This reflection was taken from the Sunday Mass Readings of Feb. 15, 2015:
What is the dirtiest you’ve ever been?
Was it when you rolled around in the backyard wrestling the dog? When you cleaned the fish tank? When you plodded through mud in a rainstorm? That time when you sank ankle-deep into that gross black muck by the beach, which stinks because it’s filled with decomposing, anaerobic bacteria?
Honestly, I doubt that any of these–or any other sensually revolting places you’ve found yourself in–were the most “dirty,” or “unclean,” you’ve ever been. The same goes for me.
And this is coming from someone who can personally attest to the black muck by the beach.
Jesus said in Mark 7:15, 21-23: “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile…From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
In these passages, Jesus was referring specifically as to whether it was necessary to wash one’s hands before eating (which I personally am neurotic about doing, but we won’t get into that), and whether it was necessary to regard some foods as unclean; however, His point can be expanded.
In other words, being coated with anaerobic bacteria–unless we’re doing it to knock someone out with the smell or just to be rude–is not going to make us unclean in God’s eyes. The only time we’re dirty before Him is when, essentially, we “play dirty”–when we’re morally dirty.
Our Israelite ancestors, of course, view this a bit differently. We can see this in today’s first reading concerning God’s pronouncement on lepers. He had very good reason for making that pronouncement. It was meant to be a type of quarantine; which, I should add–an idea I first learned about from a show of Bob Fishman’s on EWTN–is a decent proof of His divine wisdom, seeing that the actual concepts of quarantine and contagious diseases were not “discovered” by man until much, much later on. However, for the Jews, it was just ritual purity–because, again, they had no knowledge of things like contagion when the principle was laid down that lepers should be called “unclean.”
And then…Jesus came along. We see today the faith of the leper in Jesus’s ability, and how Jesus responds to that faith by healing the leper–by removing his “uncleanness” and making him “clean” according to Jewish law.
If we have faith in Jesus, He can do the same for us according to Christian law. No, He’s not going to come wipe the bacterial sludge off our shoes and pants; that’s what washing machines were made for. Instead, if we have faith enough to ask Him to do so, He’s going to remove the muck and dirt from our souls, and make us truly “clean.”
Catholics in particular have a very simple, effective means in which we can receive this grace: the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I’m sorry–did you just cringe over there?
Confession is nothing to be afraid of! Think of it as a bath: if you came in from tramping and digging around in anaerobic bacterial muck, wouldn’t you want to wash off? I should hope so. So, you quite simply take a bath.
Confession is no different: nobody’s observing you (and if they’re trying to, they have a bigger problem than you do); you come out being able to receive the Eucharist (which you wouldn’t have been able to did you have mortal anaerobic muck on your soul); and you are (and feel) a lot cleaner upon emerging.
As for the priest–sure, he’s listening to your sins; but again, if he tells anyone, or mentions it without your permission outside the Confessional, he too has far bigger things to worry about than you did by going–and from studying that sort of thing in the seminary, he knows this fact very well. He cannot budge on the Seal of Confession.
Again–Confession is nothing to be afraid of: you go in, you spill your guts, you get it over with, God absolves you of your iniquities through the priest, you do your penance–and if you truly understand the awesome grace you’ve just received, you go away feeling great. You go away feeling free.
Lent, an entire Church season of penance, is coming up soon; it’s an excellent time to–if you’ve been away from Confession–start making a habit of cleaning your soul.
We often dirty our souls, as we do our bodies; imagine how grungy we would be if we went as long without bathing as we often do without going to Confession!
“Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained”–Jesus (Jn 20:23).
by Cameron Daly