This was my homily for the weekend followed by the gospel.
Whenever I do baptisms, I give a running commentary of the various parts of the liturgy. Some of you here may have seen my do this.
Of course the central act of baptism is the pouring on of water and invoking the Blessed Trinity. In this Original Sin (and in the case of an adult, any actual sin) is washed away and God’s divine life comes into the soul for the first time.
The first thing that happens afterwards is the Anointing with Chrism. Sacred oil blessed by the bishop on Holy Thursday is put on the head of the candidate. This is a coronation rite like what happens when a person is made king or queen. What do we mean by all of this?
We will never fully appreciate the awesomeness of baptism on this side of eternity because of the great transforming action that takes place. In this free, unmerited gift the candidate (usually a child) becomes a son or daughter of God, “the creator of heaven and earth”. If God is THE King, then this means that the newly baptised is a prince or princess. This is not make-believe, this is really REAL!
Afterwards a white garment is put on the child. The accompanying prayer said by the priest gives its essential meaning: “… You have become a new creation [a new CREATION, something that has not existed before, so much more than just a cosmetic face-lift!]. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian DIGNITY. Bring that DIGNITY unstained into the everlasting life of heaven”. If you’ve been counting, the word ‘dignity’ has appeared twice in this short prayer.
We all know that members of the Royal Family are called to a higher code of behaviour because of their office, their status, and the dignity bestowed by this. All the more do we as Christians who belong to the true ROYAL FAMILY of God have a higher code to live by. It is all about upholding our Christian dignity.
You know that the word ‘Donegal’ comes from the Irish phrase Dún na nGall which means ‘fort of the foreigners’. So where does the word ‘sin’ come from? It means simply ‘to miss the mark’. To commit sin is to let ourselves down, to betray our Christian dignity. It’s like what would happen if we saw a member of the Royal Family drunk and disorderly, and how this would betray their status. So sin is not about breaking something in a rule book, it is about sacrificing our wonderful dignity.
The basic requirement for salvation – entry into eternal life – is about choosing to preserve our Christian dignity and our status as God’s sons and daughters. Every moral choice we have in this life is about accepting or rejecting God as our Father and the promises made at our baptism.
What happens if we lose our wonderful gift of Christian dignity and dirty our white garment? Repentance is the way that we recover our status. In today’s gospel, Jesus issues an urgent call of repentance to his contemporaries: “Unless you repent, you will all perish [eternally]”. We should feel these words addressed to us here too. It is a call to wake from sleep and once more to centre our lives on Jesus, our divine LORD.
How do we live in order to keep our dignity as God’s sons and daughters?
It’s very simple and is good news in itself. We don’t have to speak with a posh accent or have perfect manners. We don’t need to have elegant clothes and smell like a rose garden all the time. We don’t need to go around in a chauffeur driven Rolls Royce car. All we have to do is to live a life of LOVE. As we hear in the two great commandments: Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength; and love your neighbour as yourself. In the gospel parable of the Fig Tree, the owner expected to find fruit on it. LOVE is the fruit that God expects to see in our lives.
A large part of this life of love is expressed in the Ten Commandments. At the back of the church you will find a pamphlet that has a fairly detailed examination of conscience based on the Ten Commandments. My hope is that you will take away a copy and prayerfully reflect on it over the remainder of Lent. Afterwards make a good Confession in preparation for Easter and receiving the new life of the Resurrection. [At the very end of this blog you will find a copy of this pamphlet. This is a link where you can download a formatted double-sided A4 copy https://1drv.ms/b/s!ArUcgxa4hjrkiERsEiyaPJogOKBL .]
So in summary: To sin is to “miss the mark”, to lose our Christian dignity as God’s sons and daughters. To repent is to recover that dignity.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 13:1-9
Unless you repent you will all perish as they did.
Some people arrived and told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices At this he said to them, ‘Do you suppose these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’
He told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it but found none. He said to the man who looked after the vineyard, “Look here, for three years now I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and finding none. Cut it down: why should it be taking up the ground?” “Sir,” the man replied “leave it one more year and give me time to dig round it and manure it: it may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.”‘
The Gospel of the Lord
A Primer for Confession
On the evening of his Resurrection from the dead, Jesus appeared to his Apostles and gave them the power to forgive all sins. Breathing upon them, He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.” (Jn.20:22-23) Through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, bishops and priests of the Church receive the ability from Christ himself to forgive sins. It is exercised in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, also known as the Sacrament of Penance or simply as “Confession.” Through this Sacrament, Christ forgives the sins that the members of his Church commit after Baptism.
In receiving the Sacrament, the penitent (the sinner) expresses sorrow for his or her sins. Sorrow for sins is called contrition. Imperfect contrition is sorrow for sins motivated by the loss of one’s soul or the ugliness of sin itself. Perfect contrition is sorrow for sin motivated by the love of God.
Contrition, perfect or imperfect, is joined with a firm purpose of amendment, that is, a solid resolution to avoid the sin committed as well as the persons, places and things that prompted the sin in the first place. This is required for a sincere confession.
