Our Loving and Forgiving God

03-04-2018From the Pastor's DeskRev. Msgr. Ellsworth R. Walden

Our society has a great need to speak about the faults of others. Look at the news on TV or in the newspapers. There is much more pointing out faults and the evil that is done by human beings than is speaking about the good that is done every day.

We began the season of Lent by having ashes placed on our foreheads and being told: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” We were not told to avoid the sins of others or to stop talking about them, but to look into our own hearts to see where we need to turn away from our personal sins. Most of us do not commit sins or do evil that would make headlines in the news, but whenever we sin we become far less than we are capable of being.

p>In the first reading at daily Mass a week ago Friday we heard these words from the prophet Ezekiel: “But if the wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live. He shall not die! None of the crimes he has committed shall be remembered against him; he shall live because of the justice he has shown. (18:21-23) What is so powerful about this brief passage is not the conversion of the wicked person from sin, but the attitude of hope and love God communicates: “Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked? Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live?” God did not create us so we would sin and go to hell for all eternity. He created us to live fully with Him as part of our lives in this world and to live with Him forever in heaven. Whenever we get wrapped up in the sins of others and participate in gossip or conversations that condemn and express ways to punish and get revenge, we lose our awareness and sense of God’s powerful forgiveness. Every day in the Our Father we pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This passage from Ezekiel makes it so clear that God takes absolutely no joy in punishing us for our sins and seeing us go to hell. His desire is that we will be enriched by his life giving mercy and love, not that we would act out of fear of punishment.

No one can say, “God could never forgive me.” The Bible over and over again gives us examples of those who have committed grave sins and are forgiven. One of the greatest examples is King David. He coveted the wife of one of his soldiers, committed adultery with her, got her pregnant, and then put a plan into place to have her husband killed in battle. King David, who had more than he recognized, gave in to temptation and sinned greatly. When confronted by the prophet Nathan, David admitted his sin and said he deserved death. But in 2 Samuel 12:13 it says, “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ Nathan answered David: ‘For his part, the LORD has removed your sin. You shall not die.’” The most powerful example of forgiveness is heard in the words of Jesus dying on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) The very people who plotted to kill Jesus, who had Him falsely arrested and sentenced to death for a crime He did not commit, who laughed and mocked Him on the cross, were stilled love by Him. The words from Ezekiel above rang loud and clear: “Do I find pleasure in the death of the wicked? Do I not rejoice when they turn from their evil way and live?” The words of St. Paul also echo these words from Ezekiel in Romans 5:8: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

Forgiveness is an integral part of love. None of us is perfect. But we are loved by others and by God anyway. God and those who know us see the good in our hearts. They forgive us for our faults and pick us up over and over again. Some of our sins are obvious to ourselves and others. Then there are those other ones we struggle with in the depths of our hearts. These are the sins where we do not take the initiative and hurt others, but we hurt them by not reaching out to them in their need, where we criticize but do not offer words of encouragement and hope, where we talk about their faults and ignore their good points. Yet, when we step back and look there is so much good in others as well as ourselves. In the fourth chapter of St. John’s Gospel we have the account of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus did not give in to the gossip about the woman married five times or the prejudice against Samaritans at that time. He simply saw a woman who was struggling with life. He not only let her know that He knew her life situation, He let her experience God’s love and forgiveness through Himself. What a beautiful passage about the power of love. We so easily build walls in our minds and hearts to protect ourselves from others: those we do not like, those who make demands we do not want to meet, and those we just do not want to deal with. Jesus built no walls to protect Himself from others, not even those who sought to have Him crucified. His is the love that never lost hope, the love that never drew the line for sacrifice. That is the love we not only reflect on during Lent, it is the love we are invited to experience in the Sacrament of Penance. Lent is called a penitential season, a time to do whatever we can to become more aware of God’s love for us and to be stronger in the way we live as His beloved sons and daughters in all we say and do each day.

As a priest I find great joy in celebrating the Sacrament of Penance with those who come to confess their sins. It is awesome and humbling to think that the words I or any other priest in this Sacrament speak are the words that shower the merciful love of Jesus Christ into the hearts of the one present. It is also good and life giving for me to hear those words when I confess my sins in this Sacrament of mercy. I conclude with these words from Psalm 51, a Psalm I pray every Friday in morning prayer: “Have mercy on me, O God, in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offense. O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. My offenses, truly I know them; my sin is always before me.... A pure heart create for me, O God, a steadfast spirit renew within me.... A humbled contrite heart you will not spurn.” I invite you this Lent to come and experience first hand the merciful love of God in this great Sacrament of Healing, the Sacrament of Penance.

Fr. Wald