Matt C. Abbott
On Christ, sin, contrition, and mercy
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By Matt C. Abbott
October 18, 2019

Below is the text of a homily given Oct. 13 by a priest in the United States who wishes to remain anonymous. Thanks to "Father X" for permitting me to publish his homily in my column.

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The man healed in the Gospel was lying on a stretcher, a good place from which to reflect on what is really important in life. Our Lord knew where to go first as far as providing help. He started with the man's sins; most people would probably have started with the physical sickness. We can see ourselves on a stretcher as far as coming into the Lord's presence. We may be physically well, but if we are still sinning we are laid low until we receive God's forgiveness in the sacrament of confession. We are healed spiritually, although we realize there is much more to be done.

Christ sees the faith of those who are determined to bring the paralytic, in spite of all difficulties, into His presence. He also sees the faith of the paralytic; it would be in accordance with the paralytic's desire that his friends took such trouble to bring him into the presence of Jesus. Yet, there must have been some fear or hesitancy in the sick man, for Christ's first words to him are words of encouragement: Courage My son. And then, as if to show that He knew the source of the paralytic's fear, He adds: Your sins are forgiven. The Lord saw that the man was sad and depressed by his consciousness of sin, and that that consciousness was an obstacle to the faith he needed for his miraculous cure. The sick man does not recover from his sickness until God has pardoned all his sins.

The sick man has his sins forgiven and is restored to health. Once again we see in action the abundant mercy of God, restoring a person to a new beginning. We are encouraged to trust in the mercy of God. The prayers of the Church, prayers of the Holy Mass, and prayers used in private, are constantly asking for that mercy. We are taught that God is infinitely merciful; that He will forgive any sin; that He goes looking for lost sheep; that He runs to meet the returning sinner. We also learn that sinners can be punished and that punishment might even be eternal in hell. Then He will say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.' Is God going to forgive us or punish us? The key is how sorry we are for our sins. It is not so much the size of the sin as it is the size of our sorrow.

Sorrow is not something that can be measured as a quantity. We might think we are sorry, or hope that we are, but not really be so. Only God knows the true state of our heart and mind. It could be fear that makes us say we are sorry, but we might really be still attached to sin. If we go to confession, it is a pre-requisite that we have firm purpose of amendment, sincerely intending not to commit sin again. We can build up true sorrow by mediating on the malice of sin; on the harm that it does; on the goodness of God; on the ingratitude which continuing sin reveals. We can make various devotions and prayers which will help us to see things in a more clear light.

Sin is not something that can be casually dismissed. The fact that forgiveness is so readily available could lead to its being cheapened and abused, as when a free event might not be taken as seriously as one where we have to pay to be admitted. We need to realize the largeness of both sin and mercy. All sin, even lesser ones, offends the infinite majesty of God; this all the more underlines the immensity of His mercy, which is ready to forgive any sin. If we grasp that sin is large and that mercy is large, we are more likely to reach a sufficient level of sorrow to make us grateful and determined not to offend God again. We can hope to reach perfection contrition, whereby we are sorry because we have offended God, not just because we are afraid of punishment.

When we realize the goodness of God and the ugliness of sin, we should want to make an absolute break with sin once and for all and embark on new life in union with Christ. One prayer we make in confession, and other times, is the act of contrition. There are various forms of this prayer, but part of its content is a promise not to sin again. When we come to confession our intention has to be not to sin again. We cannot settle for the idea that just because sin is common, it is somehow acceptable. Think how hard we work on other areas of our lives to keep things clean; to stay healthy; tolerating no weeds in the garden or dirt on the floor. And yet, we accept stain and dirt on the soul.

Christ is showing us that He has the power and the desire to heal the whole person, body and soul. He wants to give us as much as we are prepared to receive. There is no limit to His power, but there usually is a limit to how we receptive we are. We tend to obstruct the grace of God because we cling to our present state. He offers light, we prefer the dark. He offers freedom; we prefer the chains of sin. Why do we prefer the negative alternative? It is what we know. We are afraid of changing too much too soon, so we cling to our vices. Sometimes we want to be healed and other times we do not want to be healed and we crash back into sin. We think this is normal, this zigzagging between good and evil. We don't believe it is possible to be virtuous all the time. Partly we don't believe; partly we do not want it.

There is no doubt of Christ's power and yet we still may not respond. It can be that we have little expectation and little desire to change our lives. We would not mind changing circumstances, but we do not expect our attitude or behavior to change. And so we resist Christ's power to heal us, even if subconsciously. We are not condemned to a lifetime in jail; we can walk free from selfishness, pride, lust, and all the rest. Our Lord has the knowledge of where we most need healing. He knows our deepest need and can meet it. Our deepest need is this: to be forgiven for our sins, to be totally cleansed of its effects; to be transformed so that we now desire good as much as previously we desired the fruits of sin. This is the happiness to which we are called. We will achieve it if we let God deal with us on His terms, not ours. Let Him take us to places that we may have not wanted to go or thought possible, and when we get there, we will be glad we did.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 'Unsolved' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback and story ideas. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me. However, I reserve the right to forward and/or publish emails that are accusatory, insulting or threatening in nature, even if those emails are marked confidential. Also, if you give me permission to publish a quote of yours, please do not contact me at a later time to request that I delete your name. Only in limited circumstances will I quote anonymous sources. Thank you and God bless!)

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