Saturday, June 15, 2013

"Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future" | 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

One Saturday afternoon, a group of boys went to confession. This, in itself, was unusual, but more unusual was what the boys confessed.  One by one, each of them ended their confession the same way, “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, of course, 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 us. In our first reading, we hear of the sin of the great King David. Despite having it all, he still lusted for Bathsheba, and in order to have her, he arranged the death of her husband by sending him to the front lines of battle. David’s sin of adultery was compounded with the crime of murder. And yet, David remained oblivious to the gravity 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; likely a prostitute. 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 conversion. Grateful for the forgiveness granted her by Jesus, she went to see Him 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 so, they received forgiveness from God.  

And, God’s message for us about sin today is as simple as that – we must be aware of our sin, sorry for it and turn to Him for forgiveness and when we do, everything will be alright.   The problem is that we know this isn’t the way it usually goes. In our world today, confessionals are among the loneliest places in the world as we tend to either justify our sins, or worse yet, we can be completely unaware of our sinfulness and of our need to seek for God’s forgiveness.  Perhaps the greatest spiritual danger facing us today is not the fact that we fall into sin; but rather, that we lose the sense of sin, that we become insensitive to sin. Because, then we don’t realize the need to seek forgiveness, and so remain unrepentant and unforgiven.

The Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” I really like this sentiment because I think it gets at the heart of the problem for us today. I think what keeps most people from an awareness of sin today is that we get stuck there; we get stuck on sin.  We think about sin, and we think only about sin.  We let sin stick.  We let sin become the label.  We define others and worse, we define ourselves by our sin.   “You know Joe, he’s a drunk.”  “You know Mary, she cheated.” “You know Bill, he’s such a gossip.” And so on.   And that’s what’s going on with the Pharisee in our gospel today, “He would know what sort of woman this is,” he says of Jesus.  He has defined the woman by her sin.  But Jesus has defined her in a very different way. Jesus has 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. 

One of my favorite blogs, The Deacon’sBench, today put 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.  I think it’s telling that we never learn the name of the woman in this gospel. One commentator speculates that Luke did that to protect her dignity. She was somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister, maybe someone’s wife and mother. But I think he also did it to reflect a deeper truth: she could be any of us.  And any of us could be her.”

There is a story about the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton that took place not long after his conversion to Catholicism. He was walking with a friend of his who asked him a simple question, now that you are a Catholic, “What do you want to be?”  Merton didn’t know how to answer and stumbled and said simply, “I don’t know, I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.”  His friend was stunned and said, “What do you mean you want to be a good Catholic?  What you should say is that you want to be a saint!”  That thought struck Merton as strange and he said incredulously, “How do you expect me to become a saint?!” His friend responded, “By wanting to.”  Merton backtracked.  “I can’t be a saint. I can’t be a saint. I’m satisfied to save my soul, to keep out of mortal sin.” But, his friend remained firm. “No,” he said. “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 that 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.

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