietnamese! I got to the shrine at 8 am and the Mass started at 9 am. There were 25-30 confessional stations and people lined up a mile long for confession. I was one with thousands of penitents that day and wondered why there were so many sinners in that country?
You may not have any experience to see so great a crowd to go to confession since many Catholics no longer buy into the concept of personal sin. We live out our lives in an era which has dry-cleaned sin away.
Jesus, his onetime guru John the Baptist, and their associates spoke more often of sin than of love. Why else would John the Baptist have come in from the desert "proclaiming a baptism of repentance that led to forgiveness of sin?" And the Gospels tell us people bought his message, repented of their sins, and were baptized. Today John the Baptist might well be out of a job and given unemployment insurance. He might be locked up for upsetting people's peace and forced to take anti-depressant pills.
I often worry that young people are being deprived of education in morals by those who should know better – e.g., myself, their Catholic parents, and Catholic teachers. After all, what kind of message are we sending to school students when their teachers in the Catholic Schools and Catholic parents never follow any religious standards and teachings? Can you imagine what John the Baptist would have to say on this matter? And, even infinitely worse, what he would have to say to each of us individually?
To airbrush sin away is to turn religion into cranberry sauce. To bury sin with socio-economic buzz words is to send Christ down the river. It makes John the Baptist weep. Someone points out that good manners demand that for slight offenses we must say to God, "Excuse me." But for serious offenses we must say, "Pardon me." The place to find that pardon is on our knees in the confessional. It is only when we say, "I have sinned!" that God can say, "I forgive."
When Peter denied Christ, he did not say he blew his cool. He did not blame his defection on early childhood toilet training. Matthew's Gospel tells us "he went out and began to weep bitterly." Today, if he was caught weeping, he would be slipped a fistful of tranquilizers and told to take a vacation. Judas took responsibility for his betrayal of Christ. He did not say, "Hey, lay off, it's only my first betrayal." The prodigal son confessed his wrongs saying, "Father, I have sinned against God and against you."
The Gospel of Matthew advises us that the first command Jesus spoke to a live audience was a stark one word "Repent!" God created us without consent but He will not save us unless we consent.
Christ must have taken his repentance cue from John because this week's Gospel tells us the first thing the Baptizer said after walking on the public scene was not "Have a nice day!" or, worse, "No problem!" but "Repent!" God wants us to be like John the Baptist. He wants us to be a voice and not an echo, a burning light and not a weak reflection.
To become a contemporary, John the Baptist would be a wonderful gift to present to the Infant we shall shortly salute. In this season, we celebrate, as someone has suggested, not what we are nor what we were but what we could be and want to be. Do you get the feeling that confession should be way up there on your must-do list this Advent? Frs. John, Francis, Tomy, Fred, Raul, Albert and myself will be here to wait on you on Wednesday Dec. 7 at 7 pm. See you there.
Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev. 22: 20)