Homily for the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“Who but God alone can forgive sins?”  This statement of the scribes in today’s Gospel is true, but why is it true?  Why is it that only God can forgive sin?  Sin, at its root, is a turning away from God and a rejection of the law that He has written on my heart.  Scripture tells us that the wages of sin is death, and of course the death referred to is spiritual death, not just physical death.  Through the sin of our First Parents, physical death entered into the world, but God told Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed Him and ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil they would die on that day.  They lived for several generations after being cast out of the garden, so the death that they died that day was not physical death, but rather spiritual.  Because of the original sin, death is part and parcel of our lot as human beings.  None of us can escape death.  Even worse than that, however, is the separation from God that is caused by sin: as seen by Adam and Eve being cast out from the garden–they lost the friendship of God, they were separated from Him on account of their sin.

God desires to share His divine life with us: He created us to know Him, and to love Him and to be united with Him.  He does not, however, force us to share in His divine life.  Jesus Christ became one of us to free us from sin and death and to offer us abundant, supernatural life.  But it is an offer that we are able to refuse.  When we were baptized, we received the Holy Spirit: we began to share in God’s divine life.  When we sin we reject God, we push Him away.  Sin damages or destroys our relationship with God, depending on how grave the sin is.  Mortal sin is the spiritual death of the soul because sin is the rejection of God and therefore a rejection of His divine life within us.

To answer the question asked at the beginning, then, why is it that only God can forgive sins, it is because only God can restore His divine life to us.  When I sin against my neighbor, I act against the love that God calls me to have towards them.  Even if my neighbor forgives me, I still need God’s forgiveness: I still need to be reconciled with Him.

Jesus Christ proved His divinity by proving to have the authority to forgive sins.  In today’s Gospel Our Lord first forgave the man’s sins and then, to prove that He had this divine power to forgive sins, He commanded the man who was paralyzed to get up and walk and the man was miraculously restored to health.  Christ also shares His authority to forgive sins with His Apostles (the first leaders of the Church: the first bishops and priests) by breathing the Holy Spirit upon them.  After the Resurrection, Our Lord appeared to the Apostles in the upper room and breathed on them saying “receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive will be forgiven them.”

The Holy Spirit was given to the Apostles to give them the authority to forgive sins because through sin it is the Holy Spirit that is pushed away by the sinner.  The prayer of Absolution that the priest prays over the person who comes to Confession alludes to this: the priest says “God the Father of mercies, through the death and Resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.”  Sin damages or cuts off our relationship with God.  The Sacrament of Confession restores and heals that broken relationship.

In order to grow closer to God (which is the very purpose of our existence) we have to detach our hearts from sin.  The first and greatest commandment is to love God above all things.  When we sin, we put something or someone ahead of our love for God.  We know that we are supposed to love God above all else, and we often have the experience that sin leaves us empty and unhappy, yet it is hard for us to give up sin.  We have a weak, fallen human nature that is inclined towards sin.  We need divine assistance in overcoming sin.

Lent starts this coming Wednesday.  Lent is a time of year given to us by the Church to help us overcome sin.  During Lent the traditional practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving help us to grow in self-discipline so that we can overcome temptation and sin.  Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence.  Abstinence means not eating meat and it is required of everyone who is over the age of 14.  We are to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday as well as on all Fridays of Lent.  Fasting is also required on Ash Wednesday of all from the age of 18 through the age of 59.  On a day of fasting, one meal is permitted and one or two smaller meals may be taken if needed.  The sum of the two smaller meals should not be more than the full meal.  That is the minimum.  Fasting helps us grow in self-control; it is also a way to imitate Our Lord, Who Himself fasted.

Fasting from something for forty days or giving up something for Lent is probably the most widely known Catholic Lenten practice.  It is good to deny ourselves legitimate pleasures so that we can more easily say “no” to temptation when it arises.  Extra prayer is another thing that many do for Lent.  During Lent it is particularly good to meditate on the Passion of Our Lord.  Meditating on all that Our Lord suffered to redeem us reminds us that Salvation is freely offered, but it was not free: it cost God His Only Begotten Son.  Finally, almsgiving is recommended.  Acts of charity help us to overcome selfishness (which is the root of most of our sin).  Almsgiving, acts of charity help us to turn our focus away from ourselves and on to others.  Remember, Our Lord has said: “What you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me.”

If you don’t already have a plan in place for Lent, it would be good to begin thinking about it.  Use this Lent to focus in on one sin or fault that you know that you need to overcome.  Direct your prayer, fasting and acts of charity to obtaining the grace and self-control to overcome that sin or fault.  The more we rid our hearts of sin and attachment to sin, the more we make room for God.  Let us use this Lent to make of our hearts an ever more suitable dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.

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