11th Sunday in Ordinary Time. June 16th 2013
2Sam 12:7-10,13; Gal 2:16,19-21; Lk 7:36-8:3
Living with our dark sides
I recently came across a book captioned, “The dark side of Catholicism” by Armando Ang. There is actually nothing new about this book if you are used to the usual misconceptions and false accusations about the Catholic faith by people who know next to nothing about the faith. The book itself is loaded with usual aggressive anti-Catholic polemics. One Catholic apologist sums up the book in a succinct statement: “Ang’s book is a regurgitated thrash. It merely rehashes old, worn out and long debunked attacks against the Catholic Church.” The last edition of this book includes the recent clergy sex abuse scandal, the “murder” of Pope Paul I and the Antichrist in the Church to further entice us to accept the “dark side” of Catholicism.
My first reaction on seeing this book in a local bookstore was to ask, “Who does not have a dark side?” We must first be clear about something – as regards her faith and morals, there is no dark side to the Catholic faith and there can be no dark side. Jesus Himself assured His Church that she is on a sure path to truth because “the Holy Spirit will guide her to all truth.” Neither can her morals be corrupted by the forces of darkness because the “gates of hell shall not prevail over the Church.” But the Church does have a dark side because of the abuse, inappropriate use, or lack of use of the blessings that we have received from God. The Church has a dark side because it is possible for her members to fail to correspond to God’s grace and abuse the immense wealth that Christ Jesus has bequeathed to her.
As long as we are in this world, it is possible for us to abuse the blessings and freedom that God gives us and to fail to correspond to God’s grace and thus let sin prevail in our lives, in our families and in the Church. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning.”(CCC#1732) As long as we are in this world, our freedom remains “limited and fallible” (CCC#1739) and thus it remains possible for us to sin. No one of us is above sin. It is only in heaven, when we see God face to face, and our freedom is perfected, that it will be impossible for us to sin. In the midst of God’s awesome blessing in this world, there is always a possibility for us to sin and have a dark side.
This is the lesson of King David’s story in the First Reading. The King had received awesome gifts from God. God took him from being a little shepherd boy and “anointed him king of Israel, rescued him from the hand of Saul,” gave him his Lord’s (Saul’s) wives for his own, and then gave him the house of Israel and Judah.” But King David “spurned the Lord and did evil in His sight” by taking Bathsheba, “the only wife of Uriah the Hittite as his wife and then killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.” Despite all his wives and power, David still sinned by taking the only wife of his loyal subject as his wife and then murdering his faithful soldier. He who received immense blessings from God also had a dark side.
Simon the Pharisee in today’s Gospel fails to realize that as long as we are in this world, it is always possible for us to sin. He focuses on this woman’s bad past and condemns her for being a “sinful woman.” He condemns Jesus too as a fake prophet because he thinks that He (Jesus) does not know that the woman touching Him is a sinful woman. Simon thinks of himself as above sin. Jesus does not deny the woman’s sinfulness but tells the story of the man who forgave the two debtors their debts to remind Simon that we all face the possibility of sin in this world and that we all succumb to sin in one way or another. God’s merciful love alone sets us free.
But how are we to live with this darkness in our lives? How are we to hold that we are immensely blessed and loved by God and still experience the forces of darkness trying to discourage us from our walk with God? The only solution is a truly humble and insistent acceptance and recourse to the forgiveness of God. The woman in the Gospel passage loved much because “she had been forgiven much.” Simon does not accept his sinfulness or acknowledge his own possibility of sinning and hence he does not love Jesus as he should love a visitor. He does not do the customary things that he is supposed to do to Jesus as a visitor. But the sinful woman is humble enough to seek for Jesus in the home of the brutally condemning Pharisees and to do for Him what Simon was supposed to do. In forgiving her for her sins, Jesus sets her free from the selfishness that accompanies and generates sin and then gives her the power to love more generously.
Likewise King David did not consider himself above sin but was humble enough to accept his sin and confess to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” God forgave him his sins and gives him a guarantee of life: “The Lord on His part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die.” God’s forgiveness is life-giving. When we humbly accept our sins and ask for this forgiveness, God forgives us for our sins and then give us power to love God and neighbor better.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as long as we are in this world, it is possible for us to sin no matter how much we are blessed by God. Whether we are the bishops, priests, religious, pastors, religious sisters or brothers, devout laity, no one of us is above sin. Jesus does not take away the possibility of sin from us but He takes away our humbly acknowledged and confessed sins and then increases our freedom, giving us new and renewed power to love God and neighbor more and overcome sinful tendencies in the future. Though Christ has set us free from the bondage of sin, reconciled us with the Father and made us children of God, it is still possible for us to abuse this freedom, refuse to correspond to grace, and thus fall into sin.
To receive forgiveness of sins, we must practice complete humility before God and others. We must approach God with complete humility and beg for forgiveness for our sins. He will not chase us away if we approach with humility. What greater humility can we show in confessing our sins when we choose to acknowledge these sins before a sinful priest like ourselves in the Sacrament of Confession? Won’t Jesus be pleased to see such complete humility when we receive this sacrament with a firm purpose of amendment? Can He who practiced perfect humility be repulsed by our own acts of humility before God and man?
King David humbled himself to accept his sins before Nathan: “I have sinned against the Lord.” There is no pretense here to confess directly to God and to ignore the Prophet though he could have done so. But he humbly acknowledged before the prophet his sins and received divine guarantee of forgiveness and life from the lips of Nathan: “The Lord on His part has forgiven your sin; you shall not die.” Something similar is said by the priest to a penitent in Confession, “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Divine forgiveness through the lips of a human being!!! The sinful woman humbled herself to seek for Jesus in the home of the condemning Pharisees and she too received forgiveness and a newness of life. We must show this complete humility if we are hoping to receive forgiveness and added power to love God and others more.
The world and the devil continuously remind us of our sins to discourage us by focusing all our attention on our dark sides. How easy it is to forget that we are blessed and loved by God even as we struggle with the forces of darkness in our lives. If we approach Jesus with complete humility, humbling ourselves before our fellow men, accepting our sins and pleading for mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, we will hear Him say to us the same words that He spoke to the woman in the Gospel, “Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go now in peace.” In addition we shall find an increase in life and love that moves us to love God and neighbor more. It is this increase in love that will move us to struggle with our dark sides without discouragement and be patient with others who sin too reminding ourselves that we are not in heaven yet.
As we encounter Christ in this Eucharist, He gives us all the love and graces that we need. We will always have our dark sides with us here on earth. God’s grace does not and will not take this away. But by this grace, we are strengthened to embark on the journey of selfless love without discouragement all the way to heaven where alone this dark side will be no more.