Five tips for a good confession: A homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

images.jpgEvery Advent we prepare to celebrate once more the first coming of Christ.  We want to be ready for it.  We also know there will be a second coming. We do not know when that will be. But we must be ready for that, too. One way to get ready for both our celebration of the first coming and the second coming is to go to confession. Today’s Gospel speaks to us of the importance of “acknowledging our sins” with a repentant heart. That is, it speaks of the importance of the Sacrament of Confession.  It is a great thing to do in Advent.

I want to offer five tips on how to make a good confession.

  1. USE PAST TENSE:  Often I hear things like this:  “I fight with my sister.” “Sometimes I eat too much.”  “I say God’s name in vain.”  The problem with these things is that you’re speaking in the present tense.  Confession is a time to give to God the mistakes you made IN THE PAST and promise God you’ll do better IN THE FUTURE.  To be repentant means I have every intention of not going this thing again–and that repentance is a requirement in the sacrament of confession.  If we fall again, we fall again and we come back. But we cannot set ourselves up for failure by just saying, “This is who I am, it’s what I do.”  Nope–it’s what you DID and want to put away.
  2. BE PREPARED: Sometimes people will come and say, “It’s been a year since my last confession. I hit my brother and didn’t listen to my mom. That’s it.”  Yeah, right.  That’s it for a year?  I think you’re lying to me. We need to be thorough. There is a list in the narthex after Mass with some things you might want to take in to confession. It might help start your ideas. We need to say everything we can remember.
  3. SAY EVERYTHING….BUT SAY IT BRIEFLY: Often I hear something like this: “These are the sins I want to tell you today.”  OK, great…but you need to tell me the ones you don’t want to say, too.  The Church says we must give it all, that we cannot hold anything back.  We must say it all. If we forget something–honestly forget it–just wait till your next confession. But we have to say everything we can remember. That doesn’t mean we need to share the whole story behind the sin.
  4. BE SPECIFIC–SAY KIND AND NUMBER: Often I hear things like: “I watched something I shouldn’t have.” “I did inappropriate things.” “I broke the sixth commandment.”  I get it–it’s hard to say certain things. But we must name our sin for what it is. When we have to use the word for what we did, we realize how much we messed up, what a mistake we have made. So I say it’s good to name our sins, it is good to have to use the word, it is good not to decorate it with nice verbage.  The Church also asks us to share the number–or at least a ballpark.  Did you gossip one time or five times a day?  Did you miss Mass about once a month?  A ballpark is fine, but keeping a count in our heads is a good plan.  If I am really trying to improve on something, then numbers are important. A basketball player compares how many points he got at this week’s game versus last week’s, last year’s.  He should be getting better, making progress. So must we.
  5. DO A DAILY EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE: This is something Msgr and I are both suggesting this weekend. It is best to do as a family as part of night prayers before bed. Msgr and I do this every night. As we begin our prayers at the end of the day, we take a moment of silence and think about our sins from the day. Then we together pray the act of contrition. Families should do this too. If you live alone, do it alone. But there is virtue in considering our sins from the day and then saying the act of contrition. For one thing, it helps us to remember the act of contrition. For another, we are more likely to make more frequent confessions when we consider our sins each day.

The Church teaches every Christian should go to confession at least once a year.  That is a precept of the church. Now…if it’s been a while, don’t be afraid!  I often do a “clear all” option where I go through the commandments and people answer yes or no to things, and about how many times (“once a week, every day, etc).

We ask God’s blessing upon us all as we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s first coming, and as we prepare at the same time for his second coming.

Turning our swords into plowshares: A homily for the 1st Sunday of Advent (Year A)

handgunsToday we begin the sacred season of Advent, that time of preparation before Christmas. Msgr and I have been working on getting the Advent decorations up in the house. I put up a tree in my room and in my office. It’s been nice and gloomy out the last several days. I’ve started the holiday music and have already enjoyed some egg nog with a little something special in it. Our thoughts should be turning towards….towards…..Christmas. And we have some getting ready to do.

The first reading today offers us an example of how we might get ready for Advent. There, we see Isaiah calling his people to prepare for the Lord by “beat[ing] their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” This is lovely imagery. A sword and a spear are of course instruments of war, destruction. But a plowshare and a pruning hook—these things are quite the opposite: they bring life to the people. The plowshare is the main cutting blade of a plow; it makes the plow work, makes the harvest possible. And the harvest brings life. The same metal can either bring death or bring life. It is a matter of how it is used.

Our first reading, then, tells us that one way to get ready for Advent is to be people of peace—in order to prepare for the coming of the Prince of Peace. This may require that we repurpose some of the swords and spears in our lives, that is, it may require that we repurpose some of the destructive things in our lives into life-giving things. I want to think about what some of our swords and spears that need repurposing might be….

