Saturday, March 29, 2014

Confess, Repent, and Find Healing: Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent in the Orthodox Church

          When we encounter a problem in life that it is beyond our ability to fix, we learn something about ourselves.  When pains, sorrows, and struggles simply will not let up, the reality of our situation and of our own limitations sets in.  Whether it is our own health or that of our loved ones, broken relationships or stressful times at work, school, or with friends, or problems on the world stage that threaten to impact us all, life’s struggles can open our eyes pretty quickly to how weak we are before the challenges that we face.  
            If you feel that way today or ever have in your life, you can begin to sympathize with the father of the demon-possessed young man in today’s gospel reading.  Since childhood, his son had had life-threatening seizures and convulsions. With the broken heart of a parent who had little hope for his child’s healing, the man cried out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”  Christ’s disciples had lacked the spiritual strength to cast out the demon, but the Lord Himself healed him. 
            Despite his imperfections, the best example of faithfulness in this story is the unnamed father who openly confessed that he could not solve his own problems.  He told the truth about himself in acknowledging his weak faith.  Even as Christ stood before him, he had doubts.  He said to him, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us.”  And then all that he could do was to cry out with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” 
            And in doing so, he became a model for us all in how to make an honest confession before the Lord, bearing his soul and asking only for mercy.  If we need a reminder about the importance of taking Confession this Lent, we have it in this man.  The point is not that he had broken a law of some kind, but that he had learned by experience that he had fallen short, that he had much room to grow in his relationship with God.  It was precisely this humble acknowledgement that opened him to receive the mercy of the Lord.  Though surely in a less dramatic way, the same will be true for each of us when we take Confession this Lent.        
            Too often, we keep our weak faith, and the sins that result from it, a secret even to ourselves. We do not want even to think about how we have fallen short of sharing in the blessed life of Christ, much less to say out loud how we have sinned as we stand before the icon of the Lord.  But there is a great, freeing power found in speaking the truth about our brokenness and asking in humility for His forgiveness and healing.  When we acknowledge that we have not lived or believed as we should have, we put ourselves in the place of humble repentance like the prodigal son, the tax collector, and the father of the demon-possessed young man.  We do not attempt to justify ourselves, but beg only for mercy and strength to move forward in life.  If you have not done so already this Lent, open yourself to the healing of Jesus Christ by taking Confession before Palm Sunday.  Receive His forgiveness through the hand and words of an unworthy priest and trust in the mercy of the Savior for people like you and me.       
            Perhaps the spiritual disciplines of Lent have given us a new awareness of our need for greater strength in the Christian life.  Why do we so often welcome distractions when we set out to pray?  Why do anger and frustration rear their ugly heads when we fast from food or something else to which we have become too attached?  Why is it so hard to forgive and otherwise to mend strained relationships?  These are symptoms of the fact that we do not have perfect faith, that we are not yet fully healed from the diseases of our passions, that we do not yet love God or our neighbors as we should.
            Some learn these truths about themselves because of their weakness before the crosses that they bear daily due to illness, poverty, family strife, or other problems.   That was the case with the father in today’s gospel reading.  Others learn them through periods of spiritual struggle like Lent.  But however the eyes of our souls are opened, we probably will not like what we see there.  The question, then, is what will we do?  There is plenty in our culture and in our own thoughts and activities that we can use to distract ourselves from accepting the truth and finding healing.  It is easy to live in a fantasy world where we repress or otherwise ignore painful realities. 

            How tragic it would have been for the father in today’s reading to have done that, for then presumably his son would never have been healed.  How tragic it would be for any of us to refuse the spiritual healing that Christ promises when we cry out in with the true humility of repentance, like that father, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”  In these last weeks before Palm Sunday, now is the time to find freedom and healing for our imperfect faith and personal brokenness through the Holy Mystery of Confession.  Now is the time to stop suffering in silence and isolation and to repent from the depths of our hearts.  When we bear our souls to Him, we will gain new insight on why He went to the cross for us and conquered death for us in His glorious resurrection on the third day.  Humble repentance: There is no better way to prepare for the agony of Golgotha and the unspeakable joy of Pascha.   

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