I am grateful that our parish has a fine deacon who preaches for one of us each month. Unmindful that it was my turn to be "relieved," I proceeded with the gathering and recording of my reflections on the Sunday readings. Then Monsignor reminded me. Phooey! Ah well--it gave me the chance to enter more deeply into the sacred mysteries that I soon will celebrate. (What if everybody reflected on the Scriptures enough to compose a "homily"--or least a few salient thoughts--before coming to Mass? I submit that such reflection would help the would-be homilist to get more out of Mass.) At any rate, this is more or less what the assembly at my Masses this weekend will have been spared from hearing; the patient reader's sparing will depend on how soon he or she navigates to another site without looking back. Remember Lot's wife.
The first reading from Isaiah encourages us to “seek the Lord while He may be found.” It sounds like one of those “limited-time offers” you see on TV, and to be honest, it is: limited in the sense that our life is. As far as the Lord’s generosity is concerned, there is no limit; for as the Gospel relates, He mercies forth in ways that stump the levelheaded and the pious. While Saint Paul encourages his listeners to “conduct themselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ,” oftentimes and to varied extents we do not. And there’s the rub: precisely in response to human waywardness and disgrace our God manifests Himself as the Love that makes worthy and gives direction.
A couple of months ago we promoted a guide to the Sacrament of Reconciliation that is always available in the church vestibules. The front page of the guide quotes a document from the Second Vatican Council: Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from the mercy of God for the offence committed against Him and are at the same time reconciled with the Church, which they have wounded by their sins, and which by charity, example, and prayer seeks their conversion. Because the quotation comes from the Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, it holds great weight for us as Catholics who are intended to participate faithfully in that sacrament.
From this quote two points are worth noting: first, sin is an offense against God and against the Church; second, both God and the Church actively seek to restore the sinner to the fullness of communion. (And remember that “the Church” refers not only to the hierarchy, but also to every initiated Catholic and, most broadly, to all Christian faithful).
In a pluralistic, democratic society we aren’t used to hearing about objective, rational standards of right and wrong. Rather we may hear of truths that apply to those who have devised them, and to no one else; and even these are subject to revisiting and revising as their creator sees fit. Now since we haven’t collapsed into complete anarchy yet, we can conclude that radical subjectivism must have its limits. While the Ten Commandments may have disappeared from public displays, the public still gives them a dutiful, if theoretical, nod. Certain human choices always, and in every circumstance, are an insult to our Creator. The criteria for offense derives not from the Creator’s arbitrary will (“I choose this to be wrong, just because”), but rather from the very nature of human persons for whom the Law is intended.
We are made to respect our Creator as He deserves and not according to our liking. We are made to serve our fellow creatures as we desire to be served and not according to our liking. As members of the Church, we stand out among all our fellow creatures as people to whom we owe a certain debt of attentiveness and gratitude. Sin is our lack of attentiveness and gratitude toward a particular person or class of persons. Our greatest creditor, to whom we owe the greatest debt, is God, whose Law gives unity and direction to the Church and to human society. When we fall short of God’s Law, we let each other down; but when we uphold that Law, we contribute to the betterment of all and each.
If cold, hard justice reigned on earth, we could scarcely make that second point: the same community of persons that sin has wounded is eager for sinners to be reconciled. We don’t want anyone to be thrown under the bus to heaven, any more than we would want to be! Precisely how do we express this desire? The document cited above gives us three ways: charity, example, and prayer. It wasn’t merely suggesting that we do it; it was saying that we are doing it. Our every good choice actively seeks to draw fellow human beings and fellow members of the Church closer to us and closer to God, as a sort of countersuit to their divisiveness. Charity: Our patience and tolerance toward fellow sinners may be all that they need to change their ways, even though it may take longer than we’d prefer and even though it may never happen at all. Example: Because people are convinced more by witnessing virtuous actions than by hearing virtuous words, it is important for us to demonstrate interest in the welfare of our oppressors and offenders. Prayer: Our business in praying is not to manipulate God into doing what we want Him to do, but instead to align our interests with God’s interests, among which we can safely include the salvation of souls.
At any given point in life we may find ourselves among the reconcilers or among those who could stand to be reconciled. Wherever we are we aim to find a deeper identity with the others than previously expected. By our commitment to reconciliation in all our relationships, past and present, and by our willingness to enter frequently into the sacramental transaction of divine mercy known as Confession, we as members of Christ’s Mystical Body the Church are seeking Him while He may be found; we are enlisting His help at all hours of the day and offering a lavish wage to the latest of latecomers; and all because it is really Christ whom we seek and find in the course of life’s journey.