Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Unnamable Weight

Pilgrims walking the Camino
Readings for Sunday, August 24/ 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Isaiah 2219-23
Psalm 138:1-3, 6, 8
Romans 11:33-36
Matthew 16:13-20

Friday night I went with a friend to grab a cup of coffee and hear about her adventures walking the Camino, the ancient pilgrimage trek that runs several hundred miles from lower France through Spain and ends at Santiago de Compostela, where the tomb of the Apostle James is found. My friend told me how the daily walk was about 15-20 miles and that on average it took 35 days to walk the whole thing, so that is quite a trip! She told me that one of the first lessons they learned was about buying things. Everywhere that they stopped there were opportunities to pick up little knickknacks to remember the pilgrimage or to bring for others, but that they didn’t buy them because the one thing that was most important in purchasing stuff was the question ‘How much does it weigh?’. They knew that every item bought had to be carried along the road for 10-20 miles that day. And 20 miles the day after that. And 20 miles the day after that. And all of that stuff would be quite heavy by the end of the trip.

It struck me because we are all aware of physical weight that becomes a burden on our bodies, but it is easy to be oblivious to the spiritual weight of sin that weighs on our hearts. I can’t tell you how many times I have people come to me looking for help because there is just a weight on their spirit that they can’t explain and so often it is because they haven’t been to confession in a while; they know the weight but can’t pinpoint the problem. And yet we do it, for weeks, months, years, we pile up the sins of our lives on our heart and walk around bound in sin when Christ wants us to know freedom. That’s the message of the scriptures today.

When we hear the story of the keys to the Kingdom, we can easily think it’s Jesus just making an analogy again to try to make people understand, but it was actually something much deeper. The keeper of the keys was actually an important person in the Jewish faith and we hear their story in the first reading today. The king was, of course, the head of the people of God, but the one who held the office of keeping the keys was basically second in command. When the king was absent, that man could make decisions and they would carry the authority of the king himself. And he had an actual set of keys because he was the one to open and close the Temple Gates. This is a significant thing because to be welcomed into the Temple meant you could meet your God, you could have a relationship with God, and you could worship your God. To be unable to enter the Temple meant you had no relationship with God, you were an outcast. When we hear of Jesus healing lepers, this was miraculous because they were healed of a physical infirmity, but even more importantly, they were able once again to enter into the Temple to worship – they could get to know their God! This key-holder was a man noticeable in the crowd: he had a special robe and sash of authority.

(Holding up my stole and pointing to my vestments) Can you think of any other person that also wear a specific robe and has a special sash indicating authority?! Y’all, Jesus didn’t just make things up out of the blue! When He set out to build His Church on the Rock of Peter and his confession, He pulled from the Jewish heritage that was His own and which was understandable to His followers. Basically it’s like this: I want you all to imagine a large box-type object that’s about 7 feet wide and 15 feet long. It has two doors on each of the long sides, it has glass on the top half of the object to see around the sides, it has four large rubber circles connected to it that hold it up off the ground, and if you sit by the front left door there’s a circular thing to hold onto that moves the front rubber things. What am I describing? A car! You all knew that though and that’s exactly what Jesus is doing here. He’s saying ‘Imagine a person with keys, a special robe & sash, a King’s authority, etc.’ and everyone there would have known exactly who He was talking about – they would have known that’s the guy that gets them into the Temple! And if Jesus is describing that guy but talking about Heaven, this key holder is one you really, really want to get to know! And yet, there are many reasons we don’t.

My sins aren’t that bad, so I don’t need to go to confession. I can go straight to Jesus. What is Father going to think or say…and will he remember next time he sees me? I haven’t been to confession is 5, 10, 20+ years; I don’t think I even remember the words anymore. My sins are so bad that there’s no way that God would forgive that.

The truth is that there is only one thing that can separate us from the love of God and the freedom that comes from receiving forgiveness and that is ourselves. You have probably figured out by now that I love celebrating Mass. But, even more, I love being able to say to a repentant sinner ‘I absolve you from your sins’ and know that they walk away freed. It’s not that I like to hear sins or anything foolish as that. It’s that there have been countless times in my own life where I was the one standing outside the gates and was filled with gratitude to be received back into God’s good grace by one who had the keys to forgive my sin and unlock the path to heaven. I know that joy and I want every one of you and every person in the world to know that freedom, that joy, that weightlessness that comes from those blessed words of forgiveness.

So today I suggest to you a spiritual routine that I encourage everyone to take up as a starting place and it is this: make some time for real prayer at least once per day, receive Holy Communion at least once a week, and celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a month. That is the basic starting point for a life truly alive in Christ Jesus. And if you think that’s a bit much, Padre Pio’s routine for people who were serious was to make time twice a day for serious prayer, receive Holy Communion daily, celebrate reconciliation weekly, and to make time for spiritual reading each day. If we want to begin walking the path to heaven, we need Confession. And if we want to become saints, people whose lights shine so brightly that others see God in us, go to Confession even more often.

It’s not about feeling bad about ourselves so much as it is recognizing and receiving the healing of our hearts in the many places that are still wounded from past sins. Come to Confession. If you can’t make a scheduled time please call me and I will work something out with you. There is nothing I want more than your freedom from sin and your journey to heaven to continue on. Let us all ask this grace today: to become aware of our sins, to repent for them, and to celebrate frequently that sacrament that opens to us time and again the gates of Heaven.