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Posts Tagged ‘contrition’

I heard this prayer this morning on the Sonrise Morning show and resolved to post it here.  It’s the Lenten Prayer of St. Augustine.

O Lord,
The house of my soul is narrow;
enlarge it that you may enter in.
It is ruinous, O repair it!
It displeases Your sight.
I confess it, I know.
But who shall cleanse it,
to whom shall I cry but to you?
Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord,
and spare Your servant from strange sins.
St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430)

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Wisdom from G.K. Chesterton:

For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.

I quoted this in Bible study the other day as it seemed appropriate. The innocent have nothing to fear from a just God, while the guilty shrink from such justice. As we age, we hopefully gain self-awareness, insight and humility. We throw ourselves into the arms of our merciful Lord, knowing that a fully just God would condemn us for our faithlessness. But we can trust to God’s justice AND his mercy. We only have to ask for it with fully contrite hearts.

But watch out that you do not fall into the habit of wanting mercy for yourself, and justice for everyone else!

A great prayer of contrition is found in Psalms:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy. And according to the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my iniquity. Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me….Turn away your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within my bowels. Cast me not away from your face; and take not your holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and strengthen me with a perfect spirit. I will teach the unjust your ways: and the wicked shall be converted to you. Deliver me from blood, O God, you God of my salvation: and my tongue shall extol your justice. O Lord, you will open my lips: and my mouth shall declare your praise. For if you had desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it: with burnt offerings you will not be delighted. A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, you will not despise. — Psalm 51

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The Gospel for today is another unique story, the story of the adulterous woman found only in John.  Scholars speculate that this story was a later edition to the text as it does not seem very Johannine, and may have been written by same author of Luke – Acts.  The Church believes it to be inspired scripture and it remains one of the most popular stories in all the Bible.

while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.  But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.  They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.  Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.  So what do you say?”  They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.   But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.  And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.  Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin any more.”   John 8:1-11

Our friend Fr. Jon at Redemptorist Preacher takes an in-depth look at the underlying drama to the story; after all, this was a trap being laid for Jesus, one of several instances in the Gospel in which he is challenged by Jewish leaders with a seemingly no-win situation (e.g. the question of paying Roman taxes).  Here the trap is that while Mosaic law (religious) required adulterers to be stoned to death, Roman law (civil) forbade any private capital punishment.  Should Jesus heed the Hebrew law of his ancestors or obey the might of the Roman authorities?   Either way he answers could lead to his own death.  The scribes and Pharisees chose a very visible, crowded venue to challenge him.  How fraught the situation, and how humiliating for this woman, who likely may have been dragged there immediately after being found in flagrante delicto. 

My Sunday to Sunday nonsensical weekly just wanted to discuss the inherent sexual bias of the story and bemoan that women are still being kept down by The Man.  You know, the Church and the Pope and mean guys everywhere.  Blessedly, our Bible study leader decided to scrap the Gospel reflections from the Sunday to Sunday and instead spend the entire time leading our own discussion, which was enlightening and uplifting.  I confess that I disliked this story for a long time.  In my opinion, it was used in an anti-Christian way for far too long, and is the go-to verse for moral relativists everywhere.  But I am so glad that I had this week to study and reflect on it.  I have a whole new appreciation for the complexity of this Gospel.  

Our Bible study was wonderful, too.  We dwelt on Jesus’ silence, his remarkable silence.  In reflecting on our discussion, it occurs to me that this possibly throwaway story shows us the way to be Christians, as Jesus role models the virtues we should aspire to: 

  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Prudence
  • Courage
  • Faith
  • Hope
  • Love

Everyone discussing this Gospel account sooner or later uses it to point to Jesus’ non-judgment and that oftentimes becomes the sole takeaway from it.  “Jesus said he didn’t judge the woman and neither should we.”  This (I think) is an incorrect lesson for us, or at least not the sole lesson.  Jesus does not condemn the adulteress, but I think he does judge the woman.  In so doing, he actually shows us how to judge.  Never does Jesus tell her she is not a sinner and not guilty of her crime.  In fact, he forgives her and instructs her to turn from her path of sin – “go and sin no more.”   See that?  He did not simply say, “Go on, beat it!”  He did not say, “well then, clearly you are not guilty.” 

Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin any more.”  

The condemnation of the crowd would have been her stoning, her loss of earthly life.  Jesus does not condemn her and in so doing, he presages our Reconciliation sacrament.  Jesus’ pardon refers to her eternal condemnation.  Jesus frees her; he is her savior just as we know he is ours.  He came to free us from our sins.  But inherent in this act of compassion, and mercy is his act of divine justice.  The woman must not sin anymore. 

And what does that mean, “sin no more”?  We know by the Catechism that we are all sinners and fall short of the grace of God.  Is the woman, and are we, required to “sin no more”?  How can we take on such a burden?  What is Jesus telling us?

