2nd Sunday of Advent
09 DECEMBER 2001
Scriptual Reference: Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-9, Matthew 3:1-12

Reconciling Together

       I heard a story once about an old man who found a magic lamp in the desert. He rubbed the lamp, and lo and behold, a genie appeared. "Because you have freed me," the genie said, "I will grant you one wish." The man thought for a moment and responded. "My brother and I had a fight 30 years ago, and he hasn't spoken to me since. I wish that we could be reconciled." There was a thunderclap, and the genie declared, "Your wish has been granted. You know," the genie continued, "most men would have asked for wealth or fame. But you wanted only to be reconciled with your brother. Is it because you are old and dying? Are you preparing for death?" The man replied, "No way! But my brother is, and he's worth about $60 million!"

       In today's gospel, we encounter a figure from the desert who is all about preparation and repentance. But rather than a genie, we see the figure of John the Baptist. John's message to people waiting for the Messiah was simple: "Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" He baptizes the people and washes away their guilt as they acknowledge their sins. Most importantly, though, John the Baptist links preparation for the coming of Jesus with repentance of sins.

       I have a friend in his mid thirties named Mack. Mack is an alcoholic. A few years ago, he was drinking an awful lot. As a result, he treated his wife, his family, and his co-workers very poorly. The more he drank, the more hurtful he was to those around him. Mack almost lost his job and his family. Finally, Mack realized that he needed help, that his sinful behavior was stemming from his addiction, but he was scared to death. He felt completely isolated and all alone. One day, following the advice of a friend to whom he had been confiding, Mack finally screwed up the courage to go to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. Walking into that room was the scariest thing he had ever done, but the men and women there greeted him as if he were an old friend. When the meeting began, the facilitator asked if anyone was there for the first time. Mack raised his hand timidly and in a weak voice he spoke his first name. Suddenly, the room burst into applause, and Mack knew that for the first time that he was not alone.

       Whether or not we struggle with addiction, sin a part of our lives. We all know how easy it is to hurt those around us, those people that we care about the most. The guilt and the shame that we carry on our shoulders weighs us down, sometimes it leads us to depression, or anger or hostility. Sin can make us feel as if we are all alone. We tell ourselves that we are the only person who would ever commit such a sin. "I'm the only person who gets this angry." "I'm the only one who has ever committed this sexual sin." The most horrible effect of sin is how we can become so isolated. We feel so alone, just as Mack did. But like Mack, we can get help. Like Mack, we can shatter the sense that we are all alone. We don't even need a genie to do it. We can be free of our sin by reconciling ourselves to God in the great sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. In this sacrament, we are called to repent of our sins. And just like an addict who has freed himself from addiction's grip, so we too sense a new freedom. We feel a sense of wholeness, of peace, of serenity. We feel as if a huge weight has been lifted up off of our shoulders.

       In the second reading today, St. Paul says, "May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus." Our church offers us a way to come together in harmony and mutual support. For a generation now, there has been a movement in the church to celebrate reconciliation together. We gather as a parish community of faith, usually in Advent and in Lent, to see that we are not alone in our sins, that there are hundreds others who are like us: people who need to repent, people who need the burden lifted from them. The celebration of reconciliation, like all of the sacraments, is based on the Sunday Eucharist. We gather together, we sing a hymn, we listen to God's word in the scriptures and hear about how much he loves us. We then look at ourselves and see how little we have loved him in return. Then, there is a procession as people confess their sins to a priest, who has promised never to reveal or even think again about the confession that the individual has made. Then, there is gesture of gratitude that each person makes before leaving. Communal Reconciliation is where we can have that same sense of support that Mack had at his first AA meeting, since we support one another by our presence and love here on earth. Meanwhile in heaven, the saints applaud our efforts. And, when we dig deep to confess our sins, Jesus strengthens us to do a little better the next time. There is no better way to prepare for the coming of the Lord than to follow John the Baptist's advice by repenting of our sins.

       We as a parish community will prepare for the Lord's coming in a communal celebration of reconciliation this Thursday evening (12/13/2001) at 7 p.m. I invite you to come. Maybe you are thinking, "I'm not ready. I'm too scared. I won't know what to do." Don't worry; we priests will guide you through each step of the way. You don't need to know any special prayers or secret words; you need only to come desiring a freedom from sin. Maybe you are not ready yet to confess your sins to the priest. That's OK: come and celebrate with us anyway. You will be free to leave when the congregation begins its procession, even if you don't confess to a priest. No one will be watching, I promise. And as I tell the second graders at their first reconciliation, Fr. Dan and I invite the nicest priests in the diocese to come and celebrate reconciliation with us. In the bulletin there is an examination of conscience that might help you to reflect beforehand. (Webmasters' Note: In lieu of the article in the 12/9/01 bulletin, you may also view Fr. Russ' Chaplain's Corner essay entitled Celebrating Reconciliation: Get the Lowdown on Confession Today.)

       You know, our repentance means so much to God. There is a fable that makes this point well. There is a story from the middle ages about a young woman who was sent on a special mission to bring back a gift that would be most valued by God. She brought drops of blood from a dying patriot, but this was not the gift most valued by God. She brought back some coins that a destitute widow had given to the poor, but this was not the gift most valued by God. She brought back the dust from the shoes of a missionary who worked tirelessly to spread the good news, but this was not the gift most valued by God. One day, the woman saw a young boy playing by a fountain. Next to him, a warrior climbed off of his horse to take a drink. When the warrior saw the innocent boy playing in the water, he suddenly remembered his own boyhood innocence. Then he looked at his reflection in the water and saw how years of wrongdoing had hardened his face and his heart. And tears of repentance welled up in his eyes and began to trickle down his cheeks. The young woman took one of those tears back to heaven, and this tear of repentance, she learned, was the gift that God valued the most. See you Thursday evening. +

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