16 January 2011 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 49: 3-6; Psalm 40; 1 Cor 1:1-3; John 1:29-34
I am not a stranger to make-up. Growing up in theater means having to use cosmetics in every show. People use eyeliners and foundations to exhibit a perfect look. Some people are even so attached to cosmetics that they have already believed that their made-up face is what they actually looked like.
This is what we do when we sin. We put make-up on what we have done so that the gravity of our sins are watered down. We joke about sin, downplay it, or deny it. Students now say that they don’t cheat, but they ‘share’ their answers so that their classmates will not suffer the consequences of failure. They have made cheating a form of charity.
Or they would justify cheating with ‘I am like everyone else. Who among us, at some point in our lives, didn’t cheat?’ We use different ‘cosmetics’ to cover up our sins, until one day, the sins we commit, do not matter anymore. Until they become ‘normal’ and part of ordinary culture. Proof: graft and corruption. It is commonly accepted that when you want a government official to give you priority, you have to ‘contribute’ something.
No one wants to admit that they have killed unborn children. They would say that they have terminated a pregnancy or they have removed an unwanted fetus. To make it sound clinical is to remove the cold-bloodedness of the very act of murder.
The consequence of this is a growing claim that we are less sinful. And when we are less sinful, we don’t need forgiveness. Why would we ask for forgiveness when, to our mind, we are not in the wrong because every one is doing it? And when we do not need forgiveness, then we do not need God who forgives.
People say that the greatest sin is not what we’ve committed: it is to commit sin and then to deny it. I believe this is what is meant when we teach that the sin against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable. The Holy Spirit helps us confess to God, to our brothers and sisters, and to ourselves that we have sinned through our own faults, in thoughts, in words and in deeds. Does this sound familiar at the Penitential Rite? When we don’t admit that we have sinned, then there is ‘nothing to forgive.’ And the Spirit’s act to reconcile us with God becomes futile.
The thing is: we find it difficult to accept our sinfulness. Acceptance will destroy our self-image as utterly perfect and righteous. We are afraid that if we show our blemishes, we will be rejected. We will become vulnerable.
Kilian McDonnell says, “Many people do not recognize Christ because they do not recognize themselves as sinners. If I am not a sinner, then I have no need for Christ. No man will celebrate the mystery of Christ in joy if he does not first recognize in sorrow that he is a sinner who needs a Savior.” Commonweal magazine (1 August 1970)
But John the Baptist tells us in the Gospel today, that we will be fine. He points, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” He beholds the Lord. He tells us to keep our gaze on Jesus. And therefore, it is okay to admit our faults because He will remove our shame. John assures us of total acceptance and love; in fact, John tells us that we will not disintegrate in the hands of the Lord. On the contrary, we will find ourselves and be made whole.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is made available for all of us who are disintegrating because of our sins. It is a sacrament of healing, and not of rash judgment. It is about forgiveness, and not punishment. What is tragic is that we do not take advantage of this Sacrament. To Catholics, the Sacrament is a grace given by God. There is a venue for us to palpably feel forgiven and at the same time, guided in our spiritual life.
This is part of the absolution formula that the confessor-priest says, “Through the ministry of the Church, may God grant you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The penitent should come out of confession feeling pardoned and at peace!
This Sunday, it is important then to behold the Lord at all times. To the Lord, our natural self is more important than the image we project. It would be more profitable if we reflect on the various cosmetics we use that prevent us from appreciating who we really are, warts and all.