Most Christians know confession as a uniquely Catholic thing that happens between a penitent and priest under a seal of secrecy. Probably not as many are as familiar with the kind of confession the disciple Timothy tells us about in this Sunday’s second Mass reading (1 Tm 6:11-16):
I charge you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession, to keep the commandment without stain or reproach.
Judging by John 18:36-37, Christ’s noble public confession was in response to Pilate’s question about his Kingship. Jesus confesses:
“My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants [would] be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here. … For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
If we want to claim citizenship in God’s Kingdom, Christ’s noble public confession must inspire ours. We are called to testify publicly and lovingly to his truth with our actions toward others. We renounce that citizenship with our complacency and ignorance of the presence of God in our fellow citizens, as Sunday’s first reading from Amos (Am 6:1a, 4-7) implies:
Woe to the complacent in Zion! … They drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils; yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph! Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile, and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.
The gospel reading from Luke (Lk 16:19-31) has Jesus dramatizing such complacency by casting a rich man to play that part in his parable, and a poor man named Lazarus to help illustrate how the rich too often live their part in real life. We join this drama after both men die and we see them as citizens of the kingdoms they’ve earned. From the pit of hell, the rich man raises his eyes to heaven, sees Lazarus consorting with Abraham, and asks Abraham to save him from his misery. Abraham explains that the divide between them in death can no longer be bridged. That’s why the living must take advantage of the chance to get closer to God’s children by acknowledging their past sins of omission and learning from the words of the prophets. Then the rich man asks Abraham about the possibility of sending someone to warn his living relatives about the fate that awaits them. Abraham replies:
“If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”
Maybe the complacent among us in this century can be inspired by the noble confessions of the living—those of us brave enough to confess to the truth of Christ in our lives. That may mean exhibiting in public the weirdness of a Christian as we pray for all souls in need of God’s mercy. Such behavior takes courage in an age where truth is usually expressed as a denial of God’s presence. How many of us trying to get along in this age would tell someone who’s suffering from physical or mental anguish “I’ll pray for you”? Or how many of us would have the guts to ask for permission to pray with them? And once such prayer is completed, how many of us would promise and deliver on continuing it in the presence of God in the adoration chapel of their church? There’s both risk and reward in such a public and noble confession of faith.
The risk is that the object of our prayer—and anyone within earshot of that person—forgets his or her pain for a moment to let out a laugh at our childish fairy-tale beliefs. The reward, however, is that the person for whom we’re praying becomes like the Roman Centurion who learned to forget that he was Christ’s enemy and publicly asked Jesus to heal his servant. The miracle of this noble confession of faith—from an avowed enemy of the Christian kingdom—so surprised Jesus that it inspired the miracle of healing.
Let’s pray the faithless among us will use the time they have left to surprise God with a noble attempt to tap into the healing power of His truth.