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Homily for the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46; 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1; Mark 1:40-45

Saint John Baptist de LaSalle/Saint Stephen February 11, 2024

 

The Scriptures for this weekend, the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, are attempting to prepare us for what is about to come, Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Today's Gospel holds a secret about Jesus, a result of his reluctance to be identified as the Messiah. Even though everything Jesus is doing—healing the sick, driving out demons, feeding large crowds of people, even raising the dead—reveals who Jesus is. Yes, what Jesus does reveals him to be the Christ, the promised and long-awaited Messiah of Israel, whom we are to recognize not by what he says, but by what he does. Jesus does not just talk the talk; he walks the walk.

 

Jesus says to the leper whom he heals: "See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priests and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them." Of course, asking that this healing be kept a secret is disobeyed. This news is too good to be kept quiet. If Jesus has worked wonders for us, well, to borrow a line from today’s hymn, “how can we keep from singing?”

 

I need to sing of the Lord’s goodness every time I see it happening in the sacraments, especially in the sacrament of Reconciliation. In this sacrament, God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness are on display, whether I am administering or receiving the sacrament. If you have let this wonder wander out of your life, let us go back to the beginning. I can remember, and very clearly, my First Confession, the sacrament that today we call the Sacrament of Reconciliation. After all my preparation, after memorizing my prayers and what to say and when to say it, I was still pretty nervous because I could not think of a sin I had committed. Remembering a sin, especially when you are six years old, is almost as impossible as recognizing some sin or sins you need to confess.

 

In the next few weeks, I will be celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation with many of our children who are preparing to receive their First Holy Communion. I will leave the “confessional seal” in place, for just as with adult confessions I quickly forget what I have heard, unless I have promised to pray for someone.

 

All you need to know about the confessions of children is that they have a short memory. Only one or two sins are presented, and they are generally things that have just happened. The priest is supposed to welcome the person who has come to confess and to make them feel at ease. This is harder to do when the confession is anonymous, but that’s O.K.; if being behind a screen helps, stay behind the screen. At both Saint John and Saint Stephen, as a matter of fact, in all the parishes I have ever been, I have encouraged children to confess face-to-face, at least for the first time.

 

I always begin by inviting people to pray, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and then ask, “how long has it been since your last confession?” When I ask, most children have a puzzled look on their face, until I explain that they can’t really answer that question because this is their First Confession. Only the next time when they come, can they tell me how long it has been. Telling how long it has been since your last confession is only a help to the priest, whether it has been one month, “two years,” or twenty years; it just helps me understand. Then I tell them how happy I am to be celebrating their first confession and then I ask what sins they would like to confess.

 

“You mean my sins,” they say, “yes your sins,” I say, “what have you done wrong?” This all goes quickly, and leaves me with an opportunity to say, “God has forgiven all your sins, even those you can’t remember, because no one can remember all of their sins.” For some reason, many adults believe that sins unconfessed are unforgiven, kind of like groceries, which if they are not scanned are deemed stolen. You are not supposed to withhold a sin that is bothering you, but no one can remember every sin, and I am not scanning every one of your sins.

 

It is important to understand what I do not say, to children or to anyone else, when they are celebrating this sacrament; it is not my task to make you feel sorry for your sins. You would not be here celebrating this sacrament if you did not already feel sorry. I am not here to coach you, or to lecture you, or to insist that you do better, as a matter of fact, unless you ask a question, my role is to speak of God’s forgiveness, God’s mercy. Then I say to children, “now I am going to give you a penance,” something you can do to show God that you are really sorry for your sins. I almost always ask people to pray an “Our Father,” or a “Hail Mary,” for their penance, for a penance does not need “to fit the crime.”

 

We should all live lives marked by penance, but in confession, the penance should be so simple that we are able to do it and know that it is done. At this time, I invite people to pray an act of contrition, a prayer that tells God that you are sorry, and if they can't remember, I help them with that prayer. Then I extend my hand and say, “now I will pray a prayer of forgiveness for you.” We should all listen carefully, for all we believe about God is summed up in these words.

 

“God the Father of Mercies,

through the death and resurrection of his Son,

has reconciled the world to himself

and poured out the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.

Through the ministry of his Church

may he grant you pardon and peace,

and I absolve you from your sins

in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

 

“Your sins have been forgiven, go in peace,” with children I usually add, “good job.”

 

In the ancient world, Leprosy was more than an illness, it could not be cured, it could only be contained. Those who were infected were banished from communal life and excluded from worship. They could not approach, much less touch, the unaffected. The leper in today’s Gospel does not follow the rules, even before he disobeys the command of secrecy, he violates the prohibition of approaching someone who is clean. Jesus overwrites this law as well, he simply reaches out and touches the leper.

 

Children celebrating reconciliation do not yet feel the weight of their sins. They have not yet learned to slink away in shame. That is why it is so important for them to learn that mercy, total and complete mercy, is available whenever they ask. Right now, the sacrament of reconciliation does not have a lot of meaning for them. But the time will come, under the shame and deception of the Evil One, that it will become meaningful, that the grace given is free for the asking.

 

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