Sunday, 9 June 2013

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13;  Galatians 2:16, 19-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

There is something disarmingly candid about today’s response to the Psalm: Lord, forgive the wrong I have done. The straightforward simplicity of this humble submission touches the heart of the listener as it would no doubt touch the heart of God: Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.

King David had the same ‘fuss free’ honesty when it came to admitting his grave sin to the prophet Nathan: I have sinned against the Lord. No pretense, no minimisation, no excuses, just: I have sinned against the Lord.

With the same pleasing simplicity the psalm itself declares: I have acknowledged my sins .... I will confess my offence to the Lord.

A pure, simple, straightforward, unassuming, uncomplicated, unconditional, childlike admission of guilt. ‘Lord, I have sinned!’

And the Lord, as in the Gospel today, responds in kind: Your sins are forgiven.

What I am speaking of, what I am describing here, is really the intimate exchange of love which occurs in every good confession: Lord, forgive the wrong I have done – Your sins are forgiven.

So effortless! So efficacious! So life-changing!

To appreciate the wonder of this moment we need to grasp with our spiritual understanding both the horror of mortal sin and the compassion of God. The former deprives us of the divine life, leaving us fit only for hell should we die in its grip; the latter, recognising our contrition, restores us to the friendship of God, reanimating our soul with sanctifying grace and directing our steps once again to the kingdom of heaven. As God spoke to David through the prophet Nathan: You are not to die.

No matter the gravity of the sin, no matter the number of times committed, sincere contrition flies direct to its target like a razor-sharp arrow, traversing in less than an instant the infinite distance between the sinner and his God, and pierces his merciful heart with the accuracy of which only humility is capable.

How good is our God! And how wonderful his mercy and love!

And yet there are those who hold back. They either refuse to recognise their sin as sin, or they fail to trust in the mercy of God. And then, of course, there are those who refuse to acknowledge the role of the priest in the reconciliation process.

It was to Nathan that David declared his guilt – and it was through Nathan that God declared David forgiven. Already here, in the Old Testament, God foreshadows the intermediary roles of his chosen ministers in effecting his saving will.

My own experience has been that those who decry most loudly the need to confess to a priest often have some sin(s) they are deeply ashamed of and which they cannot bring themselves to confess. Fulton Sheen, a braver man than I, and acting in response to a deep pastoral understanding, asked one such person how many abortions she had had. Then it all came out. She bravely and fully confessed her sins and was, at the same time, healed of her self-deception that confessing to a priest was not necessary.

If you are one of these people, clinging to a sin because you are too embarrassed to confess it – and dealing with that embarrassment by denying that it is a sin – I can only offer you the example of the spontaneous honesty of King David, who when Nathan told him his sin, immediately cried out: I have sinned against the Lord. His acknowledgment was his confession and Nathan, without delay, replied: The Lord ... forgives your sin; you are not to die.

What follows this beautiful moment of reconciliation, though it is not mentioned in our short reading, is that Nathan, still speaking on behalf of God, inflicts a punishment on King David. Though his sin is forgiven it still has consequences which must be redressed. I may be forgiven for stealing but I still have to give the money back, or perform some other penance. Every sin has Purgatory attached!

David cannot avoid the consequences of his sin and they are serious and, by the way, they involve the whole community. He humbly submits and soon the whole affair is done with.

No wonder David was a man ‘after God’s own heart’. It is not so much the sins we commit – it is the sincerity and humility with which we acknowledge them, repent, confess, do penance – and, in the forgiveness of God, move on.

I cannot conclude this reflection without pointing out the incredible paradox that love grows in direct proportion to our willingness to be forgiven. David’s love for God was as great as the number of times he humbly acknowledged his sins and accepted God's loving mercy. Of the woman who washed his feet with her tears Jesus said: Her sins, her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love.

Can you see now what those who refuse to own up to their sin, or who refuse to confess it in the way God wants them to confess it, are missing out on? Nothing less than an opportunity to grow in the love they so much desire.

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