A few years ago I was asked to prepare a year 13 class group to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I began by asking how many considered themselves to be sinners. A couple of hands went up including my own. I then asked again explaining that my question was a serious one adding that I was a sinner and so were all my friends. A few more hands were raised.
For the next half hour I explained that we are created by God for abundant life, but sin takes over when our fears lead us to grasp at what is immediate and unsatisfying. I explained that the Sacrament of Reconciliation enables us to experience love and mercy in the parts of our lives where we most struggle, and that this is a beautiful experience both in a human relationships and even more-so in our relationship with God. I concluded commenting that we are sinners, all of us, much more than we think we are. But our sin, while a great problem for us, is no problem for our loving and merciful God as long as we acknowledge our sin and turn back to God.
At the end of the class the teacher approached me angrily saying “we do all we can to build up our students’ self-esteem, and you shoot it down in one class by telling these young people that they are sinners.”
The teacher did not understand that self-esteem is not a human achievement. Healthy self-esteem is the fruit of knowing that we are loved even as imperfect, weak and vulnerable sinners. We know Jesus to be “saviour” and if we think we can save ourselves then we have no need for Jesus. Those who experience no need for salvation will see Jesus as just another wise teacher among many and faith in Jesus who is the saviour will mean nothing at all.
We don’t hear much about sin these days. Perhaps its because we think that talk about sin is negative and we like to focus on the positive. Sin itself is a negative and is the ultimate problem in human existence. But sin brought into the light of God’s love and mercy is the ultimate good, the height of grace, channel for God’s love and mercy. The one who has been forgiven much, loves much. Luke 7:47
The Catechism’s opening sentences in the section on sin explain this well:
“The angel announced to Joseph: “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The same is true of the Eucharist, the sacrament of redemption: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
“God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us.” To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
As St. Paul affirms, “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. CCC 1846-1848
Even the Pharisees who considered themselves to be living by the letter of the law were silenced when Jesus invited the one of them who was without sin to cast the first stone.
So our reflection on sin is not about beating ourselves up. If we just focus on our sin
no need to think about what was done before.
See, I am doing a new deed, even now it comes to light;
can you not see it? Isaiah 43
- A couple of verses from today’s scriptures to
- Our sin, when we acknowledge it and confess it, becomes a privileged place of encounter with God. Make plans this week to set time to go to confession. You may not have been for twenty or more years, but this is no problem. Just do it! I guarantee that afterwards you will be delighted that you took the step.
- For further encouragement spend some time reflecting with today’s second reading. St. Paul writes:
“I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For him I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him. I am no longer trying for perfection by my own efforts, the perfection that comes from the Law, but I want only the perfection that comes through faith in Christ, and is from God and based on faith. All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death. That is the way I can hope to take my place in the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have become perfect yet: I have not yet won, but I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured me. I can assure you my brothers, I am far from thinking that I have already won. All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come; I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus”.