A place to go and a person to trust

Published on 12 Mar 2018

“The man who lives by the truth comes out into the light,

so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.”

When I was a novice, I used to work in a parish where – because they were giving me all the bad jobs - they put me on what we used to call “drinkers’ duty”. Every morning, from about 7 o’clock onwards, about 20-30 men and women would come up to the church and they would stop in and tell me how much alcohol they had drunk the previous day. And my job was to write it down – not to say “that’s good” or “that’s bad” – just to write it down as a permanent record. All sorts of people came – from poor homeless drug addicts to rich and successful businessmen. Sometimes, they would come very proudly and say “None! And that’s just two pints for the whole week.” Other times, one would come very ashamed-looking and say “Err... eight cans, brother.”

Nobody made them do this – they wanted to do it. They were all men and women who knew that they had a problem with alcohol. And they also knew what Jesus tells us today:

“everybody who does wrong

hates the light and avoids it,

for fear his actions should be exposed;

but the man who lives by the truth

comes out into the light,

so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.”

And so they wanted – they needed – a place they could go and a person they could trust enough to be honest with every day about their drinking. Because they knew that they needed that kind of support to help them control their drinking.

That, of course, is the spirit of confession. And of all the things I ever get to do, I never feel more useful than when I am hearing confessions. People who are not Christians often find this difficult to understand. They ask, “Why can’t I just confess my sins to God? Why do I have to bother with a priest?”

And the answer of course is that you can – nobody is stopping you. But we all know that we human beings are good at fooling ourselves. We all need – not just alcoholics, but all of us – we all need a place where we can go and a person whom we can trust and confess before God what we have done and what we have failed to do. And that is because, as Christians, we are – or at least we want to be - people who live by the Truth. We come out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what we do is done in God.”

Everyone knows that sunlight is the best disinfectant – but we usually only recommend it for other people. It is part of being a priest, part too of being a doctor, to come to know that just about everyone has some grubby dark little secret which would not bear the light of day and which would cause shame if it ever became publicly known. Sometimes, to an objective outsider, it can seem a small thing, painful but not ultimately important in the great scheme of things, but which secretly shames a person. I’ll tell you for free that my mind often returns in prayer to a single small act of unkindness I did not so long ago, when I was eighteen. Sometimes, however, it is a great burden which the person who carries it cannot imagine that the World will ever come to understand or forgive. But thanks be to God, we do not confess to the world at large, we confess aloud, but only to God and to ourselves.

And so, let us put ourselves before the Lord and ask God’s Blessing on our lives – and especially God’s light in those places in our hearts – and don’t forget that nearly everyone has them - where light has never shone. And if it should happen, that there are people here who have no secret shames, then please spend the next few minutes in prayer for those many of us who do.

Let us stand and profess our Faith in God who is the Truth and the Life.

Paul O'Reilly SJ