Saturday, June 16, 2007

How to be a Sinner

This past Lent I was invited to help with a day of recollection at one of our parishes in Manhattan. The focus was on St. Francis’ Prayer before the Crucifix, and the line I was given to speak on was the one in which Francis prays, “enlighten the darkness of my heart.” Now you can only make such a prayer if you have and are aware of some darkness inside. So I asked the people I was working with, “Is there anybody here who sometimes has some darkness in their heart?” Well, every hand in the place went up, and mine too!

Everyone can relate to a consciousness of sin. We can all say with confidence, “I am a sinner.” Now I haven’t had the chance to meet all of you here at Sacred Heart, but I doubt that many of us here are sinners with the intensity of the great king David, who was not only adulterous, but who also made himself a murderer in order to commit adultery. But we can all identify with the words that God speaks to David in the first reading: “Look at everything I have done for you. Why have you spurned the Lord and done evil in his sight?”

Yes, even the saints know that their great holiness is inadequate when it is compared to the burning and intense generosity of God. The love and mercy of God are so overwhelming that they always make us look lukewarm and more aware of our faults.

But our confession before God that we are sinners begs another spiritual question: What do we do with this awareness?

The easiest thing to do is to be ashamed. This is the answer on the human level. We feel like we have sinned against God, so we stay away from God, stay away from prayer, stay away from communion with Body of the Lord here in the Eucharist.

This is the certainly the response that Simon the Pharisee expected of the sinful woman in today’s Gospel. There he was, hosting a nice dinner party with respectable people and entertaining this local celebrity, Jesus of Nazareth. And then his party is crashed by this woman who was known to be a public sinner. You can almost hear him saying to her, “Get out my house, and go back in the street where dirty people like you belong. Can’t you see this is a man of God! Have some respect! A sinner like you shouldn’t approach the great teacher.”

But Jesus explains to Simon the Pharisee how he has it all wrong. Jesus points out how the sinful woman showed much more love than Simon, the decent, respectable, religious man. And with the simple parable of the two debtors Jesus explains why she loved more: the one who is forgiven more will love that much more.

And this is what we must do. When we are aware of our sinfulness it ought not to discourage us. We shouldn’t let it make us stay away from prayer or from this Eucharist. When we are aware of our sinfulness it ought to make us more grateful for the forgiveness of sins that God has accomplished in Christ. The more we are aware of how much we have been forgiven, the more we will love in return.

So let’s give thanks that we begin every Eucharist with an invitation from the priest to “call to mind our sins.” Because is we do this well, it will make us more grateful for our Savior and will make us love the Eucharist even more. On this altar the Precious Blood of the Lord is poured out, precisely for the forgiveness of sins. And this life-giving and renewing Blood washes over us. As the author of the book of Revelation puts it, we are washed and made clean in the Blood of the Lamb.

Let us confidently approach the throne of grace today, knowing that we are sinners. We shouldn’t be happy about our sins, but we should be grateful for the knowledge that we are sinners. Our role model today, the sinful woman, shows us how this knowledge will make us love God even more.

(11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, C)


Anonymous said...

An ispiring homily Friar Charles. You are mistaken in only one point.

A great many of us have sinned with the intensity of David. In the day and age of legal abortion and abortafacient birth control, a great number of us have comitted murder to to satisfy the desires of the flesh.

Charles of New Haven said...

Thank you for the reminder, Anonymous.