  • What about the negative words we speak? Sarcasm is a deadly thing. It is intellectualized anger, cynicism. It does not build another up but instead destroys the other and makes us bitter in the process. Gossip, too, tears others down. What if we made a commitment this Advent to watch our mouths? Our tongues, says scripture, are as powerful as knives. Better to use our words to lift others up, raise their spirits.
  • How about anger? There is a lot of this in our houses I fear. It breaks my heart to hear a parent yell angrily at a child, or a child to yell at a parent. The other day I was at Lucas Oil and a father was shouting at his four-year-old son for not walking fast enough. That child is not learning a good lesson there. What if, instead of getting angry with those we love, we were patient with them. What if, instead of being angry, we said a prayer for them or let them win the argument—even if we know they’re wrong.
  • What about excessive alcohol and other illegitimate hobbies? St. Paul talks of these things today. A beer every now and again is fine. Getting drunk is not. And too many people go down this road during pre-Christmas season. Celebrate we must. But we need not sabotage our spirits with too many of the wrong kind of spirits if you get my drift. There are other poisons—drugs and pornography for example. These things are deadly—and they not only kill us. What if, instead of gathering one night at some party where we know we might have too much to drink, we instead called up a church friend and went to dinner? Or went to the adoration chapel?
  • What about our loneliness? I hear from many people that they are lonely this time of year. Some of them are married. Bishop Sheen says that every moment of loneliness is an invitation to intimacy—with God, with others. What if, instead of wallowing away in self-pity, we did something constructive with our loneliness? What if we wrote some cards, invited some people over, prayed in the adoration chapel, helped in the food pantry, rang Salvation Army bells?

Those are just four examples of some swords we have—things that are destructive (negative words, anger, bad hobbies, and loneliness) but that we can repurpose into instruments of peace and life and love. There is a statue in DC, a huge 11 x 19 foot steel sculpture that sits outside a police department. It is in the shape of a plowshare and symbolizes peace. It is made up of some 8000 handguns that police have confiscated. We are meant to build this kind of sculpture—to take all of the destructive things in our lives and let God make something life-giving out of it all.

Msgr made a good point to me yesterday. He said, “You know, if you think about it, it’s a lot harder to make war than it is to make peace.” So true. It is hard to start a war with another country. It costs a fortune. It is hard to start a war in our own families, and to keep that war going takes a lot of energy. It takes work to go out and get drunk: you have to spend a lot of money, worry about your car, and then you have to deal with the hangover. It takes work to do drugs: you have to spend a lot, you have to know the right people, you have to avoid the police. It takes work to go to the wrong place on the internet; it does not just happen. It takes work to keep anger alive in our hearts. It easier and better when to cultivate peace, to live as God invites us to live—and he promises that we will be better, our families will be better, our church, country and world will be better when we do.

And it is into our families, church, country and world where the baby Jesus, the Prince of Peace, wishes to be born this Christmas. Let’s prepare for his coming.

Get ready for the best Christmas ever: A homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

churchsnowIn his beautiful book called Bethlehem, Fr. Frederick Faber says something so beautiful. He writes: “No Christmas is like its predecessor. Bethlehem grows more enchanting. The strain of the angels is sweeter. We know more of Mary and of Joseph. The Child surpasses himself year after year.”  The Christ Child, come a few days from now, is about to outdo himself again in our lives. I’ve been thinking and praying about how we can get ready for the best Christmas ever, and I’ve been at a loss.

But then God put me at a lunch table with a bunch of second graders. They are a hoot. Eating with the kids each day always brings a smile to my face and heart. Many smiles. In any event, one second grader told me his math test was sad–because it had so many problems on it. Another asked me what snowmen do on weekends. I don’t know, I replied. He informed me: “They chill out.”  A first grader’s mother wrote him his daily note, and it said for him to wish everybody a Merry Christmas. So he stood up on the table and yelled “Merry Christmas!”

But then two young men said some things I think we should listen to. After all, the Lord tells us we need to listen to and be like children should we ever want to enter heaven. One boy told me he wished there was no break from school, because he likes to go to Mass on Wednesday. I asked why. He said, “Because I get to hear and talk to God there.”  I then shared that I also don’t like the kids being on break because I miss them when they aren’t here. You are such lights to my life, I said to them. One boy said, “It’s okay Fr. Mike, you’re always with me in my heart!”

Those two boys–they have something to teach us about this week. We need to get our ears ready to hear God, our mouths ready to proclaim him, and most of all our hearts ready to receive him on Christmas day.  It’s kind of neat–at baptism, the priest touches the ears and mouth, and he even anoints the child’s heart with oil, oil that is used on only the most important things.

Ears.  We need to get our ears ready. Life is so busy, we know that. Even Mary in our Gospel is out and about and doing house visits, and she’s about ready to give birth. We are all busy. But we know God speaks to us in silence, so this week, here’s a challenge. Find an hour to be alone with God, to listen to the voice in the silence.

Mouth. We also need to get our mouths ready. Yesterday at Mass, the responsorial was, “Lord, fill my mouth with your praise.” And then in the Gospel, the Lord takes Zachariah’s voice away. Why? Apparently, because he was complaining, questioning.  I got to thinking about how often our mouths are filled with negatives, complaints, criticisms, words of anger and bitterness, words of judgment and gossip, even profanities. But God calls us to fill our mouths with his praise, with his love.  Do that the next few days and I’m certain your Christmas will be the best one yet.

