Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Saint Angela Merici

Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD."
Nathan answered David: "The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.
But since you have utterly spurned the LORD by this deed, the child born to you must surely die."
Then Nathan returned to his house.


More than fifty years ago, a book appeared in Catholic bookstores, “Whatever became of sin?” Even then the pendulum was swinging toward a vision of Christian life free of guilt, remorse or shame. It was joyful, free and exuberant. Boundaries were behind us.
Many people had long ago rejected the doctrine of Original Sin. How can babies so helpless, promising and adorable be anything but innocent?  They rejected the practice of infant birth because it seemed to emphasize original guilt rather than the original purpose of baptism, which was initiation to the life of grace. In fact they had little understanding of this ancient, essential doctrine of our faith. 
During the Second World War, Reinhold Niebuhr, American Protestant theologian of the mid-20th century, in his Gifford Lecture, describes our human condition:
The high estimate of the human stature implied in the concept of "image of God" stands in paradoxical juxtaposition to the low estimate of human virtue in Christian thought. Man is a sinner. His sin is defined as rebellion against God. The Christian estimate of human evil is so serious precisely because it places evil at the very center of human personality: in the will. This evil cannot be regarded complacently as the inevitable consequence of his finiteness or the fruit of his involvement in the contingencies and necessities of nature. Sin is occasioned precisely by the fact that man refuses to admit his "creatureliness" and to acknowledge himself as merely a member of a total unity of life. He pretends to be more than he is. Nor can he, as in both rationalistic and mystic dualism, dismiss his sins as residing in that part of himself which is not his true self; that is, that part of himself which is involved in physical necessity. In Christianity it is not the eternal man who judges the finite man; but the Eternal and Holy God who judges sinful man. Nor is redemption in the power of the eternal man who gradually sloughs off finite man. Man is not divided against himself so that the essential man can be extricated from the non-essential. Man contradicts himself within the terms of his true essence. His essence is free self-determination. His sin is the wrong use of his freedom and his consequent destruction. The Nature and Destiny of Man. Reinhold Niebuhr (1941) ISBN 0-02-387510-0

No matter how often I resolve to "confess my sins, do penance and amend my life,” I sin again. And, as Niebuhr explains, I cannot excuse myself with a claim of being made for sin, as if I cannot help it. I cannot explain to the dying frog, “I am a scorpion!” 
I had a choice. I knew what I was doing. I knew it was wrong. I did it. And now I’m sorry, again. I have excuses but no explanation. I can make apologies but no promises. 
No amount of will power can overcome the very will which decides to sin. Sinning, I experience that humiliating mystery of which Jesus spoke, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
The Gospel of Mercy addresses this bewildering mystery. The Lord, who created us in his own image and likeness, knew our sin, knows our sin, and knows we will sin again. The Lord knows we have no power to obey our own good intentions, that there is no such thing as will power. Those two words mean nothing to one another.
Owning our creatureliness before God, like David when Nathan exposed his dual crimes of adultery and murder; like Jesus from his birth in poverty to his baptism in the muddy Jordan to his helpless agony on the cross, we “win” God’s mercy.
This is far better "news" than the romantic, hypocritical vision of infant innocence which is inevitably desecrated by society, culture, institutions, adults or "those people." We have searched the world and found no Polynesian paradise, communist utopia, or city on a hill. It's nobody's fault but mine. To discover why good people do bad things, I have only to look at myself. As Saint Paul lamented:
For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not. For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.
Some writers, in a fit of pious hyperbole, will say, “God cannot resist the prayer of the helpless.” Certainly, “The Lord hears the cry of the poor!” and from our guilt, remorse, shame and grief we can pray with confidence to God our Savior. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.