Every now and then some will suggest that the Church should speak less of sin and instead emphasize positive things. After all, it is said that one can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar. In that vein, we in the Church have been collectively de-emphasizing sin to a large degree for more than forty years. And in spite of the saying, our churches have been getting emptier and emptier. Maybe this is because people are just a little more complicated than the flies in the old saying.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus provides the reason our churches are getting emptier. Simply put, there is less love. He says, But the one to whom little is forgiven loves little. (Luke 7:47)
Why is this? As Jesus says, we love little because we have little appreciation for what the Lord has done for us and for the debt He paid on our behalf. And why is that? Because debt for sin is no longer preached the way it should be and thus we are less aware of just how grave our condition is. This in turn diminishes love, and a lack of love leads to absence and neglect.
Understanding sin is essential for us to be able to fully comprehend what the Lord has done for us. Remembering what the Lord has done for us brings gratitude and love. Again, to those who want the Church to de-emphasize sin, Jesus provides this warning: But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little (Luke 7:47).
That was the short version of my sermon, the “TV Mass” version, if you will. If you wish to ponder more, here is further commentary:
I. Rich Love – The Gospel today opens with a sign of extravagant love. The text says, A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.
There is disagreement as to the value of the ointment referred to in this passage. Some opine that the woman is wealthy on account of prostitution, and could thus afford an expensive ointment. That could be, but her tears were far more costly than any ointment. Her tears are the costliest thing in her life, born out of great pain and sorrow.
While many of her sorrows are likely the result of her own foolishness, that does not decrease her pain; rather, it increases it. Yes, the costliest thing with which she anoints the Lord’s feet is her tears. There is nothing more precious to the Lord than the love of His faithful, turning to Him in sorrow and repentance for their sins—no greater gift.
In Jesus’ day people ate a formal dinner while reclining on the floor, on a mat, on their left side. Their feet were behind them and they ate with their right hand. This explains the ability of the woman to approach Jesus’ feet from behind.
In this sense the woman is able to “surprise” Jesus with her love. Perhaps she is not ready to look upon His face and behold His holy countenance. She begins with His feet, the lowliest aspect of His sacred humanity. She humbles herself to serve the part of Him that most engages with our lowly earth. On his feet, even the Son of God has calluses, perhaps even a wound or two. Yes, there she sees reflected her own humility, sees her own calluses and wounds. There she discovers the first wounds that Our Savior endured for us, wounds that reflect that He knows what this world can do to a person.
She loves, sharing the incalculable gift of her sorrows: sorrow for her own sin and sorrow on account of others who have sinned against her. She finds a friend in Jesus, who, though sinless Himself, has suffered mightily on account of the sins of others and would suffer more.
Such love, such relief! And, as we shall see, her love is rooted in an experience of mercy. And her experience of mercy is rooted in a deep knowledge of her sinfulness. That experience has led her to deep gratitude for the love that the Lord had shown her. As we shall also see, her experience of the depths of God’s mercy is something we must all experience.
We, too, are called to go to the Lord in sorrow and love. What is the first thing we see when we look up from the foot of the cross? His feet. There, like the woman, we are called to love, to weep for our sins, and to remember His mercy for us.
II. Rebuke – When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”
This is a dangerous comparison. The Pharisee accounts himself and others to be better or more holy than she. He seems to have no idea that he is also in need of grace and mercy.
There is a great risk in thinking that we can get to Heaven merely by being better than someone else. That is not the standard. The standard to reach Heaven is to be like Jesus. If we truly internalize that, it’s obvious that we are all going to need a lot of grace and mercy to even stand a chance! Yes, to this Pharisee and to some of us, the cry must go out, “Danger (Will Robinson)!”
The danger for us is one that prevents us from experiencing God’s grace, mercy, and love. The danger is our prideful presumption that we are less needy than others who are more sinful.
While it is true that on a strictly human level some have sins that are more serious than those of others, from the divine standpoint we are all poor beggars who don’t stand a chance in comparison to God, who is perfection and pure holiness. Even if I were to have $500 while you had only $50, the true value necessary to be able to endure God’s holiness would be closer to $500 trillion! Any differences that may exist between you and me are nothing in comparison to the boatloads of grace and mercy we will each need to ever hope to see God.
The Pharisee’s exasperation is born out of blindness to his own sin. Being blind in this way, his heart is ill-equipped to love or even to experience love. He has no sense at all that he even needs it! His sense is that he has earned God’s love and that God somehow owes him. But God does not owe him. The Pharisee’s only hope is grace, love, and mercy from God.
Having no sense of his sin, the Pharisee smugly dismisses the woman’s action as reprehensible. He even considers Jesus naïve and of no account for accepting her love. Jesus is not naïve; the Pharisee ought to be rather more careful, since the measure with which he measures will be measured back to him. The Pharisee’s lack of mercy for the woman brings a standard of strict justice on him. He is badly misled, because he cannot endure this sort of justice.
III. Rejoinder – Jesus said to him in reply, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?” Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” He said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
This is the central point of this Gospel, a point we have too widely set aside today: to appreciate the glory of the good news we must first lay hold of the bad news. We must grasp the depths of our sinfulness in order to appreciate the height of God’s love and mercy.
