This weekend we celebrated the feast of Saint John Paul the second. He was a man of considerable intellect, great fortitude and extraordinary insight into the world’s problems both in his day and remarkably still so for our day. We do not know much of his interior life as we do for instance for Paul the sixth who apparently wore a hair shirt throughout his life. Recently we celebrated the canonisation of mother Theresa of Calcutta and of how she lived the spiritual darkness for almost 50 years a truth that was only known after her death. Observers tell us reliably that John Paul the second would spend much time every day in Eucharistic adoration. That is the Blessed sacrament was taken out of the tabernacle and placed on the altar to adore in silence and humble worship. Also every single day he would celebrate the sacrament of confession.
As you reflect on this extraordinary reality of going to confession every day a sacrament with which many of us struggle. Some would admit to being lazy or simply do not go and are perhaps indifferent to the celebration of the sacrament. He went every day.
Here one does not mean simply going to confession because we have committed mortal or serious sin, or missed mass on a holy day of obligation or Sunday or received holy communion unworthily for then it is important and vital that we should go. Rather however this practice of Saint John Paul the second teachers us that we should ground and base our lives, daily activities and the living out of a relationship with Jesus Christ through the sacrament of confession.
John Paul the second proclaimed Christ so beautifully and powerfully to his world precisely because of his going to confession, knowing, acknowledging and proclaiming quietly and silently his sinfulness . He didn’t us give his profound teaching on the meaning of human sexuality or cause the crumbling of the iron curtain by dint of his intellect but In proclaiming silently and quietly his sinfulness.
A recent tradition at the end of the Austrian Hungarian empire of the deceased emperor when his body came to be buried in theCapuchin Church in Vienna would be that as the body was brought to the church the pall bearers would knock on the door of the church to ask for entry. The brothers inside would ask “who asks for entry” , The pall bearers would answer the dead Emperor mentioning all his titles and lands. The door was slammed shut and then the question was asked again. This time they said “it’s a sinner who asks for entry ” and then the doors will be opened and the body would be brought in and buried. Society wants to give us our identity by virtue of our wealth, success, looks, predispositions or loyalties however God explains us to ourselves in a radically different way. It is only when we admit our brokenness, poverty and sinfulness that we can understand who we truly are before God and he can give us our full dignity.
Perhaps in this church or somewhere like WestMinster Cathedral watch the people go to confession. It is beautiful and a work of God. Watch how will the penitent kneels, beats the chest and acknowledges their sinfulness. Then watch how will the waters of absolution wash over them and see that person rise from the confessional now justified in the eyes of God.
Go now in your imagination and prayer to the gospel of today. Watch the Pharisee so full of self justification, worried about the world and telling others and God how they should behave. Then go to the tax collector who is silent before God and the world. Remember how we spoke of John Paul the second and of how as another part of his journey he would daily go to adore the blessed Sacrament. All the tax get collector knows is that he is poor, vulnerable, broken and a sinner. Watch how God and Christ in the priest as it were gives him absolution as if in a confessional ” this man, I tell you, went home again at rights with God; The other did not. For everyone who exalts himself will be humble, but the man who humbles him self will be exalted”.
As individuals, humanity and society we will only find true renewal and justice and peace when all can go on their knees before God and admit that we are all sinners. John Paul the second talk to us much but before anything else he taught us silently and quietly because of how he lived his life that we are sinners
Saint John Paul the second-pray for us.