"You Stink!"

(Third Sunday of Lent, Year C)

When a disaster befalls someone we naturally ask about the cause. Did the cancer result from smoking or bad eating habits? Was he speeding or drunk when the car crashed? Our tendency is to look for some type of blame. Jesus takes a different approach. When they told him about the Galileans Pilate had killed, he doesn't focus on the victims. In fact what he says at first seems off the point:

"Unless you repent, worse things will happen to you."

Jesus could have denounced Pilate's cruelty--and sacrilege. He could have analyzed the whole political situation and made some suggestions. But he did not. In so many words he said, "don't think you are better than them. Or the people killed when the tower of Siloam fell. But if you do not repent, something worse will befall you."

Do those words trouble you? It almost seems that Jesus is so anxious to make a moral point that he is indifferent to what those unfortunate folks suffered. We must remember that Jesus has a more long range vision than any of us. He see things from the perspective of eternity. From that viewpoint a million collapsing towers are like a grain of sand if compared to the fate of one soul.

Cardinal Newman also said it pretty bluntly. All the hurricanes, the earthquakes, the plagues, all the natural disasters joined together are not as harmful as the smallest venial sin. Newman, like Jesus, saw things from the vantage of eternity. He knew the worth of the humblest soul. Where that soul spends eternity depends on how it responds to Jesus call: "Repent or something worse will befall you."

During Lent one of the ways we express that repentance is by receiving the sacrament of reconciliation. A recently ordained priest of the the Seattle archdiocese, Fr. Patrick Freitag, told me this story which illustrates the need for confession:

He had been out hiking five days with a group of his friends. They had averaged ten miles a day. When they finished a group of friends came to meet them. They were so happy to see each other, but when they got within a few feet, one of their friends stopped. Then the whole group halted. "Oh," she said, "You guys stink." They had been together and gotten used to the smell, but before the others would embrace them, they had to get cleaned up.

Now the sacrament of penance is like that--a washing away of our sins so we can return to the complete communion of the Church. Our problem is that we have gotten so used to each other's smell, we need someone honest enough to say (and please do not be offended) "You stink."

One small example of how we have gotten used to each other's bad odor: swearing. I know that many people consider it the smallest of sins or maybe not even a sin at all. But is that not because it has become so common--even among women? Using God's or Jesus' name in vain is done as an ordinary exclamation, like "Wow!" But the Bible warns us against this practice. In the first reading today we hear about God revealing his very name to Moses. The Hebrew for "I AM WHO AM" was so sacred that no Jewish person would dream of uttering it. Maybe we should re-read that text and then examine our attitude toward swearing. Is it not a stench we need to be purified of?

Some people among us are preparing for cleansing sacrament of baptism. Others of us need a "second baptism," what we call the Sacrament of Reconciliation or confession. It begins by taking seriously Jesus words, "Unless you repent..."

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From Archives (Year C homilies for Third Sunday of Lent):

The Stakes Are High (2013)
Purpose of the Church (2010)
What is His Name? (2007)
Primary Purpose of the Church (2004)
If You Do Not Repent (2001)
You Stink! (1998)

Homilies for Year A Readings for RCIA Scrutinies:

Thirst (2011)
Why So Dissatisfied? (2008)
The Scent of Water (2005)
What She Desired (2002)
The One You Want (1999)

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

See also: An Eternally Unbridgeable Chasm

The Fiery Furnace

Jesus Teaching Concerning Heaven

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