In this modern age, which minimizes sins and says, in effect, “I’m OK; you’re OK,” there is little understanding of the enormity of sin. And thus there is little appreciation for the glory of God’s steadfast love and mercy.
Jesus could not be clearer. Until we recognize the “bill” for our sins and grasp that we cannot even come close to paying it, we will make light of mercy and consider the gift of salvation that was earned for us with His blood as of little or no account.
How tragic it is, then, that many in the Church have stopped preaching about sin. The effect, as was mentioned above, has been to minimize love and to empty our churches. Knowledge of our sin, if such knowledge is of the Holy Spirit, leads to love. In this Gospel, Jesus points to the woman as a picture of what is necessary.
IV. Remembrance – Jesus points to the woman and says, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
Yes, behold her love, a love that is the fruit of a recognition of what the Lord has done for her. She knows and remembers that she has been forgiven much. What the Lord has done for her is fixed in her mind, and she is grateful and different because of it.
This is the heart of what it means to remember. Has not the Lord told us to remember what He has done for us? Indeed, He says it at every Mass: “Do this in remembrance of me.” What does it mean to remember? It means to have so present in your mind and heart what the Lord has done for you that you are grateful and different because of it.
This woman cannot forget what Jesus has done for her. She remembers, she is grateful, and she is different.
We, too, must be willing to go to the foot of the cross and to let it dawn on us what the Lord has done for us, to let it dawn on us so that we are grateful and different, so that we are moved to love for the Lord and for others.
Go with me to the foot of the cross and pray:
Foul and festering are my sores,
at the face of my own foolishness.
I am stooped and turned deeply inward
And I walk about, all the day in sorrow.
I am afflicted and deeply humiliated
I groan in the weeping of my heart.
Before you O Lord are all my desires,
And my weeping is not hid from you.
My hearts shudders, my strength forsakes me,
And the very light itself has gone from my eyes (Psalm 38).
It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we can begin to comprehend His mercy. It is there in the shadow of our own sins that the power of His mercy breaks through our broken and humbled hearts.
I Love the Lord for he has heard
The voice of my lamentation.
For he turned his ear to me
On the day I called to him!
The lines of death had surrounded me,
And the anguish of Hell had found me.
In my tribulation and sorrow I called on the Lord,
“O Lord save my soul!”
Ah, The Lord is merciful and just,
Our God has had mercy!
The Lord guards his little ones.
I was humbled and he saved me!
Be turned back my soul to your rest,
My eyes, from tears, and my feet from slipping!
For I will walk in the presence of the Lord,
In the land of the living (Psalm 116).
Always remember what the Lord has done for you. Go to the foot of the cross. Let the Lord show you what he Has done for you. Always remember; never forget. If you do, you will be grateful and different.
Yes, remember what the Lord has done for you. That is, let what the Lord has done for you be so present in your mind and heart that you are grateful and you are different.
9 Replies to “Always Remember – A Homily for the 11th Sunday of the Year”
How about putting sin into perspective by reading what the saints have said about the “fewness of those saved”.
When our Lord was asked how many were saved He did not respond with a number, though He surely knew it.
It is not our business to tally up how many are saved, but to make sure our own pride and arrogance don’t cast us into Hell. Mercy is the only thing that will save any of us.
Well, OK, just so long as we don’t try to make “many” mean few as some do today.
We will all find out the number when we are standing in the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Until then I think it best not to speculate.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Thank you for this teaching.
Yes, I believe you are right and it is absolutely necessary that we are conscious of the depths from which we are saved by Jesus’ Sacrifice. Then we will not only be drawn to Jesus because of the greatness of His love for us, but probably we will also run away from sin because we will get an unpleasant glimpse of the bottomless pit where we might be if not for the Sacrifice that has saved us.
I think, it is not only that we have made light of sin and therefore we do not much value of what we have been saved from, but also, that on the other hand we have lost the sense of the Divinity of God. He (God) is now “you” to us…i.e. almost at our level…. We address Him as such, we “worship” Him in churches and during the Mass where the emphasis is on us – i.e. we must like the singing, we must like the services, we must incorporate diversity, we must feel comfortable, our laws and rights (i.e. equality of men and women) must be reflected in worship to Him, our “weakness” must be taken care of (a glass of water drunk by the celebrant or by members of the congregation during Mass or the cleansing of the chalice and sacred vessels after Holy Communion, being done by the Extraordinary Minister while the celebrant sits and rests…etc). Hence we “worship” God in an atmosphere that hardly proclaims He is God, except by lip-service. Hence, why would His Sacrifice be thought of by us (either the laity or the clergy) as being something more than that of a good and heroic person …. a firefighter who dies fighting a fire perhaps, or a brave soldier who gives up his life for his comrades in a battle? Those, we remember with gratitude, by monuments, and by public remembrances, once a year or so and as the years go by, the remembrance becomes a mere formality and therefore, will the effect of this Sacrifice be any different?
