Sunday, August 21, 2011

Keys and Confessions

Isaiah 22:19-23
Psalm 138:1-3, 6, 8
Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20

It seems like every time I sign on to my email or go on any other webpage there’s always an ad on the side of the great new diet that guarantees we’ll lose 10 pounds this week or an exercise program that can give me six-pack abs in 5 weeks. There’s this constant focus on the appearance of our bodies, and in a sense it’s a good thing. After all, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. But while it’s easy for us to focus on the state of our body, we also recognize that we are both body and soul. So, the question we must ask ourselves today is what is the state of our soul?

Yesterday I was driving in the car listening to some music and a song came on from a band that I used to listen to all the time during high school. It was a new song and so I wanted to hear what it sounded like, if they had changed much. And as I listened to it, I was repulsed. After 30 seconds I couldn’t take any more of the hatred and profanity that filled the lyrics of the vocalist and had to change the station. As a teenager I was used to that because I was so immersed in it myself that it didn’t seem a problem.  Getting to such a rough state doesn’t happen overnight though, but rather over a long time.

Around the same time, I had a Ford F-150 with an extra cab and at some point during my high school years it became my own personal trash can. It probably started with a coke bottle tossed back behind me while driving. Then a bag from lunch at a fast food joint. Then a little bit more and before long, I literally had junk piled up to the top of my seat. And when I finally cleaned it out, there was so much junk I was amazed. I had been carrying it around all the time and never really thought about it being there. And we do the same thing with our sins – we keep tossing on one after the other throughout our days and before we know it we’re carrying around a ton of baggage. And where are we supposed to bring that? Confession.

When we begin to talk about confession we, of course, have to acknowledge sin. It’s not something we talk about much these days. But the truth is that sin is a reality and it’s a serious one. Though we don’t often think about it, every single sin is an offense against God. The impatience I show at the red light. The little frustration that I have when trying to deal with things throughout the day. These sins are all things that Our Lord died for on the cross. And so they are things that we can bring before the Lord and seek grace to overcome. This happens in the sacrament of confession.

I’ve often heard people say that they don’t know why they need to go to confession to a priest when they can go straight to God. My first response to that is if they’re not going to confession, then they better make sure to actually do so rather than just talk about being able too. But more important – we don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to forgiveness of sins. Jesus set up the sacraments for us to use them, not to work our way around them. It’d be like if I had someone cut my grass while I was out of town for the week and I gave them the keys to the garage and lawnmower and came back to find them trying to cut the yard with a weed eater. You’d have to wonder why they didn’t use the means that was effective and proper. The same applies to the sacrament of confession – we need only go to the sacrament, not try to find other ways.

Also, I have often heard people say that going to confession is really difficult. I can certainly relate; after all, it isn’t easy to open up and reveal your faults to someone. But the reality is that priest is not there simply as another person; we are there to simply be a conduit of grace and forgiveness. We’re not there to judge, but rather to simply forgive. Moreover, there is no reason to fear that we will tell because – we don’t remember what you say. I can tell you honestly that I’ve got many more things that I’d rather remember – things about the faith, important dates and events, and, more notably now, the names and stories of all of you and the many other parishioners here. I don’t see you and recall your sins. Rather, the sins are given over to the Lord and when I see you I simply rejoice at your presence here at the parish and hope to get to know you.

Finally, one of the problems that people have is why to confess to a priest. I struggle with the reality myself. I am often amazed at the reality that the words of absolution, even on the lips of a sinner like myself, are able to free people from sins. And yet, it is true and we find it confirmed in our readings today.

As I’ve said before, Jesus points out that which has gone before and fulfills it, often elevating it to a new level of importance or from a physical to spiritual reality. In the book of the prophet Isaiah we hear about this person Eliakim who is given the key of the house of David. The holder of this key was like the second in command to the King of Judah. When the king was absent, Eliakim or the one holding that office made decisions that had the authority of the king backing them, offered the sacrifices that the king was obliged to do, and had keys that literally opened and closed the gates in the temple area. He was the one to discern who could enter and who remained outside and this authority was given and carried out on behalf of the king. We should have this all in mind when we hear Our Lord telling Peter that He is giving him the keys to the kingdom. The keys Peter is given are not keys to a simple building but to the Church herself and to the kingdom of Heaven and he exercises that authority in the name of our king, Christ the Lord. And so when it comes to our sins and eternal life, we need not get creative. We need only humble ourselves and go to the ones with the keys; the ones who can guarantee that entry to the kingdom.