This morning I delivered a homily that's tough to translate to the written page. It had a beautiful story of witness and a resurrection of sorts that happened to me on Friday that I am still trying to process and may write about it for Easter. I drew heavily as well on themes that I touched on three years ago, so what I wrote then still very much applies today and worth reading:
“Untie him and let him go.” (John 11:44)
When was the last time you went to confession? When was the last time you put pride aside, got down on your knees, and asked a priest to absolve you of your sins? For the last month, we have been talking about emptying ourselves and giving our whole self to the Lord, putting him in charge, and slowly allowing our will to become one and the same with His. Why is this a good a time as any to finally kneel down and go to confession? Because Lent is a journey from the confessional to the table of the Lord where we commune with Christ. It is in the desert of Lent that we realize that sin has been destroying us ever so slowly to the point that our souls become dead. I look out at my congregation on Sunday mornings and wonder what burdens my people might be carrying. How many are out there just going through the motions because sin has corroded their soul? How many are so dead inside because of sin that when they come to church they experience as much as a dead man in a tomb?
Jesus does not want us to live this way. Today he not only wishes to raise his beloved friend Lazarus from the dead, he wants to raise you and me as well. He is calling you to the tomb of the confessional. Why do I compare the confessional to a tomb when it is hardly a ringing endorsement for the sacrament? Put simply, it is in the confessional that we die to our sins. It is in the confessional that our sins go to die, and like Lazarus we emerge from the tomb of the confessional with a new life. We come out totally freed from bondage, and we hear the same words that Lazarus heard from Jesus when he emerged from the tomb: “Untie him and let him go.” We are not bound by burial cloths instead we are bound by the very sins that have kept us from hearing the voice of the Master that tells us when we are surrounded by the darkness of sin: “Come out!”
Take it from a frequent penitent: it takes courage and great humility to kneel down before a priest, who himself is a sinner, and ask for forgiveness. That is what makes this sacrament so unique. It is the simplest of sacraments yet the hardest to do. We quiver when we have to look inside our hearts and see all the times we have failed the Lord. We sometimes may go to confession and try to hide the things that are really tying us down as if we can hide from our God who sees everything. This past fall I heard a Domincan priest, who are generally great confessors, tell a group of priests that I was on retreat with: “If there is something so dark that you cannot possibly utter, then my friends, that is what you need to confess.” Our lack of owning up to our sins and not confessing them just makes their hold over us that much stronger. When we hear ourselves say our sins aloud, as painful as it may be, followed by the priest uttering the liberating words of absolution, there is a freedom that we experience that we cannot possibly imagine. Let me witness as someone who is both a penitent and a priest. It truly is liberating to hear someone tell me “I absolve you of your sins.” And as a priest, there is nothing that gives me greater joy aside from celebrating the Mass than to tell a broken soul, “My child, I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
As priests, we live for this time of year. We spend hours in the tomb of the confessional quite joyfully because we know that we are reuniting our spiritual children with our loving and merciful God. A couple of weeks ago at our Men’s Conference, I heard the great speaker Curtis Martin tell the men: “Don’t be ashamed of what you tell the priest in confession even if it’s the darkest of sins because you actually make a priest’s day when you allow him to help you be reconciled with God.” So forgive me as I get all Clint Eastwood on all of you today, but “go ahead…make my day!” We wait for you in the tomb of the confessional ready to help you watch your sins die, ready to free you from their bondage, and ready to send you forth totally free to love God and each other. And the beauty of spending so many hours in that tomb is that we priests become tombs ourselves because the sins that we hear uttered are never spoken of again. So what are you afraid of? What are you waiting for? What awaits us in the tomb of the confessional is a joy-filled new life that is ours for the taking. Embrace it, cherish it, and don’t fear confession, for when we are finally cured of the blindness of sin, we are able to finally see the loving face of a God who loves us to no end.