Hearts.  Just as that young man told me I’m always in his heart, I got to wondering. When we are not here, is this building in our hearts? This place? The people here? Most importantly, is God in our hearts when we aren’t here?  Yesterday we made this church all shiny and fresh for Christmas. We do that with our churches and we should do it with our hearts, so as to make them all nice for Christ’s arrival at Christmas. An important way to prepare our hearts, to make them shiny and give room for the Lord, is confession. The Church teaches we must go each year. That is the minimum. Of course, we should go whenever we break a commandment or commit any serious sin. We have a penance service Monday at 7pm. 10 priests will be here. If it has been more than a year, it is time.

Let us thank our God for this final week of Advent, this wonderful opportunity to get ready for the best Christmas ever. We may not know how it will be the best Christmas ever at this moment, but it will be–so long as we have ears to hear the Lord more deeply, mouths to proclaim him and his glory, and most of all, hearts on fire for him, hearts yearning for him more than anything else, hearts ready to receive the Good Lord.

Walking Pepto Bismol bottles: A homily for the Third Sunday of Advent (C)

TIMG_3912oday we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday, Rejoice Sunday. The Church in her wisdom has long assigned rose as the liturgical color of this day. Rose first of all turns our minds to Our Lady, who has always been associated with roses, partly because both are beautiful, but also because Mary has so often used roses in her apparitions. It has been a very Marian week if you consider it, what with Immaculate Conception on Tuesday and Our Lady of Guadalupe yesterday. (Roses play an important role in Guadalupe as well, but more on that another time.) We had 1000 people in this church for Mass yesterday for Our Lady of Guadalupe and a massive party afterwards, and a ton of people for Las Mananitas at 6am. Talk about rejoicing! Mary has a way of bringing folks to church. She has brought 22 million to baptism over the years, to the church, to Christ. Today’s words from Luke are fitting: “Even tax collectors came to be baptized…” Roses and Mary go together. So it is fitting there are 600 roses under Our Lady of Guadalupe in this church.

Another reason for rose color on this Sunday is that dark purple is the normal color for Advent, and this is a Sunday on which we are meant to lift our spirits a bit. I have to admit, I feel a bit like a walking Pepto Bismol bottle. And it strikes me that maybe that’s what we are supposed to be–walking Pepto Bismol bottles.

You see, we are meant to be people who make others feel better by our presence in their lives. People should be happier in the office when we are there, happier because we lift their spirits. Folks should miss us if we aren’t in school one day for whatever reason, miss us because we bring something good to the place that no one else does. When we come home at day’s end, folks in the house should be happier we are there, happier because of how we make them feel.

We should be the type of people who brighten a room when we are there, who reflect the light of our Christ in every room we walk into. We are meant to reflect the light that emerges from that crib in Bethlehem and goes around the world and down through the centuries. It happens through you and me.

Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman once said something about how there is great dignity in making others feel good. After all, as I tell the kids all the time, God made us special. We should help others remember they were too.

Which means we should be walking Pepto-Bismol bottles, making others feel better by our being a part of their lives. Perhaps this Rejoice Sunday should be more about “giving joy” than trying to find ways to “get joy.” Of course, the beauty is this: when we give it, we get it.

May God bless us all during this Advent season. We have so much to rejoice about!

Her fiat and ours

ambSt. Ambrose lived in the fourth century. He had a fierce devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He popularized the title “Mother of Salvation.” Other Church Fathers came to appreciate that title as years went on. His point was that we have the opportunity for salvation because we have Jesus. And we have Jesus because we have Mary, because she gave her fiat.  It’s interesting to consider: everyone in heaven owes, in no small part, his placement there to Mary’s Yes.  We also are called to say Yes to things, and the salvation of others might just depend upon our saying Yes.

Advent paradise: A homily for the Second Sunday of Advent

second-sunday-advent-wreathOLG has been something of a paradise this past week. Advent has afforded us a lot of joy here. We had the school Christmas concert on Tuesday, complete with a fire drill. On Wednesday we began the novena to Our Lady of Guadalupe, which has continued in great spirit each night since. On Thursday the women of the parish had a wonderful celebration of Tables of Christmas. I sang to them. On Friday, we had our First Fridays program and it drew a record crowd again this month. Yesterday there were about 500 things going on here in the evening–the novena, Msgr’s talk, the manger party, RCIA, a basement full of kids, who knows what else.

This coming week is similar: there is a lot in store. Tuesday is a Holy Day of Obligation, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Tuesday also starts the year of mercy. At the school we will start Cafeteria Confessions this week. Fr. Jim Farrell is coming to offer an Advent program on Wednesday night. We will also have two Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations, one Friday in English at 6:30pm and then one on Saturday at 5:30pm in Spanish. Both will be wonderful. That’s just a slice of what’s happening. Read your bulletin. And your own personal calendar of festivities. A lot of joy.

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