Luke 17:5-10
A Good Confession
by Rev. Joseph M. Rampino.
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

  The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith."  The Lord replied, "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

  "Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here immediately and take your place at table'?  Would he rather not say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat.  Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.  You may eat and drink when I am finished'?  Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?  So should it be with you.  When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'"

For the past few weeks, the Lord has been giving his disciples a series of intense and difficult teachings.  Last week, he asked them to see themselves in the rich man, blinded by his wealth and unable to see his neighbor's needs.  The week before, he told them to use wealth n order to advance the cause of God, for their own sake and that of others.  In all this, he has been teaching his disciples, and us, to love Our Lord and our neighbor above all the things of the world.  He has been calling each of us to live in a deep spirit of poverty without attachment to anything but true charity.

Hearing all of these difficult challenges, the disciples this week cry out to Jesus, "Increase our faith" (Lk 16:5).  We too can sometimes say this to the Lord, as we take stock of what incredible goodness being a Christian requires.  But the Lord does not intend to leave us alone, trying to achieve goodness by the mere force of our own will.

When Jesus, in response to this cry, gives the famous image of commanding the mulberry tree into the sea, he is reassuring his disciples who are afraid of their own weakness.  They look at themselves and wonder whether or not they can live this life that Christ describes to them, and he responds by saying, "Yes, with my help."

But Jesus offers them, and us, more than just moral support.  The key to understanding what he offers is in the image of the mulberry tree.  The mulberry is the symbol of sinfulness, since its berries begin white, the turn blood red and darken.  The church has thus understood the great work of faith to be the conversion of our hearts.  By grace, Christ uproots the mulberry tree of sin in our hearts and throws it into the sea, leaving us innocent and free to follow him with new strength.

By grace, the church also has the power to uproot the mulberry tree of sin from the hears of her children.  This takes place whenever the successors to the Apostles, those who are ordained, absolve someone in confession. This power comes only from the Lord, but he has promised that his followers would do his works, and even greater works in his name (Jn 14:12).  We should remind ourselves always of the miraculous power of a good confession and treat it with that same grateful joy that the ancient Christians did from the earliest days.

As the Didache, written during the lives of the Apostles, tells us: "Confess your sins in church ... on the Lord's Day, gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confession your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure"  (Didache 4:11, 4:14).  St. Ambrose follows a couple centuries later, saying about this miracle: "But what was impossible was made possible by God, who gave us so great a grace.  It seemed likewise impossible for sins to be forgiven through penance; yet Christ granted even this to his Apostles, and by his Apostles it has been transmitted to the offices of priest" (On Penance 1.2.12).

The disciples had asked Jesus for the help necessary to live out the Christian life, filled with such high standards, and he gave them in return the opportunity to receive his mercy in person, even after he had returned to heaven.  We should make use of confession as a gift from Christ's own hands, and never forget ho  generous he is to us.

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