Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
The Liturgy of Advent is dominated by two extraordinary persons, Mary, the mother of Jesus and John the Baptist. Mary is present in the Liturgy of Advent in the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Her preparation for the first Christmas was sinlessness. John the Baptist is present in the Liturgy of Advent because he was the prophet chosen to prepare the way for Jesus. His message was not sinlessness but the forgiveness of sins.
The season of Advent, the season for the preparation of Christmas, consists essentially in the recognition, confession and forgiveness of sins. Sin and the forgiveness of sins is what Christmas is all about. We cannot understand Christmas unless we are conscious of our sinfulness and recognize our need of Jesus Christ. Sin is not only the breaking of a law but the breaking of our relationship with God which is the first, the last and always the most important relationship in our lives.
Free will is our greatest dignity and most awesome responsibility. Free will makes love possible and it also makes sin possible. Sin is not only a possibility; it is a fact, a fact of history and a fact of my life. We are all sinners actually in the past, potentially in the future and always carrying this great treasure in a very fragile vessel.
But this is precisely the problem today. Today there is no sin; there are no sinners and therefore no need for Christmas. How strange that in a world torn apart with war, violence, terrorism, corruption, famine, addictions and suicide there is no sin and no sinners!
Sin begins in Genesis and continues unabated to our daily newscasts. Yet we foolishly think that if we could by-pass sin we could live in peace and joy. What a delusion! Such peace would be superficial and short-lived. Sooner or later we are confronted with evil, evil in the world, evil in others and evil within ourselves, and this peace is shattered.
When we deny sin we repress it, shove it back into the subconscious. Although we are no longer conscious of it we feel fear, anxiety and guilt; we feel alienated from others, ourselves, and from God. And we do not know why. Psychiatry can fish it out of the unconscious and help us to become conscious of it again. It can help us verbalize it, objectify it and relive it. And if it a false guilt it can help us get rid of it. But if it is real guilt it is beyond its power. Only God can forgive sin.
The Rite of Reconciliation is the masterpiece of the mercy of Jesus. Confession not only relieves the bitter suffering of guilt but transforms it into an experience of deep joy. One would hardly get this impression from many Catholics who would prefer to avoid it as much as possible. We are the non-confessing confessing generation. We don’t want to confess yet there has never been a generation that confesses as much as we do. We confess on the psychiatrist’s couch, in sensitivity sessions, group therapy and the twelve step programs. In the twelve step programs, which are so successful, seven of the twelve steps deal with confession. The fifth step explicitly states, “Admitted to God, to our selves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
It is a contradiction indeed when someone says he would never confess his sins to another human being and then pays a substantial fee to tell someone not just the name of the sin and the number of times but all of the sordid details of his life as far back as he can remember. And the substantial fee does not include an absolution!
The lesson of Advent, the message of Mary and John the Baptist is: sin must be confronted, confessed and forgiven. If we refuse to do this; if we deny it, repress it or call it by some much more euphemistic name, we will cause ourselves great physical, emotional and psychological harm, and we will never know what a Merry Christmas really is.
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