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Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B

You may remember last week that at the end of Mass I mentioned that this

coming Thursday there will be a Reconciliation Service, which will end with

the opportunity for individual confessions, either with me or you can go to two

other visiting priests. Confession is something that is part of being a Catholic

and something we are supposed to do, but not everyone finds it easy.

Sometimes, even priests find it at least a bit difficult to go to another priest, or

at least, certain priests. There are even certain occasions when it is best not to

go to a certain member of the clergy. There is the story that a certain previous

archbishop of Birmingham used to help out occasionally with confessions in

the cathedral. A priest joined the queue, and, rather than naming the priest

behind the grille, the sign just said “Visiting Priest”. Anyway, when he got

inside and discovered it was the archbishop he made his excuse and left.


So, today we hear about the figure of John the Baptist. It can sound so much

easier to just have gone to him and been baptised by him and that was it. But

that’s not what the text says. If you read it carefully, what it actually tells us is:

“and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their

sins”. I didn’t make that up. You can go back and check it in the text in front

of you if you don’t believe me. Even they didn’t get away.


So why do we have to go to confession? Quite simply, because it’s one of the

sacraments that Jesus gave us. When He appeared to the apostles after His

Resurrection, He said to them: “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins

you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are

retained” (Luke 20:22b-23). We tend not to struggle quite so much with the

other sacraments, because they don’t involve revealing the deep and hidden

flaws that we have. But let’s just explore a few other dimensions of this

sacrament.


In the first reading, “A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness a way for the

Lord. Make a straight highway for our God across the desert.’ ” On Thursday,

someone told me that when Fr Randolph Traill came to Thame in 1913, the

only Catholic family here had to travel fourteen miles to get to Mass in

Oxford. The roads were not quite so direct back in those days. It reminded me

that in days gone by in England the roads were sometimes in rather poor

condition. They don’t seem to be quite so bad here as they were in parts of

Stoke-on-Trent, but I’m sure that was nothing compared with the days of

turnpikes.


In the days of the stagecoach, there wasn’t always the money to pay for road

repairs, so at least some of the roads were privatised, and toll booths, called

turnpikes, were set up. But despite the money collected, the roads weren’t

always smooth, or even necessarily passable either. My school history

textbook said it was an issue not fully resolved until the days of the motor car,

when standards improved.


Moving to the West Midlands, where I grew up, there was, and still is, the

problem of snarl-ups on the motorways around Birmingham. In fact they used

to sometimes say on the traffic and travel on the radio that there were still

spaces on the M6 car park. Ironically, a toll road has been built, called the M6

toll, taking an alternative route and helping people avoid all the traffic at busy

periods, but at a cost. And you have to queue up for it. It’s a bit like joining a

queue for confession. Afterwards, rather than traffic being able to flow, God’s

grace is able to flow through our lives, as it is supposed to. The effort of going

to confession is well-worth it.


We can also liken our soul to a window. When it gets dirty with accumulated

sin, the light of God’s grace is impeded. When it is washed in confession, then

more of God’s light is able to penetrate into our hearts.


Sometimes, people struggle to know what to say, or they think they haven’t

really got anything to confess. If that’s you, here’s one idea, if you dare: ask

someone else what they think you need to confess! Maybe more seriously,

have a look at a good examination of conscience – there will be one read out at

the Reconciliation Service as well. Also, just a further warning: sometimes, if

we have difficulty spotting sin, it can mean that, spiritually, we are heading in

the wrong direction. It’s a bit like your car. When you are travelling away

from the sun, the windscreen might look rather clean. That’s a bit like when we

are travelling away from God and we think everything is fine. But when we

travel towards the light, that’s when all the dust and dirt and other things show

up and we need to give it a good clean to see clearly.


So, yes, confession isn’t always easy, and even priests can find it a bit difficult,

too – after all, we should know better. But it was given us by Christ as a

cleansing sacrament, and the restoration it brings us is worth all the effort.

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