Popular Catholic author and speaker Matthew Kelly has said when we look at the sin in our lives, we often do one of two things. We are either too easy on ourselves or we are too hard on ourselves.
In today’s first reading, Moses is away from the people receiving the Ten Commandments from God. The people become impatient and while Moses is away they create an idol to worship. The chosen people turn away from the God who had brought them out of slavery in Egypt. In his place, they begin worshiping a god of their own making.
When we remove God from the center of our lives, just like the chosen people, we create gods of our own making; we create gods who seem to look and act a whole lot like we do. How convenient! There’s no more personal sin because I get to play God. If I feel like it’s right, then it must be right! Like the chosen people in today’s reading, we rationalize our sin away.
I’ll give you just one example. Last week as I was distributing the Precious Blood at Communion time, I was shocked as I witnessed probably 20% of that entire wing of the Church receive Communion and head directly out the side door. Truly, it was close to one in five people who received the Body and Blood of our Lord and headed directly out the door like it was time to go.
Those of you who leave Mass early without a serious reason are rationalizing away sinful behavior. The only thing I can figure is that you simply don’t have a full understanding of what the Mass is. Because if you did, there’s no way you could leave right after Communion in good conscience.
St. John Vianney once said, “If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.” When we celebrate Mass, we enter into the one eternal Mass taking place in Heaven and that was instituted at the Last Supper. Through time and space, we connect with and enter into the presence of Jesus and the Apostles at the last supper. Are you telling me that after you hand Jesus back his cup, having consumed his very body and blood that you would push back from the table and head for the door? When you leave Mass early, THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE DOING!
If you’ve allowed yourself to get into this habit, here’s a suggestion. As you walk up to receive Communion, look up at the crucifix. Look at the bloodied, battered and broken body of Jesus who suffered on that cross for you. After you receive him body, blood, soul and divinity, go back to your pew and thank him for giving up his life in exchange for yours. Be in communion with the rest of us who are doing the same thing. Be there at the end of Mass to be dismissed with the community to go and announce the good news to a fallen world. For Mass, we come together! We praise together! We worship together! We are fed together! And we leave on mission together! That’s what it means to be the Body of Christ!
The other extreme Matthew Kelly observed in how we deal with sin is that sometimes we are too hard on ourselves. We feel like we have done something so horrible that God can’t possibly forgive us.
There was a man who came to a priest in Confession with a sin he could not let go of. The priest assured the man that God loved him and forgave him, but the man could not accept that. He came back to the priest several times and each time they talked for a long time. The man began to despair that what he had done could not be forgiven. He was in torment and nothing the priest said gave him any peace.
Running out of ideas, the priest suddenly remembered that the man had a teenage daughter. The priest said to him, “What if your daughter came to you and told you that she had done something so terrible that you could never forgive her? What would you do?”
With barely a pause the man said, I’d hold her tightly in my arms and tell her there is nothing she could do that would cause me to stop loving her or that I couldn’t forgive her for.” The priest said, “But what if each time you started to speak those words to her she immediately yelled out, “Dad, I’m not worth loving! What I’ve done is unforgivable!” Every time you tried to let her know how much you loved her, she cut you off with those words.
The man was silent and his shoulders drooped as tears streamed down his face. The priest then read the story of the Prodigal Son to the man, the same story we heard as the last part of today’s Gospel. When he finished, there was again a long silence and the man had his face buried in his hands. The priest, gently, but firmly pulled his hands apart from his face, looked at the man and said, “Your father has forgiven you just as you know you would forgive your daughter.” Finally, the man was able to accept the Father’s unconditional love for him and the forgiveness that resulted from that love.
My brothers and sisters, our Father did more than slaughter the fatted calf for us. He allowed his only begotten Son to BE slaughtered for us. In doing so Jesus destroyed sin’s hold on us and cleared the path back to union with our heavenly Father. Just like the prodigal son, our first step to experience this mercy is to simply admit to the sin present in our lives. Then, we turn away from that sin and run towards our heavenly Father right through the doors of these confessionals.
Your Father waits for you on the other side of these confessional doors. He loves you so much that he allowed his only begotten Son to die in your place so that you might have life! Don’t be too easy on yourself. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Just be honest with yourself and bring the sin in your life with you through these confessional doors. When you do that and every time you do that, you will hear those beautiful words of absolution from the lips of Jesus through his priest; the words that set you free you from the bondage of sin and bring you back into the embrace of your heavenly Father. That, my brothers and sisters, is what disciples do with the sin in their life.