Knowing the Bad News Unlocks the Good News

Christ in the House of Simon, Dirk Bouts (1440)

Some people 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 decades, and yet 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 the Gospel for Thursday of this week (the 24th week in Ordinary Time), 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? 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 our debt of sin is no longer preached about the way it should be and thus we are less aware of the gravity of our condition. This diminishes love, and a lack of love leads to neglect and absence.

Understanding sin is essential to fully comprehending 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).

Let’s take a brief look at Thursday’s Gospel:

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. 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.”

Here is a woman imbued with sorrow for her sins and joy at the Lord’s mercy. 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! The Pharisee’s only hope is grace, love, and mercy from God.

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.”

The central point of this Gospel is that 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 “I’m OK; you’re OK,” world, there is little understanding of the enormity of sin and thus 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 either stopped preaching about sin or preach only about selected sins. The effect 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.

7 Replies to “Knowing the Bad News Unlocks the Good News”

  1. All too true Father. Thankyou for putting it out there in black and white. Sin does dull the mind, which then leads to forgetfulness of all the points you raise – the enormity of our debt, and consequently of ungratefulness.
    Though I try to make reparation (knowing no matter how long I live or what I do it can never repay my debt), I am hoping for God’s mercy towards myself and for all.
    This lack of preaching on sin I think has caused a type of “it’s no big deal/not that bad” attitude which can possibly lead to complaisance in trying to co-operate with Gods grace and “sin no more”.
    So I wonder if the thinking may be that if it’s no big deal, then why worry about it/all’s good, why do I need the Church/sacraments after all “they’re all venial sins”? Even though we are supposed to strive to be “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.”
    Even venial sins incur temporal punishment and must be paid for either in this life or in purgatory assuming they too are repented of.
    Thankfully, love/charity covers a multitude of sin (if I remember that right).

  2. Empty Churches….I remember just after coming back to the Church being really worried about a local Pastor, he was just so charismatic and Catholics were leaving for his particular Church in groves, he loved Jesus, he preached the gospel, he was strong, a real man of God to young people and I was alarmed he and his world wide type assembly was going to surpass the Church, I even listen to him regularly and like his sermons, his Church was overflowing as I got closer to our blessed Mother I didn’t like the stabs once in awhile towards her so I took a few books to his office and left them
    with his secretary since he wasn’t in, he didn’t become a Catholic and gradually I grew in my faith. Sermons definitely can have overflowing Churches especially like the pastor who preached with power on sin, on heaven, on the Lord being the Lord of your life, I was really hoping he would convert because he converted so many Catholics with preaching and a Church that you couldn’t keep the young people out with real conversions and change of lifestyle, he had real results, no doubt but problems as with all congregations. If he was preaching, it was to masses of people ,so preachers can definitely fill up the pews with the gospel, a priest who had a great influence on me was more effective in the classroom setting. So many different ways to reach people especially when in love with the Lord and his Church. So many groups, so many out reaches, so many witnesses are reaching souls throughout the world with many sacrificing their very life for the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, we are called to build up the Body where the Lord has called us and to partake of the one Bread, the one Sacrifice in union of hearts and spirit.

  3. The trouble lies in getting people to understand often why we feel bad is due to sin. Days you feel like the world is out to get you usually have a lot to do with sin, yours or someone else’s. You see, the effects of sin are not just personal – they spread out like a plague to those around us. Sin has many ill effects, not just the obvious “you’ll go to hell” consequence. Sin makes you stupid, paranoid, selfish, lazy, boorish, etc. And in doing that, sin makes you hurt others, whether you mean to or not.

    My take on all this – if we are preaching about sin, then we must double down on preaching about forgiveness alongside it. Forgiveness is the strongest weapon we have to fight evil. But we can’t just talk about it, we must do it. All day, every day. Forgive the guy who cut you off in traffic. Forgive your kids for not getting out of bed and off to school on time. Forgive yourself for the myriad of flaws you see when you look inside. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself – it frees you from the effects of the sins committed against you. It does not free the offender, that comes through repentance.

    THE MOST important thing about forgiveness is that in order for it to work, there has to have been an offense to forgive. For if there is no sin, then there is nothing to forgive. This is why people balk at the sin homilies. The devil can’t beat forgiveness, so instead through fear, pride, or whatever he gets us to deny sin exists. And if we have nothing to forgive, then we lose the most powerful weapon God has given us to fight evil, causing us to continue to distance ourselves from Love. Hence the empty pews.

  4. Agreed. Also, Jesus reveals to us through His Disciple John (chapter 8) that if we’d like to be set free from the bondage of sin, Satan, and spiritual death, it’s the “Truth” that sets a man free.

    John 8: 31* Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32* and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

    The only thing that will ever set us free is the FULLNESS OF TRUTH! Half truths are simply lies. Lies will keep people mired down in the muck and the mud of slavery to the devil. The devil told Eve she could become like God. She can, by God’s grace. NOT BY DISOBEDIENCE BASED ON LIES! God desires to make us more like Himself – perfect. Without the fullness of God’s perfect, beautiful, good Truth his people perish for lack of knowledge. We end up going off our feelings which are the lowest faculties of the soul.

  5. So true, Father. Back when I was in seminary to become a pastor (Lutheran, then, I’ve now returned to the Catholic Church), we were very clearly and strongly told
    “don’t talk about sin and that people are sinners. They already know that. Just stick with the gospel.” But I always protested – people don’t KNOW they are sinners, for the most part, because we never mention it. And the one’s who are aware, never think theirs is so bad. Humans have a very masterful skill of self-justification… a concept that certainly should not have been lost on any of us, especially professors/pastors in a Lutheran seminary.

  6. People who were forgiven the most love the most, so Mary must have been forgiven the most of all, since she loves God the most of any creature. But she didn’t sin, so being held back from original sin and all subsequent sins by grace must be a type of forgiveness. I know St Therese said something to that effect about herself, and it would apply to Mary far, far, far more.

  7. Coincidently, I’m currently reading a fine old book from Cardinal Archbishop Edward Manning that was written in the late 1800’s called. “Sin and It’s Consequences.” In my opinion it deserves to be a spiritual classic up there with “Imitation of Christ” and “The Spiritual Combat.” It was written in an age when popular modern philosophers were first openly denying the existence of sin, thus lessening the sense of sin among the common populace. Now, of course, it is conventional wisdom that sin and holiness are either fictions or entirely relative, but the bad news about sin remains the same.

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