Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 24, 2011: Easter Sunday (A)

Click to hear audio homily
These past couple of weeks, Fr. Frank and I heard many confessions in preparation for Easter. We encountered several hundred people, young and old. Fr. Frank shared with me an interesting experience involving a 12-year-old girl. He said to her, "What would you like to tell God that you are sorry for?" She whipped out her iPhone and pressed a few buttons to access her Confession App. After she finished telling him what was on the list that she had created using that application, Fr. Frank asked her, "Now would you like to say the Act of Contrition?" She said, "Ooh, I have that on here too," as she pressed a button on her phone… and voila!  There was the Act of Contrition and she proceeded to read it to him. Fr. Frank thought to himself, 'I must be getting too old. I would never have imagined the day when you could go to confession with a phone!

Many of those who came to confession during Lent were burdened with troubles and hurts from the past.  Some folks were struggling with anger against a loved one while others were weighed down by bad habits and addictions. Amidst those going to confessions, someone asked, "Why do we have to go to confession to a priest?

To answer this question, we need to do what Peter and John did on the morning they found the tomb empty.  At first, "they did not yet understand the Scriptures that he had to rise from the dead." Then they saw the empty tomb and believed all that Jesus had said to them. It is very clear from today’s First Reading that Peter truly understood all that had happened to Jesus as Peter recounted, "We are witnesses of all that Jesus did...They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead...everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name." When Peter spoke of forgiveness, he was doing so just for the benefit of other but for himself as we. He knew that even the Lord had forgiven him though he had denied his Lord and Master three times and had abandoned him.

How many of us here have had a similar experience as Peter had? How many of us knew Jesus before, yet at some point in our lives denied him, and even worse betrayed him? Are we all here in this church as witnesses of his forgiveness?  I raise my own hand, for I denied him, betrayed him, and abandoned him for many years in my youth and early adult life. I remember how I disdained those who believed in Jesus and made fun of them. Even worse, I violated the First Commandment by dabbling in New Age beliefs that profess there is no supreme god, but each follower is their own ‘god.’ At that time, I fully believed that I did not have to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit or to my conscience where Heavenly Father spoke to my soul. As a New Age believer, I could make my own rules and do whatever I wanted. What do you think happened when I lived like that for few years? Complete emptiness.

The other day a person came to confessions and gave me the standard list of things he had done--lying, disobeying, cussing, being angry, and being impure. Then I asked, "How does it feel here?" as I pointed to his heart. He said, "Empty...Why do I keep on doing the same thing? It's pointless to go to confession because I confess the same things every time." He felt dirty, ashamed, and dejected. This is not unlike what Peter felt right before Mary Magdalene told him that someone stole Jesus' body from the tomb.

We can imagine that as Peter ran toward the tomb, many things went through his mind: the time that he boasted to Jesus that he would not abandon him; that he was going to lay down his own life for Jesus; that he would follow Jesus wherever he would go. He probably recalled how he tried to keep Jesus from washing his feet that night when Jesus bent down like a slave, and he heard Jesus say to him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me."  Peter must have remembered when he said on three occasions, "I do not know that man!" Yet, once Peter arrived at the empty tomb, he remembered Jesus saying, "Let not your hearts be troubled...a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you...he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to Father and I will come to him and make our home with him."

In that brief time in the confessional, do we not feel like a dead man in a dark tomb, sometimes devoid of hope, feeling bound like a dead man. Then in this darkness, we encounter Jesus and his merciful words in the absolution, "God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins...may God give you pardon and peace..." And once we hear these powerful words, we hear what Lazarus heard in the dark tomb as Jesus spoke, "Lazarus, come out!"

Why do we go to confession to a priest? In confession, we encounter the Resurrected Jesus who unbinds us from our dark, empty tomb. There, Jesus says to us, "Why did you stay away for so long? I missed you. I have been waiting for you. Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...Share your master's joy."