Fr. Britto's Blog

Sinfulness and Forgiveness

On any given day we are bombarded by thousands of messages. They come at us from everywhere. We do not even have time to process them all. Most of them fall by the wayside but a few catch our attention. Only very few continue to dominate our consciousness and life. Even as Catholics we hear so many things but how many do we hold on in our daily life? There is one truth we should always keep before our minds. That truth is pure and simple: All of us are sinners, but our God offers His forgiveness without question.

There is a story in the Gospel of Luke who records for us an encounter between Jesus and a sinful woman. The evangelist does not name her. Luke has more stories about women than any other gospel. He portrays women in a positive light and it is in his gospel that Mary emerges as the first and best disciple. In this particular story in chapter 7, he contrasts two individuals: Simon, the Pharisee, and the sinful woman. In the eyes of the respectable guests at that dinner Simon was the man of good repute who was worthy to sit at table with Jesus. The woman, on the other hand, had a bad reputation in that town. She was not even worthy to stand in the presence of that exalted group.

Touched by the woman’s courageous gestures of love, Jesus forgives her. She acknowledges herself as a sinner and as a result, she receives forgiveness. Moved by Jesus’ forgiveness, she loves Him all the more. In contrast, Simon does not consider himself to be in need of forgiveness and hence he is unmoved by sitting at table with Him. Not recognizing how much the Lord was ready to forgive, he fails to feel any love for Him. In the encounter of these two opposing individuals, the words of the Master ring true: “He who is forgiven little, loves little.” In other words, our path to grow in our love for the Lord lies in our recognition of ourselves as sinners and in our realization that we have been forgiven much, very much.

That is why great saints saw themselves as great sinners. They were not pretending; they were speaking the truth just as they saw it. When King David acknowledged his great sin before Prophet Nathan, he wrote that immortal Psalm 51 which strikes at the heart of true repentance. Every one of us is capable of praying the words that David wrote: “Have mercy on me, O God, in your kindness, and blot out my offence. My sin is always before me. Create in me a clean heart, O God!” Paul who persecuted the Church before his dramatic conversion wrote again and again in his letters: “I am not worthy to be called an apostle.” The great St Francis of Assisi said: “There is nowhere a more wretched and a more miserable sinner than I.” He meant those words and he was not saying them for dramatic effect or for other people’s sympathy.

When Pope Francis was asked in that historic interview at the beginning of his pontificate “Who is Pope Francis?” he simply replied, “I am a sinner.” He said those words out of conviction. We are all sinners. The older I get, the more I am aware of my own sins and failures. At the same time, I am also ever more convinced of God’s mercy and goodness towards me. I am certain that if I have any goodness in me at all, it is all due to His grace, not my doing.

The declaration of our sinfulness is not meant to get us bogged down by guilt or to make us hang our heads in shame. It beckons us to lift our gaze towards heaven, towards the hill of Calvary where the Son of God categorically offered forgiveness to all. The cross of Christ asserts that no sin of man is greater than God’s love, that in Jesus our sins are washed away. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Within such a perspective, the Sacrament of Reconciliation becomes less about ourselves and more about God. Confession is no longer the Express Laundromat where we rush in to have our dirty linen cleaned. It is about encountering the mercy of God in the person of Jesus Christ. It is not about becoming “more perfect” but about delighting in the Lord’s unquestioning offer of pardon and about growing in our love for this God.

John Newton, a former slave driver, became a preacher of the gospel. He is gratefully remembered for the unforgettable hymn that he wrote. The first lines of that hymn move us every time we sing:

     Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!

     I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.

     'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved;

     How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.

     Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come;

     'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.

Let us join with the sinful woman of Luke’s gospel as we profess our deep love for our Savior because we have been forgiven much. Let us stand shoulder to shoulder with the great sinners who became great saints – Peter, the apostles, Paul, Augustine, Day, and Merton – and thank our Lord for His “amazing grace.”

May this truth enable us to enter fully into Lent which begins next week!

Who is Fr. Britto?

Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.

After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...

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