Guilty!

Homily at St Philip Evans, for Ash Wednesday 2016.

Bang! Bang! Bang!A gavel banging on its stand

How do you plead? Guilty or not guilty?

This Lent, you are invited to a courtroom – a most unusual courtroom – called the Tribunal of Mercy.

In this courtroom, you are the accused.

In this courtroom, you are also the jury. And you have come to court for one simple reason – you already know you are guilty.

In this courtroom, a judge is waiting to pass sentence. But the sentence has already been served!

 

As Catholics, we are famous for our sense of guilt.

Sometimes we suffer from false guilt, from our failure to achieve the impossible. We may have missed Mass due to a snowstorm, or had a ‘bad thought’ to which we gave no wilful encouragement whatsoever. But if we did not have the power to do otherwise, such guilt is not a sign of culpable sin.

Sometimes we suffer from residual guilt. Perhaps we have formed our own opinion, which is not the Church’s opinion, about abortion, or contraception, or weapons of mass destruction, or involvement in unfair trade. But after we have acted, or voted, in accord with our private views, perhaps our second thoughts chip in, saying, “but what if, when I meet Our Lord, it turns out that the Catholic Church was right after all?” Hold on to that thought!

Sometimes we suffer from true guilt. We have made a choice which is not a good and godly choice. Perhaps that was a once-in-a-lifetime major event which we’ve been trying to forget about ever since. Perhaps it was the beginning of a chain of addiction, to alcohol, pornography, or some other pleasure. Or perhaps it was some petty act of jealousy or spite towards another person. Whatever it was, it quite rightly causes us to feel guilty.

The great thing about being Catholic is that we have a way of dealing with guilt. Run to the confessional, plead guilty, let the priest pass sentence. The sentence is always the same – your sins, together with all the other sins of the world, deserve death. But by freely offering himself to die on the Cross, Jesus served that sentence for us. What we are called to, instead, is true repentance.

True repentance means running to the God who loves us, no matter what sin we have committed.

True repentance means having the confidence of the prodigal son, to return to the Father’s House – and trusting that a joyful welcome awaits us.

True repentance means trusting that nothing we can do, no sin we might commit, can cause God to love us any less than than God does already – any more than a mother can stop loving her wayward child.

True repentance means rushing to the Tribunal of Mercy and saying, “Father, I messed up again.” In return, God says, “I love you! And I forgive you again!”

We do not – we cannot – earn God’s forgiveness.

God loves us. God will never reject us, whatever our actions might deserve.

This is the God who commanded Peter to forgive seventy times seven times, who sent his only Son to die so our sins could be forgiven.

This is the loving Father who declares: “Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning.”

 

In this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis invites us to rush the the place of mercy, which is the Confessional, and do the most important thing necessary to receive the Father’s forgiveness – admit our guilt.

Now, it’s true that to make a good confession, we also require a “firm purpose of amendment”. If we have recognised that our actions are sinful, we must do what is within our power to avoid sin in future. If our sin is one of addiction, “what is within our power” may be to begin to get help, by attending a 12-step programme like Alcoholics Anonymous. If our sin is one of being drawn into pornography, “what is within our power” may be to install blocking software on our computer, or confiding in a friend to be an “accountability partner”. God delights in our efforts to overcome sin. God will give us extra help to resist temptation, if we ask for this in prayer. But God’s love for us does not depend on our efforts to resist evil. God’s love  is always there.

 

 

This is the Year of Mercy. The priests of our deanery are working together to make sure that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is widely available, on afternoons and evenings. The door of mercy is open wide at our cathedral.

Are you are suffering from guilt?

Rush to the confessional.

Plead guilty.

Be amazed at Christ’s love in dying to pay the price for your sin.

Rejoice that God’s love for you is solid and unshakeable.

Best. Lent. Ever!