As we read in today’s Gospel, the people in the synagogue were astonished. They were astonished because Jesus speaks to them as one having authority. He doesn’t repeat the words of an Old Testament prophet and he doesn’t refer to an older respected teacher. This poor carpenter out of Nazareth claims his own authority. Sometimes this word authority is translated as the word power. He speaks as one having power. And the original word from which we translate into either authority or power is dynamis. Our Lord speaks with dynamis. This is where the word dynamite comes from. So maybe we could even say our Lord speaks with the power of dynamite, it’s no wonder the people sitting in that synagogue were astonished. His words shook them out of their complacency.
Now as we read further, there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit but with just five words our Lord exorcises the unclean spirit and the man is freed. “Quiet! Come out of him!” His words have the power to exorcise. There was an exorcist in Rome by the name of Fr. Amorth and he’d successfully conducted hundreds of exorcisms. But even with this experience of success he will always tell people, “One well done confession is more powerful than ten exorcisms!” An exorcism is a sacramental while confession is a sacrament, a sacrament where our Lord’s voice speaks to us. You may hear the sound of a priest saying the words of absolution but it’s our Lord, with the power of dynamite, who’s speaking to you.
Once in a letter to a missionary priest, St. Therese of Lisieux wrote about the sacrament of confession. And she used the example of two small guilty boys. So in this story the father comes home to find that his two sons have been disobedient. They’ve caused some sort of ruckus in the home. They’ve been fighting, they’ve been destructive, they’ve done something, and both sons in their heart of hearts know that they probably deserve punishment. We’ve all been there. Now the first son, as soon as he sees his father, runs in the opposite direction trying to get as far away as possible from his father. This first son is filled with fear and trembling.
Now the second son is much more crafty, but crafty in the right way. This second son throws himself into his father’s arms telling him that he is sorry to have hurt him, that he loves him, and that he will prove it by being good from now on. And for punishment he only asks for a kiss. Of course the son’s love has to be genuine, with a real desire to behave better. And the father is wise he knows that his son will fall into the same faults again and again and again, but he’s ready to forgive him every time, if his son catches him by the heart, he forgives. We too should catch our heavenly Father by the heart, and we do that just by contritely entering the door to the confessional. We capture our Father’s heart, drawing down his forgiveness and grace.
Confession when it’s done well, properly and with the right attitude of repentance is a privileged means for helping us to rediscover God’s real face, his infinite love, his forgiveness, his generosity, and his unbelievable patience towards us. Entering that door we capture our Father’s heart. Telling him in repentance that I have truly sinned, telling him my heart was hard, telling him I was proud and I despised my neighbor, telling him I sought my own pleasure at other people’s expense, and telling him I forgot all about You, the one I should love most of all. When we do this we capture our Father’s heart and he forgives; punishing us only with a divine kiss, with a new outpouring of his love. Each confession is a little Pentecost, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, a kiss of the Divine.
Now some critics of St. Therese would say that her great trust in God’s forgiveness was because she had hardly committed any sins. But she responded saying, even if I had committed every sin possible I would still have that same trust. All that multitude of sin would only be like a drop of water falling into a blazing furnace. I trust in God not in myself.
Our Lord still speaks to us with the power of dynamite. We hear him in Scripture, we hear him during the consecration, and we hear him in all the sacraments. In the sacrament of confession it may sound like me but it’s His voice saying to you those sweet powerful words, “I absolve you from your sins.”
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley