18th Sunday after Pentecost 18.9.16 Sorrow for sin
The sick man has his sins forgiven, and is restored to health.
Once again we see in action the abundant mercy of God, restoring a person to a new beginning.
We are encouraged to trust in God's mercy. The prayers of the Church, prayers of the Mass, and prayers used in private, are constantly asking for that mercy.
We are taught that God is infinitely merciful; that He will forgive any sin, that He goes looking for lost sheep (Lk 15,1-7); that He runs to meet the returning sinner (Lk 15,20). All this would make one think that salvation must be an easy matter.
But on the other hand, the same sources warn us that God will punish sinners, and that punishment might even be eternal (Hell). Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ (Mt 25,41)
Is He going to forgive us or punish us? The key is how sorry we are for our sins. It is not so much the size of the sin as the size of the sorrow!
Sorrow is not something that can be measured as a quantity. I might think I am sorry, or hope I am, but not really be so. Only God would know the true state of my heart and mind.
It could be just fear that makes me say I am sorry, but I might really be still attached to the sin.
If we go to the Sacrament of Confession, it is a pre-requisite that we have firm purpose of amendment, sincerely intending not to commit the same sin again.
We can build up true sorrow by meditation on the malice of the sin; on the harm that it does; on the goodness of God; on the ingratitude which continuing sin reveals. We can make various devotions and prayers which will help us to see things in a clearer light.
We could, for example, consider the sufferings of Our Lord as He approaches Calvary; the sorrows of Our Lady as she sees all this; we are hurting her as well.
Sin is not something that can be casually dismissed.
The fact that forgiveness is so readily available could lead to its being cheapened – as when a free event might not be taken as seriously as one where we have to pay to be admitted.
We need to realize the largeness of both the sin and the mercy.
All sin (even lesser sin) offends the Infinite Majesty of God; this all the more underlines the immensity of His mercy, which is ready to forgive any sin.
If we grasp that sin is large and mercy is large, we are more likely to reach a sufficient level of sorrow to make us grateful, and determined not to re-offend.
We hope to reach perfect contrition – whereby we are sorry because we have offended God, not just because we are afraid of punishment.
But what of the punishment? Does the merciful God punish sinners? Yes, in two senses.
1) If there is still a chance for repentance, the punishment will be a way of forcing people to re-assess their priorities.
When God deprives people of health, wealth or status, it is a wake-up call to consider how much they value other things above Him.
The same applies to communal punishment, as with natural disasters, diseases, even wars. A whole community of people might re-think their way of life.
Souls in Purgatory see their lives in full clarity, and are aware of their excesses. Their punishment serves to purify them, to be ready for Heaven.
2) For the souls who die impenitent, only Hell remains. The punishment cannot save them; but it does serve to warn us not to make the same mistakes.
There is no contradiction between Mercy and Punishment. Mercy is God's essential position, but Punishment is what we have insofar as we refuse to engage with that Mercy.