Earlier this week, the seminary community gathered in our Chapel of the Immaculate Conception for the Advent Penance – similar to what many parishes have during Advent and Lent. During this season, we listen as the chorus of creation falls silent and turn together toward the darkness, looking for the light. We await with bated breath and heavy hearts the coming of the promised Messiah who will be the Savior and king of Israel, the One who comes to save us from our sins and to win for us salvation and the glories of heaven.
Many people today regard salvation and redemption as fuddy-duddy things of the past; nobody has any real need for that stuff anymore. After all, didn’t Freud call religion nothing more than a tool for the psychotic to fulfill their unmatched dreams? Didn’t Marx call religion the “opium of the masses?
But anyone who has suffered the coming of Truth into their lives, who has undergone an honest conversion, myself included, can attest that religion, spirituality, and redemption are anything but fake or outdated. These things and the One from whom they flow are the most real things we will ever encounter on this earth. Redemption is not oppressive or pointless as the world would have us believe, but is filled with a supernatural, abiding joy.
A lot of people who call into question the Church’s great sacrament of confession often say something along these lines: “I’m not going to tell a priest or anybody else my sins; God knows my heart, that’s good enough for me.” How right these people are! God knows our hearts, indeed, along with the number of hairs on our heads and days in our lives.
Confession is great way for us to open our hearts even more in vulnerability and trust to the God of the universe, but I think the real question we need to ask ourselves is this: do I know God’s heart? God’s heart is the place where the fullness of redemption dwells. God’s heart is full of mercy, compassion, and unending, unconditional, undying love for every creature. Jesus opens his heart of mercy for us in a lot of ways, but no way is better than the sacrament of confession. God’s heart is the palace of joy – the quiet, abiding joy of redemption – and through the healing balm lathered upon us by Christ in confession, we take up residence in the place prepared for us within that palace.
The quiet joy of God’s heart, and my journey to coming to know it, is the foundation of my story of conversion and of my vocation. If God didn’t reveal this joy to me over and over again in my journey toward priesthood, I would have left seminary formation long ago. There are a lot of problems in the world today, and many of them should make Christians nervous or at least uneasy. I fear that many of the problems facing society and the Church will try to be solved only by courts and committees and never by Christ. I fear that so much of what we endure will be for naught in light of the dissolution of Truth and the onslaught of the Dictatorship of Relativism in our culture.
But as long as Jesus Christ reigns in our hearts and continues to protect and strengthen his Church on earth, we Christians must not be satisfied with this dictatorship. We have to stop politicizing matters of the heart, matters of Truth, matters of God and start asking the real question: Do I know the quiet joy?
Do you know the quiet joy of redemption? Do you know the joy of Christ? Do you know the joy of the gospel? Do you know what it is to be saved and counted among the saints? Do you know the quiet joy found only in the silence of the Heart of God?
This Advent, let’s renew ourselves and start fresh with a trip to the confessional so that we might come to know the heart of God the Father and the quiet joy of freedom found only in Christ, our Messiah and King.