We’ve all seen the movies where someone famous comes into the hall and everything stops. “Attention everyone! May I present so and so….” Naturally everyone knows the person because they are famous. That’s why they are presented, not introduced.
John the Baptist came to present Jesus Christ—to prepare the way of the Lord. John did not ask the people to prepare a big banquet, or to take up a collection of money, or to buy new clothes for themselves. John told the people to repent from their sins. With repentance came the forgiveness of all the things that people had done wrong. The Sacrament of Reconciliation had not been instituted yet, but what John was doing was a precursor of absolution. The feeling of being forgiven gives us a sense of wellbeing, of being worthwhile, a sense of peace. That is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so liberating. There is no substitute. When we are convinced that the Lord has forgiven us, we want to celebrate! [There’s a story about when the circus came to town and the acrobats came to confession. Afterwards they felt so good that they began to praise God with what they knew how to do—their summersaults, cartwheels, and flipping up one another in the air. Two elderly ladies walked into church at the same time, and one said to the other, “Let’s go. Father is giving very difficult penances. And I’m not waring any underwear!]. Probably the same type of emotion was prevalent at the Jordan River on the day that John was baptizing people. The folks felt their sins washed away. Nobody paid attention to what others were wearing, especially John. Camel’s hair and a leather belt was not the top-of-the-line fashion. Repentance, being forgiven and a new life in God—that’s what mattered.
John the Baptist was not concerned with how people spoke, their background or their financial status. He was concerned about their sincerity. Hypocrisy was widespread, even among the clergy. Folks were searching for truth. They were frustrated with the misuse of religion to gain popularity, fame or wealth. John’s words penetrated the hearts of the misguided people who flocked to him. They had been made aware of all their sins and how much they had offended God. But the only way out was to sacrifice animals, pay money to the priests, or wear sack cloth and ashes for what they had done. John offered a simple, but humbling way. Takes much humility to get all wet in front of others. We all know that we are sinners; but to admit our sinfulness in public is humbling. Most folks like to keep their repentance private.
That’s the reason that many Catholics go to other parishes for Confession. Or they go to the Basilica, which is for pilgrims. We are not supposed to be perpetual pilgrims. All works out, because folks from other parishes come here. Everybody’s looking for the priest that can’t hear well. In essence, coming to Confession is like getting all wet in the river. Having to face our weaknesses is a humbling experience. However, the results are freeing. The Sacrament is never about getting the correct words, remembering everything we did, or memorizing prayers. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an encounter with God. Jesus Christ offers us unconditional forgiveness. Only fools stay away. Salvation is free. The Lord already knows our faults. The Sacrament is for us—to hear the words of absolution—to experience true freedom. Lots of worries fill the air right before Christmas. Jesus invites us to relax—to rest in His peace. The joy of the Season can only be savored by hearts that are open to be loved. If there is resentment in our soul, if we refuse to let go of the past, if we are only filled with worry—then we are not free.
Come to the waters. The humble gather to be nourished at the Table of forgiveness.