Just before he was sent forthwith to the Israelites suffering under exile, the Lord gave him this mission:
When you hear a word from my mouth, you shall warn them for me. If I say to the wicked man, You shall surely die; and you do not dissuade him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but you I will hold responsible for his death. If, on the other hand, you have warned the wicked man, yet he has not turned away from his evil nor from his wicked conduct, then he shall die for his sin, but you shall save your life.Who would ever ask to be given such a mission? Surely none of us would volunteer to proclaim this message of the Lord. To Ezekiel is given the duty of calling to the attention of the people their evil, wicked and sinful ways. He is to call the people to repent, to turn from their sin and to embrace the way of the Lord, to keep his commands and to walk in his paths.
If a virtuous man turns away from virtue and does wrong when I place stumbling block before him, he shall die. He shall die for his sin, and his virtuous deeds shall not be remembered; but I will hold you responsible for his death if you did not warn him. When, on the other hand, you have warned a virtous man not to sin, and he has in fact not sinned, he shall surely live because of the warning, and you shall save your own life (Ezekiel 3:18-21).
But beyond this, just as nobody wants this mission, very few people want to hear these words. Few of us want to have our sins pointed out to us; we know them already, if we are truly prayerful and truly honest. Each of us sins daily; “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And yet, this is the very message Ezekiel is given, and more besides: Ezekiel himself will be held responsible for the sins of the people, just as he will be held responsible for their repentence.
However, the Lord recongizes the great difficulty of this message for he says to his prophet: “But you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD God! And whether they heed or resist – for they are a rebellious house – they shall know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 2:5). The people refuse to listen to the Lord; they refuse to follow his commands. Indeed, after Moses presented the commandments of the Lord to the people, he said to them:
I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you may live and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your Good, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).Even with such a clear choice as that between life and death, still the people refused to heed the commands of the Lord. Are we any different than they? How often do we ignore the commands of the Lord?
The Lord Jesus came among us proclaiming the same message as Ezekiel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). It is because of this message – because he called their sins to their attention – that the people asked “Where did he get all this?” “and they took offense at him” (Mark 6:).
Even today the Lord calls us to repent of our sins and to follow faithfully after him. When we keep our sins to ourselves and refuse to confess them to the Lord through the Sacrament, we are very much like those stubborn Israelites who refuse to listen to the word of the Lord, who refuse to choose life. “As the eyes of servants are on the hands of their masters … so are our eyes on the LORD, our God, till he have pity on us” (Psalm 123:2, 4). Just as servants cannot look upon the face of their masters, neither can we, in our sin, look upon the face of the Lord with the fullness of love, for we will look upon him in guilt.
To save us from this condition, the Lord Jesus “was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins” (Isaiah 53:5). To all those who will accept his grace and his mercy, he will free them from their sins and bring them to share the glory of his Resurrection. In his great love, he has given us the sacraments, through which we have access to his grace. His forgiveness is available to us through the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.
It is a very great sadness to me that so few people today take advantage of this necessary opportunity to receive divine grace. In a parish of some 4,000 people, on a weekly basis – outside of Lent - only about 5 receive the sacrament. So few avail themselves of the Lord’s love and mercy; so few follow his ways.
It is true that we need not confess our sins – except for serious and mortal sins – every week. Our serious and mortal sins we must confess whenever we are aware of them, before receiving any other sacrament. Our other sins – our venial sins – we are to confess at least once a year. All this besides, we are greatly encouraged to receive the sacrament frequently, so as to frequently receive the Lord’s grace and love. When we confess our sins we can look upon the radiance of his face with the tenderness and intensity of authentic and joyful love, free from all guilt.
We cannot save ourselves from our sins; only the Lord can do so - and he wants to do so - but we must cooperate with his grace. Just as Saint Paul was very much aware of his weaknesses, so should we be aware of our own weaknesses; frequent confession will help us be aware of our sins and will help us to avoid sin and to walk daily in the ways of the Lord. Just as the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficent for you, for power is made perfect in weakness,” so he says to us (II Corinthians 12:10). When we present our weakness to the Lord he will make us strong in his grace. Then, with Paul, we can truly say, “for when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:11).