The Need for Confession
Seventh Day of the Novena in Honour of St. Anne (St. Anne’s Church, Hamilton, Ontario)

Anyone who does the will of my father in heaven, he is my brother, and sister and mother.

This verse tells us a great deal about Mary. Since she is the mother of Christ, then the will of God is fulfilled pre-eminently in her. And that is why she is worthy of a special veneration in the Church: hyperdulia. Her glory exceeds the glory of the angels and saints combined.

The fourth commandment, the first commandment having to do directly with our neighbour, is “Honour thy father and mother”. In Hebrew, the verb ‘to do honour’ really means to glorify. We are called to glorify our parents. Our glory is a glorification of them. And so the glory of Mary is one that glorifies St. Anne and St. Joachim, the grandparents of Our Lord.

Behind every saint is a mother and a father whose lives we usually know very little about, but the glory of their child does an eternal honour to them. But none of them can equal the glory that is reflected back onto St. Anne and her husband.

Anyone who does the will of the Father is a blood relative of Christ. You are a brother, a sister, or a mother. A mother nurtures life and begets it with great labour. To be a mother of Christ is to nurture the divine life within, it is to be pregnant with the divine life, with the life of Christ, and it is to beget “little Christs”, to beget them in suffering and labour. St. Augustine says we’re all called to be ‘mothers’. We’re called to be tabernacles, but living ones.

I was at a Benedictine Monastery recently, and the last time I’d been to that Monastery was about 20 years ago. I recall the first time I visited that Monastery, on my last day I had a very vivid dream that brought me a great deal of peace. I still remember it. I was a teacher at a school with Oxford like architecture. But my classroom had no desks in it. It was a hard wood floor, but the wood was white. I’d never seen wood like that before, and at the front of the classroom was a tabernacle, and the students were outside, ready to come in. It was a profoundly peaceful dream, but I didn’t quite know what it meant at the time.

But what it means is that my primary role as a teacher of these students is to be a living tabernacle, that carries the life of Christ, so that the classroom will become a chapel, without them even knowing it. That’s all there is to it. That’s the primary task of a Catholic teacher, the primary task of a Catholic nurse, a parent, a grandparent, etc., it is the primary and fundamental task of every one of us here. To be a living tabernacle carrying Christ within, which is why the best thing we can do to achieve this is get to Mass every day. Nothing is more important. The only thing that is going to bring us any joy at the end of our lives is the knowledge that we’ve done precisely that, we were a living tabernacle to those with whom we came in contact, and the only thing that is going to cause us suffering is knowing the degree to which we have fallen short of that.

The first reading from Micah certainly challenges the popular but heretical idea that the God of the Old Testament is fundamentally different than the God of the New—that the God of the Old Testament is an angry God, but the God of the New Testament is a God of love. “What god can compare with you: taking fault away, pardoning crime, not cherishing anger for ever, but delighting in showing mercy? Once more have pity on us, tread down our faults, to the bottom of the sea throw all our sins.”

As a teacher of adolescent youth, I can assure you that young people love talking about sin. The most popular unit in grade nine religion is the seven capital sins. They love all that, they’re intrigued by it. And yet the adult world wants to avoid the topic. So many priests and deacons rarely mention the word—less so now than it was in the 70s. It was thought that talking about sin was negative, and that we should be positive, that our God is a God of love and mercy.

But of course, there’s no way to really come to any profound sense of the divine mercy without getting deep into the muck of our own sins. That’s what this first reading makes very clear: “Once more have mercy on us, tread down our faults, to the bottom of the sea throw all our sins.” There is no experiencing the joy of God’s mercy without confessing our sins.

I know a story of a man who about 35 years ago decided to turn his back on the Church, on God, on his faith, etc. No one was going to tell him what to do anymore, no priest, no bishop, etc., and “from now on I’m going to do things my way”. He raised his children on that philosophy. Thirty years later he found himself on the edge of his bed with a loaded gun pointed at his head, ready to do himself in. But he didn’t pull the trigger for some reason. He went and sought help, but after 2 years, the psychologist was at a loss for what to do. Nothing was working. So he came up with an idea. He told him to think of the decision he made long ago that led to this desolation, and make the opposite decision.

So he got thinking about it and realized that meant going back to Church. So he went for a walk and found a Church, and the priest was preaching on Confession. So he went to Confession, and now he speaks of a joy that he never knew was possible.

My spiritual director received a call from a Jewish psychologist who had a practice in Brooklyn, and she called to ask him something: “Father, I have to ask you something. Sometimes we get these patients, we work with them for a couple of years, and nothing seems to be working, they’re not getting any better, and because they’re Catholic, we will send them to you. And you see them for only an hour or so, and after that, they’re doing so well, they’re so much better. I just want to know: what is your secret? What is it you are doing for these people? And Father Frank just laughed and said, I don’t really have a secret, I just hear their Confession. That’s it. In reply, the woman said to him: “Well, I’m not a Catholic, I’m Jewish, but I gotta tell you, there’s something about that Confession thing that you Catholics do. Don’t ever get rid of that.”

It’s a tremendous source of healing. Although sin might appear to be negative, it is really quite positive, because it’s the one true path to healing.

Now there’s only one point of sorrow in this man’s story, who returned to the Church after 32 years. He experiences, daily, the peace that the world cannot give, but he also speaks of a sorrow that is mixed in with his joy, and that is the sorrow of having to witness the messed up lives of his children, whom he raised on this philosophy of radical Individualism. It has not taken away the joy he’s found in the Lord, but he sees the extent to which he is partially responsible for their messed up lives, and that’s a source of sorrow for him.

St. Catherine of Genoa says that purgatory will be somewhat like that, a simultaneous mixture of joy and sorrow. We will see our sins and the far reaching effects they’ve had on the lives of others, but we will see all that against the background of God’s infinite mercy. Although the pain of purgatory, she says, will be greater than any pain on earth, that pain will be more joyful than the greatest joys on earth. It is a suffering that I will desire, my soul will demand it; for I will know how innocent, how pure, how boundlessly sweet is God’s love for me, and the awareness that I have not responded adequately and fittingly to that love will cause me tremendous sorrow, and so my greatest desire at that moment will be to suffer and make complete satisfaction for that, before entering fully into the Lord’s presence.

If the pain of purgatory is more joyful than the greatest joys on earth, try to imagine what the joy of heaven will be. We simply cannot, but we can always try. One thing we do know is that not only will knowing God as He is in Himself be the essential source of our joy and perfect rest, but it is also true that because God is a burning furnace of love and loves each one of us as if there is only one of us, you will delight in knowing that He is loved by others besides you, that He is loved by myriads of angels and saints beyond counting. And our love for each person in heaven will be a perfect love, and so you will delight in knowing that this person is completely and utterly happy. His happiness will become yours, and so too that person’s, and that other person’s, and so on. It will be an overflowing torrent of joy that you will not be able to contain, and that joy will never end, and at every moment in heaven, we will possess the joy of an eternal anticipation, that is, we will always and forever be anticipating a new and greater joy. That is something we simply cannot fathom. It is beyond what eye has ever seen or ear has ever heard. Amen.

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