According to one spiritual writer, Brigid E. Herman, there are nine “master-facts” that deserve our prayerful reflection: God, Christ, Spirit, humanity, sin, grace, death, church, kingdom. There are probably other master-facts, but these surely are the significant ones. And in our readings for today one of those master-facts jumps out: sin!
The prophet Isaiah, speaking for God, communicates a message of great importance. God is doing something new; therefore, remember not the events of the past. Further, though we have burdened and wearied God by our sins and crimes, God has wiped them out and remembers our sins no more. What a profound message this is. In other words, do not get stuck on past misdeeds. Rather, since God has forgiven us, move on to what God is asking of us now.
In the Gospel we see Jesus dealing with the master-fact of sin. After the paralyzed man has been placed before him by friends, Jesus responded to their faith by saying: “My son, your sins are forgiven.” Not a word here about making an act of contrition; not a word here about are you truly sorry. But simply, “…your sins are forgiven.” Such is the compassion of Jesus and his Father.
The scribes who witnessed cried out: “Blasphemy!” They maintained that only God could forgive sins. What they did not know was that Jesus was God and had the power to heal. And the response of the people: amazement and praise.
What lessons may we learn about the master-fact of sin?
Sin leads to blindness, darkness and death. One example would be that of greed. When this capital sin takes over, we can no longer see what really matters. All of one’s passion is directed to the acquisition of more and more.
Sin fosters self-preoccupation and a cramped life. “The law and the flesh are symbols of a self-preoccupation, an ‘incurvedness’ as Martin Luther would have it, an arthritis of the soul, gnarled and bent, unable to stretch or touch—in a word, sin” (John Shea). Luther was probably borrowing from St. Augustine who called sin — curvatus in se — a turning in upon oneself.
Sin must not be addressed outside of God’s mercy. “For if self-knowledge and the thought of sin are not seasoned with remembrance of the blood and hope for mercy, the result is bound to be confusion” (St. Catherine of Siena). God no longer remembers our sins and offers us a whole new way of life. And it is Jesus, the Mercy and Love of the Father, that this is made most visible.
All of us, without exception, have experiential knowledge of sin for all of us have, one time or another, turned from doing God’s will. That is why the responsorial refrain is most appropriate: “Lord, heal my soul, for I have sinned against you.”
Questions for reflection
1. What do you know about the master-facts of Christianity?
2. What effects do sin have in your life?
3. How has God’s mercy set you free?
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.