Sorry to bring it up. If not now, during Lent, when?
I’m talking about sin.
We Catholics are often criticized as “hung up” on sin, guilt ridden, oppressed, negative, beating ourselves up over it.
Actually, we’re hung up on mercy, redemption, salvation, none of which is ours unless we admit sin.
Remember how Pope Francis shocked the reporter who asked him, “Tell us about yourself. Who are you?” The Holy Father replied simply, “I am a sinner.”
It should not have shocked us. Everyone but Jesus and His Mother is a sinner. The prayer that most moved the Sacred Heart of our Lord was simply, “Jesus, have mercy on me a sinner!”
What startled us about the response of Pope Francis was not that he is a sinner, but that he admitted it.
After noon Mass at St. Patrick’s on Ash Wednesday, a woman spoke with me. “This world is messed up. The people with whom I live and work are messed up. My family is dysfunctional. And, I’m messed up! Everything goes wrong!”
I think she expected me to talk her out of this funk and tell her she had it all wrong, because I could see her surprise when I said, “You’re right! We’re all messed up. And we call that sin!”
What’s worse, I went on, is that we can’t seem to do much about it. We conquer one problem and two more arrive; we clean up a mess and a new one spills over; we make progress in one disaster, and another shows up!
Is there any hope, or is this funk, fatigue, and frustration just going to overwhelm us?
We could get depressed, or... we could whisper the most basic, heart-rending prayer we can utter: “I need a Savior!”
St. Augustine, one of the smartest men who ever lived, arrived at this conclusion after a long journey of many years.
“I need pleasure and licentiousness,” he thought. He got it; didn’t work.
“I need a philosopher,” he then reasoned. Some progress, but no letup to his restlessness.
“I need a teacher,” he next reasoned. He found many, but his disquiet went on.
“I need an exemplar, someone to give me good example.” These he discovered, and they helped a bit. But, the search went on.
“I need a friend,” he figured. He surrounded himself with good ones. Some progress, but he was still uneasy.
Finally, finally, guided by the Bible, the preaching of St. Ambrose, the tears and prayers of a great mom, St. Monica, and, most of all, prompted by God’s grace, he admitted, “I need a Savior.” He found one, whose name was Jesus.
“Why are we in such a mess?” folks ask me. Covid, political acrimony, shutdowns, plans shattered, families apart, dreams on hold, future questionable...
Because we have turned from God; because we think we don’t need Him; because we think we know it all; because we think my way beats His way.
That’s a description of sin. And we’re even too proud, too chic, too “modern,” to admit we are sinners.
So, misery, messiness, mischief, and migraines abound.
All I know is that St. Paul is right! “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”
From a mess to mercy. A forty day trip.
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