Saturday, June 11, 2016
Defined by glory, not sin
One Saturday afternoon, a group of boys went to confession. Curiously, one by one, each of them ended their confession the same way, saying, “I threw peanuts in the river.” The priest thought, if that is a sin, it really is a strange one. The last to come in was the smallest boy of the group. The priest expected to hear the same sin he heard from the others, but the boy didn’t mention it. So the priest asked, “Is that all? Did you forget something? Did you throw peanuts in the river?” The boy looked shocked and replied, “Father, I am Peanuts! They threw me in the river!”
My friends, our Scriptures today want to remind us of a humbling truth – that we are all sinners. No one of us is immune from sin – not even the greatest and holiest among in our midst. In our first reading, we hear of the sin of King David. Despite having it all, he still wanted Bathsheba, and in order to have her, he arranged the death of her husband by sending him to the front lines of battle. Worse yet, David remained oblivious to the seriousness of his sins; blinded by his own power. So God sent the prophet Nathan to shake him out of his spiritual coma and only then did he repent and seek forgiveness.
And, in our Gospel today, we hear of a woman who lived in sin for far too long. But, fortunately, she had a personal encounter with the merciful and forgiving heart of Jesus. That unique experience opened her eyes and led her to a profound change of heart. Grateful for forgiveness, she went to see Jesus at dinner in a Pharisee’s house and tearfully showered Him with acts of gratitude and love. Both King David and the woman were sinners. But they were made aware of and had sincere sorrow for their sins. And they received tremendous forgiveness from God.
God’s message for us about sin today is as simple as that – we should be aware of our sin, sorry for it and turn to God for forgiveness and when we do, everything changes. The problem is that we know this isn’t the way it usually goes. In our world today, we are more likely to justify our sins, or simply be unaware of our need to seek God’s forgiveness. Perhaps the greatest spiritual danger facing us today is that we have become insensitive to sin, not aware of our need to seek forgiveness. Yes forgiveness is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Pope Francis repeatedly reminds us that, “God never tires of forgiving us.”
The Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” This really gets at the heart of the issue. What keeps many of us from an awareness of our sin is that we get stuck there; we get stuck on sin. When we think about sin, and we think only about sin. We let sin stick. We let our sin become our label. We define others and we define ourselves by our sin. We say, “You know Joe, he’s a drunk.” “You know Mary, she cheated.” “You know Bill, he’s such a gossip.” And so on. The Pharisee does this in our gospel today when he says, “He would know what sort of woman this is.” He has defined the woman by her sin.
But Jesus defines her, and us, in a very different way. Jesus defined her by her goodness and her glory and by what she can be. Jesus sees not the sum of her sins, but her potential for holiness and goodness and love. Jesus doesn’t apply labels. He recognizes our failings, our sins, our shortcomings. But he also sees something more. He sees beyond those things. He sees not just what we are, but what we can be. We are more than the sum of our sins. We are better than the sum of our sins.
Deacon Greg Kandra puts it this way: “We are the alcoholic determined to stay sober—and attending AA meetings five nights a week to make that happen. We are the husband neglecting his family because of his job, or his ego, or his own selfishness, and deciding to rearrange his priorities so that he can attend his son’s little league game. We are the woman who hasn’t been to confession in 20 years, quietly slipping into the pew on a Saturday morning, waiting for the chance to reconcile with the Church and finally, at long last, come home.”
Thomas Merton, the famous Trappist monk, was talking with a friend shortly after his conversion to Catholicism. The friend asked, “Now that you are Catholic, what do you want to be?” Merton said, “I guess I want to be a good Catholic.” His friend said, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint! All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”
My friends, God wants us to see our sins – not so we will beat ourselves up or feel bad or define ourselves by the bad things we’ve done. We are not the sum of our sins – we are the sum of our Grace; we are the sum of our Salvation purchased with the Blood of Jesus on the Cross. God wants us to be aware of our sins so that we can seek forgiveness, move beyond them and be the people He has created us to be; and He has created us for greatness.
Every sinner has a future and that future is holiness; that future is sainthood – that future is ours. God knows what we can be – all we have to do is desire it.
May the Lord give you peace.