We have gathered at the Sacred Place on the Sacred Day. We begin Mass with the Sign of the Cross and the priest says the greeting, one of three variations of “The Lord be with you.” Then the priest immediately says, “Brothers and sisters, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.” This is followed by a moment of awkward silence where everyone bows their heads and waits for the priest to get the show moving again. Why would we start Mass on such a down note?
Humility, not Guilt
Mistakes are a part of life. They are opportunities for us to recognize our weaknesses and grow. I’m not talking here about what people classically call, “Catholic Guilt.” That is a vague feeling of worthlessness that is definitely not a gift from God. The Church does not encourage us to wallow in our worthlessness. Rather, we are invited to admit our faults and our need for God. This kind of humility leads us to accept God’s help and do better. When it comes to sports, only the players who honestly admit their faults are able to get better. The best teams are those who consistently admit their weaknesses and work on them. The best people are those who are not afraid to admit where they need to grow. We start Mass, then, by humbly admitting where we need to grow. We say, “I confess to Almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters…”
Blessed are the Humble
This part of the Mass is about being humble, but it is also about something much deeper. As human beings we were made to live in a profound relationship with God. Pope Benedict says:
In order to live life to the full, something more intimate is necessary that can only be granted as a gift… Before the justice of the cross, man may rebel for this reveals how man is not a self-sufficient being, but in need of another in order to realize himself fully. Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of his forgiveness and his friendship.
Our individual sins are only the symptoms of a deeper problem. We say to God, “Thanks for the help, I’ll take it from here” – and then fail miserably. We were created for a relationship with God and we find our full potential only when this relationship is strong and healthy. I always assumed that as I grew older and holier, I would need God less and less. It turns out the opposite – the more I grow in faith, the more desperately I need God at every moment. Today our Gospel gives us the striking lesson of the Beatitudes – Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the clean of heart, those who are persecuted. Why are these people blessed? Because they acknowledge their deep need for God, and God fills them with his Divine Life beyond our imagining. The Penitential Rite reminds us weekly that without God, we can do nothing (John 15:5), but with God, all things are possible (Luke 1:37).