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Homily for Wed of the 7th Wk in Ordinary Time, 22 May 2024, Mk 9:38-40

Somebody once asked me, “Bishop, I was told by a friend that I need to make a confession at each time I wish to receive holy communion? Is that true?” My answer was “YES and NO.”

Why NO? Because, if we really were to require people to be absolutely sinless before they can be allowed to receive communion, then perhaps nobody would receive the Holy Eucharist anymore. I’ve said this on many occasions: the Eucharist is grace; it is never something we deserve. We don’t receive communion because we are good; but rather because God is good. The Eucharist is therefore not an exclusive meal for the righteous; it is rather “a body broken for broken people”, like you and me. Actually, the more sinful we are, the more in need we are of the Eucharist.

The person who was asking was obviously attentive enough not to forget the follow-up to her question. “You said YES and NO. You explained Why NO; but now, why YES? Here’s my answer: “Can we really make a confession at the start of each Mass? No, if we think of confession as something we can do only with the help of a priest. But YES, if you remember that at the start of each Mass, there is actually a penitential rite that gives us the opportunity to “make a confession.” When the priest says, “Let us ACKNOWLEDGE OUR SINS and so prepare ourselves to celebrate these sacred mysteries.” Yes, just acknowledging that we are sinners is already, by itself, a big deal for God!

But listen to what we say after that penitential pause for silence: “I CONFESS to Almighty God…that I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, in what I have failed to do…” All that God is asking of us at that moment of “confession“ is that WE MEAN WHAT WE SAY. You see, confession is not just about admitting the wrong that we have done but also the right things that we should have done but have failed to do. We call them SINS OF OMISSION in Christian tradition. They are what we heard about at the last line of our first reading from James, “For one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin.”

That final line is a good reminder that should keep us from turning self-righteous. This lesson is also sustained by the main point of our Gospel reading today: that WE DO NOT HAVE A MONOPOLY OF GOODNESS. This is something that many overseas Filipino workers, especially those who have lived in predominantly non-Christian countries, have often been surprised to discover. That the citizens of their host countries may be mostly NON-CHRISTIANS, but they are not necessarily UNCHRISTIAN, that they are as capable of as much goodness as Christians are. In fact, what is humbling is precisely when we are able to admit that we Christians are also as capable of as much wickedness as non-Christians are. That when we see the basic goodness that is also in the hearts of people of other religions, we should be ready to take the sandals off our feet and realize that we stand on holy ground. That the people you live with may not be worshipping God the way you do, but that does not necessarily make them ungodly. That actually, the most godless people in this world are not those without religion but those without love.

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