Thursday, May 23, 2013

“A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.”

“The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself.” - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (The Brothers Karamazov)

Scripture Text: (SIR 5:1-8)

Rely not on your wealth;

say not: “I have the power.”

Rely not on your strength

in following the desires of your heart.

Say not: “Who can prevail against me?”

or, “Who will subdue me for my deeds?”

for God will surely exact the punishment.

Say not: “I have sinned, yet what has befallen me?”

for the Most High bides his time.

Of forgiveness be not overconfident,

adding sin upon sin.

Say not: “Great is his mercy;

my many sins he will forgive.”

For mercy and anger alike are with him;

upon the wicked alights his wrath.

Delay not your conversion to the LORD,

put it not off from day to day.

For suddenly his wrath flames forth;

at the time of vengeance you will be destroyed.

Rely not upon deceitful wealth,

for it will be no help on the day of wrath.

“Surely the Lord understands.” How often have you thought this way about a temptation you were dealing with? “God is compassionate. He knows how hard it is for me to overcome this sin. I shouldn’t be so tough on myself.” While there may be some truth to statements like these, today’s first reading at Mass (SIR 5:1-8) offers a necessary balance. And while it is a classic example of dramatic overstatement, today’s Gospel reading strengthens Sirach’s words: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Mark 9:43).

Both of today’s readings tell us that sin is serious and that God takes it seriously. Yes, he is our loving, merciful Father. But we shouldn’t let this truth reduce our image of God to some kind of jovial, easygoing caretaker. Like any good father, he has high expectations of his children. He knows our weaknesses, but he also expects us to try our hardest to overcome them. He expects us to work with him as he seeks to conform us to the image of his Son.

We all have difficult areas of our lives. Maybe you have a bad temper. Or maybe you find it hard not to be critical of certain types of people. What is your disposition toward those challenges? If you are seriously trying to work on them, if you are regularly confessing them when you fall, and if you are actively seeking God’s grace to overcome them, then you can be one-hundred percent confident of God’s mercy. If, on the other hand, you have a casual attitude about sin, if you dismiss it as “no big deal,” then something needs to change.

Today’s readings ask us to examine our attitudes, both toward sin and toward God’s mercy. Do you take God for granted? Do you tend to gloss over your sins? Jesus doesn’t really want you to cut off your hand or pluck out your eye. But he does want you to stop grasping at temptation, and he does want you to shield your eyes from sinful things. His mercy is meant to help you do just that—not simply to pardon your faults.

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