Your Sins Are Forgiven

How many people have a past sin that still haunts them? How about some hidden secret that you want no one to know about? Is there anything from your past that you are not proud of, or which lays heavy on your heart? I know people who are broken and hurting, who have made past mistakes and poor choices, and who can’t get beyond them. In fact, I have seen how people allow their sinful past to actually paralyze their present and darken their future.

Jesus Christ came into the world to bring healing unto all of us. Sometimes that healing would be physical in nature, but others times it would be more holistic. We can see an example of this in today’s Gospel story of four friends bringing a paralyzed man to Jesus. Their obvious hope is for some physical miracle to take place. And yet Jesus surprises everyone by saying, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.” And when the crowd is shocked at the audacity of Jesus to forgive sins, he then says to them, “Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk. But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins, I say to you arise, take up your bed, and go your way.” And immediately the man was healed!

Now some people might be more amazed at the miracle of physically healing a paralyzed man, but in fact, the greater miracle was that Jesus could forgive sins. Christ, as God Incarnate, has the authority to forgive sins! And this means that He is ready to heal us from our past, from the sins that weigh heavy on our souls, from the hidden secrets that too often haunt us and even paralyze us. What good news is that for so many who live with regret and in pain for past mistakes!

In fact, not only for those people who are paralyzed by their past, but even for each and every one of us, Jesus the Forgiver of sins is Good News! Ultimately, all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All of us, in countless ways, have missed the mark which God has set for us. We have consciously stepped across the line dividing good and evil many times, and often have unconsciously slipped across that line. God has given to each of us a sacred potential and divine calling, and by not fulfilling that potential and living up to that calling, we sin.

Thus, we all have a need for forgiveness and healing and reconciliation with our Lord!

Here lies a central element in our Lenten journeys. Over the past weeks we’ve talked about prayer, fasting, and works of charity as crucial to Lent. Today our focus is on God’s forgiveness. Of course, seeking God’s forgiveness begins with making a careful evaluation of ourselves. We must look at the many ways in our lives in which we have broken our communion with God, and in which we have forgotten or ignored God – through our words and even thoughts, through our actions and often through our inactions, in our homes, in our workplaces and in our places of entertainment. We need to come to our senses, as the Prodigal Son did, take a good look at ourselves, and then confess before God!

The saints of our Church teach us that a sin which is concealed has great power over us, but if we can find a way to bring it into the open and to speak of it, the sin loses its power. The more we lay our sins out in the open before God, the more we can overcome them and go beyond them.

There’s a story of a monk who was troubled by sinful thoughts at night, so he went to see his elder and confessed his thoughts. Each time the wise elder comforted the young monk.  After returning to his cell, the young monk again fell into temptation, and went to see the old man.  This happened many times.  Yet as often as it occurred, the wise old man encouraged the young monk saying, “Do not yield to the devil, nor relax your mind, but rather as often as the devil troubles you, come to me, and the demons shall go away. For nothing so dispirits the demons as when his assaults are revealed in the open, and nothing so heartens him as when his imaginations are kept secret.”

St. John Cassian warns, “The devil drags a person headlong to death by way of no other sin than keeping our sins hidden within ourselves and not confessing to others.”  In other words, our connection with God breaks down when we allow sins to remain within our hearts, as barriers hindering God’s unconditional love and grace from healing us. That is why we honestly confess any and all our sins to God. And the result is forgiveness and full restoration with God.

Now some may agree with me that confessing to God is an integral part of our spiritual journey, but why go to a priest in the Sacrament of Confession?

Well, first of all, the Apostle James admonishes us to, “Confess your sins to one another.” It’s interesting to remember that repentance in the early Church was a solemn public act of reconciliation.  It was a public act, because the Church understood that every sin affects all people in some way. In public confession, the entire community prays for the sinner and helps him in his reconciliation. Only after the fourth century, with the growth of the Christian community, did public confession fall into disuse. In its place developed the ritual of private confession with a spiritual father.

Another reason we confess within the Holy Sacrament is that inexperienced people in the spiritual life don’t always see or understand their own sins. I’ve met people who say, “Father, I don’t need to go to confession because I really haven’t sinned.” An experienced priest can help us clearly see and understand our many sins, and then guide us to overcome them.

When one offers confession in the Sacrament, one quickly realizes how easy it is to deceive ourselves, yet how much harder it is to deceive someone to whom we open up our souls. In Confession, we stand before Christ Himself, in the icon, receive confessional prayers, and then speak aloud in the presence of a priest. There is power in the spoken word, and the priest, who acts as our spiritual doctor, helps us understand our sin and then holds us accountable for our recovery.

Finally, Confession is a Mystery of the Church that confers sacramental grace upon each person.  There is a special, divine power present.  When the priest lays his hand upon the head of the person giving a confession, it is Christ who lays his hands upon us, Christ who forgives us, and Christ who offers His grace of healing.

And that leads us to the ultimate purpose of confession - HEALING!!! The four men brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus in hopes of finding physical healing, and yet they discovered much more – healing of his sins! Jesus came to bring us wholeness, to help us discover the divine image that lies within, and then to bring out that divine image in each and every person.

So during our Lenten journey this year, let us create time to have a careful self evaluation, and then reflect on our sins as well as any past sins and memories that still hold us captive. Then go to the Mystery of Confession. For some, I’m sure it may be the first time in their lives, while for others it may be the first time in many years. Make a point to go before our Lenten journey concludes on Pascha!

May we each hear the words of Christ speaking to us, “Son or daughter, your sins are forgiven.”

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