John the Baptist is sent to make straight the way of the Lord. But what is in the way?
Often we may think of sin as the obstacle between us and God. And in a way it’s true – sin weakens our relationship with God. It can enslave us, blind us to the truth. An unrepented mortal sin might separate us from God for all eternity.
Saying that sin is the obstacle that keeps us from God is like saying that a door keeps us from entering a room – we can open the door. Saying that sin keeps us from God is like saying – I’ve got the flu I’m going to die – we can treat the flu. Saying that sin keeps us from God is like sending your car to the junkyard because you have a flat tire – we can fix the tire.
Sin is a serious problem, but it is not an irresolvable problem. God is the good shepherd who looks for the sinner. He wants to forgive us and save us. He is always ready to forgive us when we confess our sins and resolve to do better.
The real obstacle between us and God is not sin, it is our pride – we don’t want to admit our weaknesses and failures, we want to look good in front of others. It is our stubourness – we don’t want someone else to tell us what to do – even if it is God, we want to be charge of our lives. Sometimes it may be Ignorance – it is not always clear what is right or wrong, what I should do in this situation. Maybe it is our weakness – we would like to change, but don’t seem to have the energy, can’t do it on our won. And this leads to the greatest obstacle of all which is despair – to think it is impossible to change my life.
What we need as human beings is not just a remedy for sin – but a remedy for pride and stubourness and weakness and ignorance and discouragement. I think this is one reason why Jesus forgives us through the sacrament of Confession. In theory God could forgive us in anyway he wanted – but he has chosen to do so through the ministry of priests. Confession does not just heal our sin, it heals our pride, stouborness, our ignorance, our weakness and discouragement.
Confession heals my ignorance – having to say what my sins are forces me to think about my sins, to learn what is right and wrong. I am invited to ask the light of the Holy Spirit to make it clear to me. I am able to ask the priest if I am uncertain about something – his advice helps to make things more clear.
Confession heals my pride and stubbornness. It is difficult to confess my sins to another person – I have to think about them, I have to put them into words and I have to say them to another person – this is humiliating and that is the point – it helps me to be more humble – to admit the truth about myself which is very hard. It is easy to say “I am a sinner’ in a generic sense, it is hard to say “I made a racist joke” “I lost my temper and hit my kid” “I am addicted to pornography” “I am holding a grudge over something as stupid as a bag of marshmellows”
Confession heals my pride but it also gives me courage and confidence. When I say my sins and rather than laughing at me or scolding me the priest understands – you are not the only one fighting this battle. He encourages us to keep struggling. He gives us some suggestions for next steps – how to avoid temptation and grow in virtue.
Confession heals my weakness. Confession not only gives us forgiveness, it gives us graces to try harder and do better. St. John baptized with water for forgiveness. Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit and Fire – Jesus not only calls us to change our lives, but gives us the power of the Holy Spirit to do so.
Sin is not the obstacle in our way. Ignorance, Pride, and weakness are our obstacles. These obstacles can be cleared by a good confession. Please participate in our penance celebration this Advent.