In order to be absolved of our sins, in order for God’s merciful forgiveness to be ours, we must convert our hearts.  We must renounce the sin in which we find ourselves and we must earnestly intend to not persist in it.  How many of us understand that?  We ask for God’s forgiveness but have we truly renounced our sin within our heart of hearts?  Do we walk into our confession hardened to Jesus’ words?  We know from Revelation and from Pauline letters that we may not persist in our sins, and that Jesus WILL come again to judge the living and the dead.  Our acts on earth will be weighed in the balance.  So we must repent now, and that means to renounce our sins and promise to do better.

So how are we to judge if we should not condemn?  We know that only God knows the secrets of our hearts, and only He has perfect justice and mercy.  We must trust to His justice.  But as Christians, we are called upon to lead our fallen brothers and sisters back to the path, and correct one another in a spirit of love and gentleness.  In good faith, can we allow those entrusted to our care to persist in their sin?  I think we cannot.  Adultery, premarital sex, gossiping, sloth, illegal business practices, addictions, whatever the moral failing, this Gospel is not telling us it is none of our business.  It is showing us the way to intervene as a Christ follower should:  take time to reflect in silence and humility, maybe get down in the dirt a bit to fully understand the situation, see all sides, when finally necessary to speak, do so calmly, temperately and fairly, do not offer condemnation but rather love, forgiveness and a hope for reconciliation, make it clear to the sinner that Christ expects their metanoia.

Our sins are so hard to renounce, our hearts slow to convert.  Speaking the truth in charity and gentleness must be matched by our own humility, our understanding of our own failures.  We have a faith that goes beyond following an established set of rules.  Our faith requires us to devote our time, energy, intellect and spirit in a constant conversion away from ourselves and over to God.

Our God is so awesome!

Pray with me: 

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend thee, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.

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Wisdom from my blogging friend Ryan at Without Having Seen.  This is his comment in reply to Patrick Madrid‘s post on what to do with a Facebook friend who may or may not have been out of line in a discussion.  I think that Ryan has again charitably and faithfully stated catholic (universal) truths, and I’m reprinting it here to benefit my readers, too.

Thy Handmaid’s son said…The issue isn’t whether abortion is murder or not. That’s a given: yes.

The issue is whether, in the context of a discussion, this truth is the paramount one in the hierarchy of truths. The Code of Canon Law, which is an invaluable resource for instruction about the heart and mind of the Church, gives us an interesting clue on this point. The very last canon, which deals with the transfer of pastors, says this:

“In cases of transfer, the prescripts of can. 1747 are to be applied, canonical equity is to be observed, and the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law of the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes,” (CIC 1752).

The salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church, and if I might add, its primary mission. In fact, I need not, because the Catechism says it better (CCC 849-51). Salvation, and thus missionary work, must be grounded in truth. The fundamental truth of all human affairs is that God’s great love for us wills to save all men, and we must order our presentation of subordinate truths in a manner that will make them most credible. Missionary work, our proactive, evangelical share in this saving plan, requires patience, the Catechism tells us (CCC 854). That is because people are all coming from different places and experiences and will respond to different individual true statements in different ways; this also largely depends upon the person by whom they hear the truth proclaimed.

When dealing with someone on an issue, particularly a thorny one, I ask myself a few questions, since the salvation of souls – and not the simple proclamation of truth – is the highest law of the Church. The questions include: “Will this person listen to me? I am a 32 year old man with such-and-such a personality, this sort of relationship to the person, and this sort of reasons and experience to fall back on. Will he listen to me? Can I express the truth clearly and charitably? Are my motivations pure – that is, about my love for this person – or are my motivations tainted by anger, spiritual ambition, or what have you? Is it a truth that I need to proclaim? Can the person wait to hear it, or must it be spoken now, with dire consequences otherwise? Am I well disposed to help the person cope with any emotional fallout that might arise, to really care about the PERSON and not just the argument?”

If it sounds like I am making a very complicated issue of a simple debate, that’s because it’s not about an issue, but about souls. The salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church. For my part, I try to make the supreme law of my conduct to be faith, hope, and charity. These three alleviate the burden of having to win debates, do it myself, and cater to my own interior motivations. I am free – when tuned into these divinely given virtues – to say, “Hey, maybe I don’t win this today, but Jesus wins in the end, so I am free just to pray for the person and trust God, if that’s all I can do now.” BAM! Pressure gone.

It is no lie, if a post-abortive woman asks, “Am I a murderer?” to respond, “You are a beloved daughter of God, who wants you only to know his love, to repent of the sins of your past, and live new life with him – just like everybody else.” It is no lie, nor is it an evasion. It is defering one truth in favor of a much more important one.

December 28, 2009 11:55 PM

That is awesome, Ryan.  You gave me something to ponder, a better way of thinking of evangelization.  Ya just taught me a lesson!  thanks!  <3

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