St. Michael's Parish - Cobourg

The Truly Reassuring Worship and “The Church of WAW” -September 11, 2016

The Truly Reassuring Worship and “The Church of WAW           -September 11, 2016

 

The sacrament of reconciliation can be seen as a “humiliating” experience, and that is probably why some people try to avoid going to confession. It is perfectly understandable. Even if we are aware of our defects and our past sins, it would not be right to go and proclaim how wretched I am to everyone I meet on the street. We do not speak about our sins to people we love, because we do not want to scandalize them. There is also a sense in which we need to be positive: to speak about our mistakes is not uplifting to people around, and so it is better to speak about good things, and even about good things in our own life, or in the life of others.

 

A possible outcome of this, however, is that by this hiding our sins from everyone, we may end up hiding our sins from ourselves. We may end up not considering ourselves sinners any more. We all say that we are sinners, but we may find it difficult to understand why. We know that we are sinners, but we may find it difficult to be sorry, because we cannot see our sins. So much we ignore them, so little we reflect upon them, so little we examine ourselves, that we may end up thinking that there is nothing wrong with us.

 

Even more: sometimes, even if we do see in our life things that are considered sinful in the bible or by the Church, we ourselves do not consider these things to be a sin, and so we are not sorry about them. We may have found excuses to do those things, and we have found a certain peace about that. Sometimes the sting of our conscience still bothers us, a little bit, but it is a voice that becomes more and more lost among the noise of our daily life. The result is the same: the feeling that there is nothing wrong with me.

 

The spiritual danger in this situation is that religion can become meaningless. People do not need religion anymore, because they do not need salvation, they do not need forgiveness. They have erased their own sins by means of excuses. They have in front of themselves only their good qualities, they are “wonderful,” and that is what other people must think about them. It is what happens in the church of “We Are Wonderful.” The church of WAW are all those churches, even Catholic communities, in which everybody is wonderful and everything is positive: everybody is good and proclaims how good life is and how good they are. It is all about “us.” Mind you, they would say, among “us” there is also Jesus: Jesus “our friend”! Because he is our “equal”, because “we didn’t do anything wrong to him,” because “we don’t need to be forgiven by him” and because “he does not punish,” Jesus is “our friend”: no longer Our Lord. Jesus is a “friend” who is “always in agreement with everything I do, and never tells me that I am wrong.” Because if he did, he would not be my “friend” any more. This is what they would say, in the church of the WAW.

 

(Jesus is a friend, of course, but not that kind of friend. He is our friend because he doesn’t care about himself when it comes to loving us. Jesus is our friend because he is the only one who died for us when we were not worth it, when we were, as St. Paul says, his enemies (cf. Romans 5:1-11). No friend in the world can love like Jesus does.)

 

Even if it may seem surprising, the church of WAW is dying. Churches like that become empty and die. What’s the point of going to church if I don’t need anything from God? All I get is the assurance that I am wonderful, and that God loves me no matter how wretched I am. Do I need to go to church for that? I don’t like people to tell me lies, and even less lies about God. If God is God, he cares about my behaviour (at least, the God of the Bible does…). And that does not mean that our Catholic worship is not reassuring: it is reassuring not because it tells me that I am wonderful, but because it tells me that even if I am not, God is wonderful, God is good, and God wants to forgive me. It is reassuring because it gives me hope. Hope of forgiveness, hope of becoming a better person, hope of a better world with his grace, hope of a better life after death. That is the reason we come to church, and that is why church gives us true joy.

 

We Catholics try not to be the church of WAW, but we still find sometimes some of these things in ourselves. We may also find it difficult to recognize our sins, for too much focus on only the good part of us, for lack of reflection, or because we do not understand why those things should be considered sinful. That is a very good reason to go to confession: it obliges you to stop and reflect, to question yourself. It also gives you the opportunity to ask why to the priest: “why is this or that a sin.” It is also a public confession that you consider yourself a sinner, in need of forgiveness, and that you understand that this is the way Jesus has chosen to forgive. You humble yourself, because Jesus humbled himself (cf. Philippians 2:6-11). You say your sins to a priest, because Jesus said to the apostles: “If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven” (John 20:23). You verbalize your sins in front of a member of the community, the priest, because you realize that your sins affected not only you, but also your brothers and sisters.

 

In a word, the sacrament of reconciliation might seem to be a humbling experience, but it is actually an exercise of true humility. Humility is to be truthful about ourselves, or in the words of St. Therese: “Humility is to walk in the truth.” We recognize our good qualities and all the gifts and talents that we have received from God. But we also recognize our sins. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7) And nobody did. The apostle John says: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8) We go to confession because we recognize the truth of ourselves and the truth of God, who is merciful and always forgives those who repent and confess their sins.

 

May the Lord grant us a renewed appreciation for the sacrament of Reconciliation.

–Fr. Andrew