Forgiven Through Love

Sermon at the Penitential Service at the Sion Community Mission in Clayton & Ashley.

Scripture: Ezekiel 36:24-29a

When I was a child, I wasn’t naughty that often – but often enough that I remember what would happen next. First Mum or Dad would give me a telling-off, and send my to my bedroom. Then, maybe half-an-hour later, Mum would come to my bedroom, and with one single word she would ask a question. With one single word, I would answer it.

“Friends?”

“Friends!”

When I look back at this through adult eyes, I see that Mum needed me to learn that whatever I did wrong, I would always be forgiven. That’s what a mother’s love does.

The message of the Bible is clear. God is a Father who, because of his great love for us, longs to forgive us. In fact, there are only two things that can prevent God forgiving us. The first is our refusal to admit we’ve done wrong. The second is our unwillingness to offer that same forgiveness to other people.

Perhaps some of you here tonight have not experienced that same loving forgiveness from your parents that I did from mine. Perhaps the idea of God as a forgiving Father feels uncomfortable because your earthly father didn’t forgive easily. All I can say is, will you give God a chance? If you blame God for not allowing you to experience the tender love of human parents, will you forgive Him for not living up to your hopes and expectations?

Your Father in heaven loves you! On Monday evening, many of you will have picked up a copy of the “Father’s love letter” from the Lady Chapel. The whole Bible is full of expressions of his love. The passage we’ve just heard from Ezekiel declares that God longs to pour healing water over us, and cleanse us. The other great prophets of the Old Testament also speak of God’s hunger to forgive us. Many of the Psalms, inspired by the Holy Spirit, call upon our heavenly Father to cleanse and restore us. And if that were not enough, God sent his only Son, Jesus, to say to many souls, “Your sins are forgiven!” and to call upon His Father to forgive even those who nailed him to the Cross.

Tonight we are invited to receive God’s forgiveness through one of the Church’s Sacraments, Penance. Why do we have this Sacrament? Jesus gave to his Apostles, authority to forgive sins. The Apostle James wrote “confess your sins to one another”, and the authority given by the first Apostles to the bishops and priests who came after them means that when we hear the words of absolution, we need have no doubt whatsoever that our sins are truly forgiven.

We sometimes call this Sacrament, Confession. In order to receive forgiveness, the first step is to acknowledge that we have sinned, by naming our sins aloud to a priest. We don’t need to be too worried about forgetting something trivial. The Church assures us that “When Christ’s faithful strive to confess all the sins that they can remember, they undoubtedly place all of them before the divine mercy for pardon.” But if we are conscious of mortal sin – if we are responsible for some grave action or omission, in which we knew how serious it was and were free to make a different choice – these sins must be mentioned. If you’re not sure whether a sin was mortal or not, confess it anyway – then you can be sure it has been forgiven!

There is one other sin which you might want to make a point of confessing this evening. It’s that little one you’d rather not mention because it’s a very small matter, but quite embarrassing. It’s not mortal, so you don’t have to confess it – but it’s your secret pleasure. It’s the one you don’t want to mention because of what you fear the priest will think of you. Well, I can tell you what this priest will think of you. I will think you are very brave, and serious about living your Christian life in a way most pleasing to God! So better out than in! Tonight’s the night! Confess everything and be cleansed!

We commonly call Confession the Sacrament of “Reconciliation” – a word which has a deep and hidden meaning. RE – to do something again. CON – a joining term, meaning two things are coming together. TION – a word ending indicating an action is taking place. And the least obvious portion, CILIA – which comes from a Latin word meaning “little hairs”, in this case your eyelashes. RE-CON-CILIA-TION literally means, “Let’s look one another in the eyes again.” Just as my mother would come to me in my bedroom, so God comes through the person of his priest and asks for a simple answer:

“Friends?”

“Friends!”

But God’s promise, given out of love, is for more than forgiveness.

I will sprinkle clean water upon you, from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; I will make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances.

Because Reconciliation is a Sacrament, it includes an absolute promise from God of help in our earthly lives. It’s not only a promise that God will hit the reset button on our relationship. It’s also a promise that He will give us some help to fight against the temptations we have confessed. But God can’t do that without our co-operation. St Thomas Aquinas wrote that “grace perfects nature”. God builds on what we offer Him.