And don’t forget yet another insidious factor playing softly in the background – the Church hierarchy, right from the very top itself speaks with many voices – conveying the impression of the Catholic Faith being “organic” and therefore something that can be moulded to the times … and we know that the present times openly demand that what is sinful, be treated as acceptable. So why would we feel the weight of sin which is soon to be “not-sin”? Given that such a way out is available and being taught as doctrine, why can anyone reasonably expect that the ordinary Catholic will choose to dwell on the immensity of sin and the corresponding immensity of God’s Act of sacrifice that has saved us from the consequence of sin? Add to this, other voices which say that hell is not a place of burning fire and gnashing teeth that sinners will be condemned to, but it is merely a state of mind; which of us laity really believes that a state of mind is not tolerable?
It is the time of personal commitment to God – a time when each of us must know the Faith by personally searching for it, by asking God to make it clear to us. It is a time when we use age-old ways of inculcating behaviours – we, as parents, taught our children to do good things repetitively – like greeting elders respectfully, being courteous to others, etc in the sure knowledge that by doing those “good” acts repetitively, they would become a way of life for our children. Thus we must now read the Bible regularly, pray regularly, say the Rosary regularly, attend Mass regularly, all with the intention of inculcating proper worship of God as being something that is necessary in a relationship with God, and for sure, He will see our efforts and open our hearts and minds to the truth and also to the enormity of the consequences of sin and thus to a desire to be closer to Him and avoid sin at all costs.
One other thing, ……in my opinion, the clergy itself has little faith. One of the reasons that sin has been made light of, especially by the clergy is because, among other things, they apply their own reasoning and believe that the laity will turn away and not attend Church if what is preached there is something that is harsh, condemning, and unpleasant to hear. So they hardly preach about sin, and if they do, it is in mild terms. In fact, there is hardly any mention of sin in most of their homilies and spiritual discourses. But, isn’t it true that they do not rely on God’s power, that if they preach the truth, as it is and as they are required to, God will take care of the rest? In fact, I have seen Churches and attend retreats where what was preached was hellfire and damnation and I know what I have felt on hearing the truth and what other Catholics felt by attending such Churches and retreats as I interacted with many of them. But the clergy of today are not the same as the clergy of old and are largely faint of heart. Or could it be that these lines of thought (about the mildness of that thing called “sin”) could have been learnt in the seminaries where they were formed?
I can’t resist adding this… Does anyone remember the word “penance” apart from something given during the Sacrament of Reconciliation? In days of old, the Church taught us to do penance, especially during Lent, to make sacrifices, etc… One does not hear these things preached or discussed any more. Perhaps our Church leaders feel that the Church has “organically” outgrown these things, even though no less a Heavenly Personage than the Virgin Mary called for penance and sacrifice …”….pray much and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to hell because there is no one to make sacrifices for them”.
It’s easy to listen to Jesus’ words to the Pharisee and side with Him in a negative judgement, seeing how harsh and judgemental the Pharisee was.
But what of this:
I would never, ever go into a gay bar for entertainment. I don’t look at porno, or go to movies anymore, since the immorality portrayed in them is abhorrent to me. I hardly watch any T.V. since capital sins like adultery, fornication, greed, sloth and envy are portrayed as not only enjoyable but justifiable.
Now, I imagine myself in 32 A.D., listening to Jesus as He is traveling the countryside, having heard of Him, having heard a little of what He preaches, still not sure of who He is, still trying to discern if He is a Prophet (at least), let alone the Messiah. I invite Him to my house for dinner, wanting to get a better feel for Him, trying to discern. And while He is with me a gay man, a transvestite, comes up to Jesus and begins to fawn on Him, hugging Him and kissing His hand, looking into His eyes with great joy. Would I be appalled? Would I act like the Pharisee in the story, thinking “Surely Jesus can see what sort of man this is. Why does He keep company with such as these? How can He really be a holy man if He consorts with the likes of these kinds of people, people I know better than to associate with?”
Am I a Pharisee?
I am if I don’t look deeper – that Jesus’ mission is to convert these, to save them, not to affirm them in their sin. What the Pharisee missed about the woman was the change in her: her tears, her acts of love, indicating deep remorse for her lifestyle, and deep desire to stop. He missed Jesus’ acceptance of that remorse as a sign that she had converted and would stop living a life of sin.
The expectation Jesus would have of the gay transvestite was that he throw off those garments, and convert in his heart, healed of what caused him to act in such a way, and begin a new life. His hugs, kisses, and joyful looks at Jesus indicate he will do so.
In my love of neighbor, I must always be ready to see when someone has even the smallest amount of remorse and repentance, and forgive them totally and abundantly at that moment, bathing them with mercy and love. The error of the Pharisee here, in my opinion, is that he judged harshly in spite of signs of remorse. And Jesus helps him to see that his job as a man of God is to be the conduit of God’s mercy to those who wish to be forgiven.
Thank you Monsignor. Sent this to a couple people. Part II was especially good for me.
After reading this blog, may I say Thank you for hearing the call of the Lord. I thank you for becoming a priest and sharing your gifts with the
laity. You are a great blessing from God in these times of great trouble. Again, Thank you, Monsignor for hearing God’s call! May He continue to bless you and all who read your wonderful explanations of The Word.
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