January 29, 2023 at St William & St Peter the Apostle Churches in Naples, FL
Zephaniah 2: 3, 3:12-13 + Psalm 146 + I Corinthians1: 1: 26-31 + Matthew 5: 1-12
Years ago, when I was in the seminary, and I do mean years and years ago, I had a wise confessor who upset me more than once with challenges to my way of thinking, praying, and looking at myself and the world. I had just finished listing my sins after a careful examination of conscience. He let out a very audible sigh, turned toward me and said: “It’s about time to grow up and grow out of that.” I said nothing for the simple reason that I didn’t know what exactly he wanted me to grow out of. I waited for further instructions, and I did not have to wait long.
He proceeded to challenge my preparation and examination of conscience. Like many my age, I was taught that the root of sin and most evil was rooted in breaking the commandments. My confessions were consistently focused on failures to keep and observe the commandments. That night, old Father Rupert pulled out Matthew 5 and said: “If you want to be holy, pay attention to this. If you want to grow spiritually, pay attention to this. If you want to know what God cares about, it’s right here. If you think just keeping the commandments will make you pleasing in God’s sight, you’re fooling yourself and looking or an easy way out. Not breaking a commandment does not make you good, holy, or faithful. It just means you didn’t do anything, and that will be a problem when the judgement comes.
I’ve worked with that wisdom over the years, and as a confessor for 55 years, I never sit in judgement, but I do recognize people who are on the path to holiness and living in the Kingdom of God. I also recognize people who don’t do anything good or bad, and I always feel sorry for them struggling to find perfection or just be good by keeping the commandments. There is no character in that. There is nothing noble, profound, or blessed there. It’s just safe, and in some ways, it is way of living in denial of what Jesus Christ has proposed must mark those who are Blessed.
If any of us stand before the Lord at the end and want to claim a place among the Blessed, I don’t think we can claim that place by saying we didn’t steal, bear false witness, covet our neighbor’s wife or husband, mess around with sex or fail to attend Mass. We will have a claim on that place by a life of mercy and meekness. We will have a claim to the Kingdom when we have made peace, longed and worked for things to be right, lived simply, and put up with ridicule for our devotion and fidelity. These are things that will give Joy and make us glad. Jesus says it again here today: these are the things that will bring us the reward of heaven.
So, take it from an old confessor who is himself a penitent. Pay attention to Matthew 5. Avoiding the Sacrament of Reconciliation because you think you have not really broken any commandments is absolutely foolish. Avoiding the Sacrament of Reconciliation because you think you can tell God you’re sorry all by yourself in private is just as silly because God isn’t going to believe it until we have made peace with each other, and that’s why old Father Rupert was sitting there and every other confessor like him. We need each other to find peace, to mourn together, to make things right, and to satisfy those who hunger and thirst for justice.
As the Prophet said to us minutes ago: “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, seek justice and humility.” When we do, we are going to find ourselves right smack in the middle of the Kingdom of God.