Do we recall the story of Moses lifting up the serpent in the desert? Similar to today’s first reading (II Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23), God’s people kept sinning and didn’t heed the warnings of the prophets to repent. They scoffed at God and continued their sinning. God became angry, and sent fiery serpents or snakes to invade the land as punishment. The people turned to Moses to intercede for them. Moses, under God’s command, constructed a bronze serpent and placed it on a pole. Whenever an Israelite gazed on this symbolic portrayal of sin, he would be healed and saved and given life.
Similarly for us, whoever gazes in faith at the ultimate effect of human sin, the crucifixion of the Son of God, they, too, will be saved and given eternal life. Later in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells the people “when I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). Jesus draws us – with our cooperation! – ever more closer to himself. But note that it’s with faith that we must look upon Christ. We must believe in him.
And if we have faith that Jesus died for our sins and opened the gates of heaven to us for eternal life, then we must believe something else: Jesus did in fact open the gates of heaven for us, and took away our sins when he hung on that Cross. And we received that benefit when our original sin was washed away at baptism and we became children of God, sons and daughters in the Son of God.
But this forgiveness of our sins wasn’t a one-and-done thing. Due to our human nature, we continue to sin. And we need to continue to ask God’s pardon and forgiveness. We have continual need for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Yet, so few of us make use of this sacrament.
Today’s gospel reminded us that “the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. Those who do wicked things hate the light and do not come toward it, so that their works might not be exposed” (John 3:19-20).
Why don’t we as Catholics go to confession more often? Because it’s easy to live in darkness. It’s easy to gloss over our sins. It’s easy to say “no one knows what sins I commit by myself, in the dark, in my own thoughts and words.”
But God knows, and so do we.
When we go to confession, we verbalize our sins. We shed light on them and acknowledge them. We lift them high for God to see. And, just as important, we look on them ourselves. No longer do we hide them or cover them up. We acknowledge them. How hard that is for us. To acknowledge that we’ve done wrong and be confronted face to face with those sins.
When we go to confession, Jesus is the light that shines on our sins. And when we expose our sins to God through the priest, Jesus draws all things to himself, including even our sinfulness. We take the step to approach him in confession, and then he draws us to himself. He removes our sinfulness. We are washed clean and our sins are forgiven and forgotten. We are white as new snow. We don’t need to be clean when we enter that confessional. He doesn’t want us to be clean when we enter. But we leave a new person.
Each time we approach the altar to receive Jesus’ body and blood, look up the host and chalice shown to you just before you approach for communion. No longer are these signs, they truly are Jesus Christ: his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. He draws all things to himself. He said this, and we believe. Adore Jesus again when the priest, deacon, or extraordinary minister of communion shows you the host just prior to receiving Holy Communion. Our “Amen” when we receive is our saying, “Yes, I believe.”
Lord, help our unbelief.
Let us bring our broken, sinful selves to Jesus. Jesus invites. Then make the first move. If we truly believe, he will draw us to himself. He will have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.