The Power of the Keys



God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself. [Spanish]

God the Father of mercies.

We did not exist. The seas and rivers did not exist. He took pity on us in our non-existence. He took pity on our unimaginable poverty—the poverty of not even being anything at all. Out of mercy, He made us.

The Father of mercies: He simply gives. Gives life unto peace and blessedness. He stabilizes and fortifies. He sustains everything He has made with His immovable-rock-like steadiness.

We fall short of this. We are like financial records that have not been attentively kept. Or like a marriage that has been neglected. Something—someone—must reconcile us with the Good, with truth and reality and the plan that God has. We’re like old, desiccated brick walls that need pointing, liable to leak and then crack and crumble—unless a stronger and more loving power fills the cracks in us with some solid bond.

wedding umbrellasThe stronger and move loving power? Christ, the Son of God. His sacrifice on His cross effects the reconciliation between God’s pure goodness and us.

The Western world has fallen into a weird spiritual malaise and can’t see the thing that every honest pagan who has ever heard the Gospel has immediately seen. The world, without Christ, languishes in hopeless estrangement from the Creator. But: The world with Christ, with Christ crucified and risen? Reconciled with God.

God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son, has reconciled the world to Himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.

The Reconciler, having reconciled the world and God by shedding His innocent blood, pours forth reconciliation from His own Heart. The Holy Spirit of mercy, at work in the world, pointing the desiccated mortar. Finding a miraculous way to balance the ill-kept books.

This is not a zero-sum cosmos, people. That’s the glory of the Gospel. God always has more to give. Christ pours out His Spirit of mercy and reconciliation into the humblest and most apparently innocuous moments.

Okay, time for the quiz. Which text have we studied here so far? God the Father of mercies… Correct! The prayer of absolution in the sacrament of Penance.

We hear all about it in the gospel passage for this Sunday’s Mass. Lord Jesus gave St. Peter and the Apostles the power to bind and to loose. This power abides in the world.

El Greco St Peter keys…Through the ministry of the Church, may God give you pardon and peace.

The ministry doesn’t belong to the priest, as if it were in his own power as a man to loosen the sins of his people. No—Holy Mother Church possesses this ministry, because the Lord endowed Her with it.

At this point in my life, all this comes as a somewhat painful reflection. No priest can reconcile a sinner without having the proper authority to do so, delegated by the Church. Bishop Knestout has suspended my authority to do this. The only person I can validly absolve of his or her sins is someone in immediate danger of death. Any other absolution I would give? Not just disobedient on my part; it would not even be the sacrament.

Now, the Church’s law stipulates that a bishop should only revoke a priest’s authority to hear confessions for a serious cause. We priests get ordained to reconcile sinners. Wherever a priest may find himself, that becomes a place where a sinner can return to God’s grace.

Generally we hear confessions in the church, in the confessional. But a hospital room, an airplane, the corner of a factory or a restaurant, a car, a mountainside—all these places can become confessionals, if the need arises. And in the course of the lives of most priests, all these places do become confessionals, at one time or another.

So it hurts, not being able to do what I was ordained to do. When people ask to go to confession, I have to tell them I’m not allowed to help them. I think my brother priests would feel the same pain, if they had to endure this weird deprivation of the authority to absolve sinners.

To this day, I don’t know what ‘serious cause’ Bishop Knestout has in mind. I haven’t taught anything unorthodox. When penitents have sought moral guidance from me, I have always spoken according to the Catechism.

Be all that as it may, at least I can offer my private Masses for the salvation of sinners. And I myself can still go to confession, to another priest, thank God.

The Lord always has a plan. May He sort this all out. May He be merciful to us all.

PS. Bill Wyatt wrote an informative report about our trip to Richmond this past Sunday.

2 thoughts on “The Power of the Keys

  1. Dear Fr. Mark, It pains me to know how difficult this time is for you. And very selfishly, it pains me that you cannot hear my confession. I am thankful for the wonders of technology that allow me to read and hear your homilies. Your deep faith in God’s resolution of this is evident. I hope you know how very many people are praying for you.
    I read the following for myself this morning and thought I would share: “Never give up prayer and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.” St. John of the Cross.
    God be with you Fr. Mark.

  2. Thanks be to God for the Sacrament of Reconciliation! Thanks be to God for honoring our very human need to receive such absolution through the words of a very human priest. Thanks be to God for whatever his plan may be for you, Fr. Mark. “Why are you downcast, my soul; why do you groan within me? Wait for God, for I shall again praise him, my savior and my God.” (Ps 42:6)

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