22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time B

As Fr. Tim and I were coming home from vacation, slowly grappling with the idea that we both had to preach this weekend, I read aloud the Gospel to Fr. Tim who said the list of what defiles given by Jesus always intrigued him.  I get that. They don’t seem to go together.  There are some things on the list that are tangible, something that any one of us would look at as sin – unchastity, theft, murder, adultery and blasphemy.  But then some of the other qualities on the list are intangible such as evil thoughts, greed, malice, arrogance and folly.  And this caused me to think about my golf game.  Just let me take my six iron out to explain.

Somehow, I got worse every time I played this vacation.  What defiles my game, my original swing sin, is the same thing every time. I lift up with the right side of my body and causing me to come down too steep, leading me to top the ball.  I share this with you for two reasons.  If you can help me, please see me after mass. Secondly, I know what I am doing wrong, but I cannot stop it.  It seems to me the problem is not that I am lifting up, but that am I lifting up due to something else I am doing wrong.  What am I doing that causes me to make the same mistake time after time?

You see it is just like sin.  We do the same thing over and over and we don’t know why we do so.  The answer must lie in what our sin is rooted in.  None of us wants to sin. We are good people, we want to act accordingly.  Nobody plans on sinning.  You woke up this morning and made a plan for the day. We will go to the 10am mass, then maybe we will have breakfast out and then do whatever else is planned.   Who said and then o, yeah, and at 11:15 I will commit a venial sin.

As Catholics we make an examination of conscience.  We survey our lives and identify the times we have failed to follow God’s will.  But rather than a broad look at our lives, what if we went deeper.  What if we tried to identify the motives and attitudes behind our sins?  To do so, we simply have to act like a three year old.  When you answer a question from a three year old, what do they immediately ask? “Why?”  We must do the same.

Let’s look at a common sin – lying. We all lie. You lie, l lie (well I mean I am not lying now.)  But why do we lie?  I want a person not to think negatively of me.  Why?  Because I need to project a certain reality of myself that is different than I am.  Why?  Because if people really knew who I am, I fear they would reject me. Now we are really getting to the heart of the matter.

Or how about gossip.  Priests are the worst gossips.  It must be due to the fact that there is not enough going on in our lives. So we gossip.  Why? Because I am interested in knowing something that perhaps I should not.  Why? Perhaps I have obtained some kind of power over someone.  Why is that important?  Perhaps I can use that for my advantage.  Why?  Because I feel threatened by the other and this is a kind of protection.  Why?  Because I am insecure about my standing in life?  Why?  Because I am insecure about myself.   There lies the fear that underlies the action.

Once we know what the fault truly is, we can correct it – change our attitudes, change our behaviors.  Ultimately, I will not swing the golf club any better unless I take a lesson from someone who swings better than I do.  If I want to stop sinning, I have to get a lesson from the one person who never sinned – Jesus Christ.

The great German theologian Karl Rahner once explained that the most divine thing about Jesus is that he completely, wholly and unreservedly understood how much his Father loved him.  There was never a doubt in his mind and his soul that God’s grace filled every inch of his soul.  And that is why he never sinned.

There are many manifestations of sins, but what moves us are perhaps only a few.  Envy, pride and above all fear.  But if we truly knew how loved we are as Jesus knew, if we could trust God as God trusted, if we could see ourselves as beautiful and strong as God sees us, would we ever succumb to sin?  Why would be envious if we knew how blessed we are by God.  How could we be jealous of anyone?  Why would we have to suffer from pride when in all humility we could know that our glory comes from God and it can never be taken away?  And finally, what is there to fear if we knew we are going to live forever?

Sin is an enemy that we constantly confront and too often fail too.  But sin has an enemy it cannot overcome. The grace of God – that pure, free gift of perfect love which fills every fiber of our being is stronger than the forces that lead us toward sin.  Perfect love drives our all fear.  We have been loved beyond our sins by the very grace of God.