Bottom line: Today we are witnessing an agressive attempt to deny sin. More than ever this Lent we need a personal meeting with Jesus who is God, the only one who can forgive sin.
A popular myth about Jesus runs along these lines: The original Jesus was a kindly man who wanted to help people face their problems, feel good about themselves and get along with each other. (Kind of a first century version of Dr. Phil.) But his followers began to add miracle stories to this teaching, then gradually divinize him until finally Paul developed a full blown theology which made him into God.*
Today’s Gospel explodes that myth. By most scholarly accounts, St. Mark wrote the earliest Gospel. It is certainly the plainest, the most unadorned. Yet right at the outset we have a strong assertion of Jesus’ divinity: He forgives men's sins.
That may seem innocuous to us, but only because we have forgotten what sin is. Suppose the man lowered through the roof was a swindler who had cheated locals out of their life savings. If you were one of the victims, sorry as you might feel about the man’s present condition, you would still resent Jesus’ absolution.
It would be as if I ministered to a serial killer and announced, "I forgive you." Family members of those murdered would react quite bitterly. In my case their anger would be justified.
However, with Jesus, the matter is different. Robbery and murder offend him more directly than even the victims. He is the very Source of life and of all created goods. The people were right to ask:
"Who but God alone can forgive sins?" (Mk 2:7)
Accepting Jesus as God - the only one who can forgive sins - has huge implications. I would like to draw out one implication, especially as we enter the season of Lent: If we accept Jesus as God, it means we stand in a radically different posture from the world. We live in a society that attempts to deny sin - and thus deny the need for Christ. I say "attempt" because as J. Budziszewski has shown, conscience has a way of reasserting itself. (see The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man)**
If a person has a guilty conscience (and does not repent) he cannot bear that others do not accept what he is doing. In recent years we have witnessed how far some will go to get others to say that there is nothing wrong with things like homosexuality, abortion, sterilization and contraception. And that not only that there is nothing wrong with those things, but that they are positive goods. Thus, acceptance of homosexuality requires a redefinition of marriage and the acceptance of contraception, abortifacients and sterilization requires their universal coverage in health care plans.***
The Catechism says that what is involved are "two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality." (2370) We are in a spiritual combat - and the battle line runs through the middle of our society. And let's be honest: the battle rages in your heart - and mine.
We need Lent 2012. We need the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting and financial sacrifice. In our society, we are witnessing an agressive attempt to deny sin. This campaign has powerful tools (media, universities, courts, etc.) and, without compunction, it uses words not to express truth, but to beat down dissenters. (For them "truth" is not a goal - they only acknowledge "my truth" and "your truth." But they will use the word as a club.) And the campaign is succeeding; it has subtlely impacted even even those who oppose it.**** More than ever this Lent we need a personal meeting with Jesus who is God, the only one who can forgive sin.
*Although the letters of Paul come toward the end of the New Testament, they are not, as this myth supposes, the last written. On the contrary, they are the first writings. His Letter to the Thessalonians (c. 52 A.D.) is the earliest New Testament text.
**This not something new. In his Confessions, Augustine observes how Homer "attributed divine attributes to sinful men, that crimes might not be accounted crimes, and that whoever committed such crimes might appear to imitate the celestial gods and not abandoned men." (Book 1, Chapter XVI)
***Along with many other American bishops, Archbishop Sartain has written a strong letter and an insightful column on this issue. In spite of this unprecedented attack on the U.S. Church, we need to thank God for the unity and clarity of our bishops - and for this unique moment to reach out to our American brothers and sisters. (And to renew our own understanding of Jesus teaching on marriage, chastity, conjugal fidelity, marital fecundity, the gift of a child, and the offenses against the dignity of marriage. See Catechism 2331-2400.)
****They have obviously committed a blunder with the HHS Mandate, but they will retrench. A conscience that does not repent can never rest. (For their part our bishops have shown that they will stand firm in calling us all to repentance.)
From the Archives:
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Update on Diego
(Boy with Keratoconus helped Mary Bloom Center in Peru)
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I invite you to join me in signing National Petition to Stop HHS Mandate. My concern is not so much that this Mandate will harm the Catholic Church. We have had plenty of experience with overreaching civil authorities - and, by resisting, we have come out better. The Church will survive this attack. As an American, however, I worry what this and other encroachments on religious liberty will do to our nation. Religious liberty is the foundation for our other freedoms.
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
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