It’s not enough to simply name our sins to the priest. God also asks us: “What are you going to do, to avoid falling into that sin again?” If we’re struggling with anger, we might need to learn something about anger management. If we’ve fallen into using pornography, we might need to restrict our own access to the Internet – there’s a website called ClickToKick that can help you with that. If we’re worried that we don’t pray enough, we need to make a plan for where and when prayer should fit into the rhythm of our day and our week. So whatever YOUR sin is, what will you choose to do about it?

You will see that at the front of the aisle, there is a bowl of holy water. When you have been to confession, and received absolution from a priest, I invite you to go to the holy water and bless yourself. Remember God’s promise, to wash away your uncleanness and plant a new heart within you. Tell God what new choice you will make in time of temptation. Ask God to give you strength to avoid sin and live this better life.

See, among us now are many priests who have come to lend their voices to God and their ears to you. God is longing for you to confess your sins, so he can restore you to friendship. These priests will hear your confession, absolve your sins, and propose a penance – perhaps they will even ask you to go to the holy water as your penance. To prepare ourselves to receive this gift of forgiveness, and the grace of turning away from sin, let’s stand now and pray in words given to us by God Himself:

A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me.

 

First Communion, then the Holy Spirit!

Homily at St Philip Evans for the English-language Masses, with First Communions, on Pentecost Sunday, Year A.

Today is a great celebratFirst Communion children on Wikimedia Commonsion!

For most of the Catholic world, it is the celebration of Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit first filled the followers of Jesus.

For us here today, it is the celebration of First Holy Communion for some of our children.

So while most of the Catholic world is meditating on the Holy Spirit, we are focussing on the Body of Jesus. But the two have more in common than you might think!

I’d like to ask the children here today to help me look back on how we prepared for today.

What was the very first Sacrament which each of you received?

You were baptised in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. St Paul reminded us in our second reading that “we were all baptised in one Spirit”. The same Holy Spirit came to live in me and in you when we were baptised. We are connected!

Back in February this year, you received your second Sacrament. What was that?

When you came to me, or another priest, for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest stretched out his hand and prayed the words which forgive your sins. Priests have the power to do this because Jesus said to his first apostles, “Receive the Holy Spirit! Those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven!” So it is God’s Holy Spirit, working through me and through all priests, who forgives sins.

In a few moments, I am going to celebrate the Eucharistic Prayer which asks God to change the bread and wine on the altar into… what? The Body and Blood of Christ. If you follow carefully you will notice that twice, I will stretch out my hands to ask God to send down the Holy Spirit. The first time will be over the bread and wine, but the second time my hands will be raised – because I am asking the Holy Spirit to come anew into all of us here in the congregation. The Holy Spirit is like the air we breathe – we have to keep topping-up to keep going!

Children, today marks the start of a new chapter in your life. You will now be members of the church who receive communion. Jesus wants you to be part of his own body, connected to him by receiving his body and blood. But what would happen to a part of your own body if it had no blood supply? To grow spiritually, you must keep receiving Holy Communion.

Today you will be able to say to Jesus, “You are the bread of life, who feeds me.” But this is not the end of your journey. When you are older, you will be able to say to Jesus, “You are the Lord who leads me.”

When I made my first communion, I was a little bit older than you. But it was only three years after that, when I knew in my heart that I had to let Jesus be the person in charge of all of my life. The day I could truly say “Jesus is Lord” was the day in 1993 when I was on a youth camp and I said: “Jesus, show me what you want me to do with the rest of my life and I will do it – even if it is the ‘priest thing’!”

Following Jesus isn’t always easy. As you grow older, he will ask you to do difficult things: to love your enemies, to serve others, to wait until the
right time to do grown-up things. There is another Sacrament to help you to do these things – Confirmation. Through Confirmation God gives you the Holy Spirit in a new way, to bless and serve others. But that is for later. What is important right now is that you receive what you need to help you grow spiritually, and that is your weekly Communion.

When you were baptised, your parents and godparents promised to teach you about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to do good and to avoid evil. They were given a candle to keep safe, as a sign that they must hand on to you the light of Jesus. The apostles had no godparents – but God himself provide them with tongues of fire. I can’t promise tonmgues of fire today, but ow that you are old enough to speak for yourselves, I invite you to join me on the altar with your candles, to make your own commitment to Jesus.