Mortal sin is a direct, conscious and free violation of one or another of the Ten Commandments in a serious matter. Mortal sin destroys the life of grace in the soul. God’s grace begins to draw the sinner back to him through sorrow for sin. He is brought back to life when he confesses his sins to a priest and receives absolution (forgiveness). The Church recommends that Catholics confess also their venial sins which are violations of God’s law that do not sever the relationship with or destroy the life of grace in the soul.
The following is an Examination of Conscience to help prepare for confession. If you are not sure whether your sins are “mortal” or “venial” the confessor (the priest to whom you confess your sins) will help you to understand the difference. Don’t be shy: seek his assistance. Ask him questions! Do not be afraid! – his only intention is to help you and act in the person of Christ, The Good Shepherd. You always have the right to confess your sins in a face-to-face encounter with the confessor. It is also your right to confess “anonymously” behind a screen. The Church wants to make it as easy as possible for you to make a frank, honest confession of all your sins. You are also free to call your parish priest and make an appointment for confession.
(GENERAL ABSOLUTION is only VALID when received in exceptional circumstances and with the intention of making a regular confession of grave sin when this is reasonably possible.)
- I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me.
- Do I seek to love God with my whole heart and soul? Does He hold first place in my life?
- Have I been involved with the occult or superstitious practices?
- Have I ever received Holy Communion in the state of grave sin?
- Have I told a lie in confession or deliberately withheld confessing a grave sin?
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
- Have I insulted God’s holy name or used it lightly or carelessly?
- Have I used offensive language?
- Have I wished evil on anyone?
- Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
- Have I missed Mass deliberately on a Sunday or on a Holy Day of Obligation?
- Do I observe an hour fast before Communion?
- Do I practice a penance on Friday in memory of the Lord’s Passion?
- Do I try to keep Sunday as a day of rest?
- Honour your father and your mother.
- Do I honour and obey my parents? Do I care for them in their old age?
- Have I neglected my family responsibilities to spouse and children?
- Is my family life centred around Christ and his teaching?
- You shall not kill.
- Have I caused harm to anyone?
- Have I had an abortion? Have I encouraged an abortion?
- Have I used or consented to abortifacient birth control (pills, coils, etc)?
- Have I abused drugs or alcohol?
- Have I mutilated myself through any form of sterilisation or encouraged others to do so?
- Have I harboured hatred, anger or resentment in my heart towards anyone?
- Have I given scandal to anyone by my sins, thereby leading them to sin?
- You shall not commit adultery
- Have I been unfaithful to my marriage vows in action, word or thought?
- Have I practised any form of artificial contraception or IVF in my marriage?
- Have I engaged in any sexual activity alone or outside legitimate marriage?
- Am I pure in my thoughts, words, actions? Am I modest in dress?
- You shall not steal
- Have I taken what is not mine?
- Am I honest with my employer/employee and taxes/social benefits?
- Do I gamble excessively thereby robbing my family of their needs?
- Do I seek to share what I have (time and money) with the poor and needy?
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour
- Have I lied, gossiped or spoken behind anyone’s back?
- Have I ruined anyone’s good name?
- Do I reveal information that should be confidential?
- Am I sincere in my dealings with others?
- You shall not desire your neighbour’s wife.
- Am I envious of another’s spouse or family?
- Have I consented to impure thoughts?
- Am I reckless and irresponsible in the books I read and the TV/movies I watch?
- You shall not desire your neighbour’s goods
- Am I envious of the possessions of others?
- Am I resentful and bitter over my position in life?
When you enter the place set aside for the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the priest may greet you and together you will make the sign of the cross. He may then choose a brief reading from the Bible to help you feel the merciful presence of Christ. Next, you tell your sins simply and honestly to the priest Mortal sins are confessed by name and number. For instance, “I stole £500 from my employer”; “I deliberately missed Mass on 2 Sundays and 1 Holy Day”; “I gambled away a whole week’s pay cheque.”
This Sacrament is not only for the forgiveness of mortal sins. You may also confess your venial sins. The Church encourages devotional confession, that is, the frequent confession of venial sins as a means of growing perfect in the love of God and neighbour and obtaining grace to refine character faults.
After you confess your sins, listen to the advice the priest offers you. You may also seek his help and guidance. He will then give you a penance. He will ask you to either pray, fast or perform an act of charity. Through the penance, you begin to make reparation for the harm your sins have caused you, others and the Church. The penance of the priest reminds us that we need to be one with Christ in his sufferings so as to share in his Resurrection.
Finally, the priest will ask you to express your sorrow for the sins confessed in an act of contrition, and then, exercising the power of Christ, he will give you absolution. As he prays over you, know with the certainty of faith that God is forgiving all your sins, healing you and preparing you for the Banquet of the Kingdom of Heaven! The priest will dismiss you saying: “The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace,” to which you answer “Thanks be to God.”
Try to spend some time in prayer, thanking God for his forgiveness. Perform the penance the priest has given you as soon as possible
ACTS OF CONTRITION:
O my God, because you are so good I am very sorry I have sinned against you, and with the help of your grace, I will not sin again, Amen.
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of Heaven, and the pains of Hell; but most of all because I love Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.
My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin Our Saviour Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In His Name, my God, have mercy on me. Amen..