Sunday, February 13, 2011

When It Comes to Sin, It’s Best to Avoid ALL Excuses!

(Sixth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on February 13, 2011 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Sirach 15: 15-20; 1 Corinthians 2: 6-10; Matthew 5: 17-37.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixth Sunday of the Year 2011]

I assure you, what I am about to read to you this morning I did NOT make up! This is from the home page of a real web site:

Hello, friends. Welcome to “The Mother of All Excuses Place.” Over the years, everyone where I work has always thought that we should be writing down all the excuses everyone there has given for not coming to work that day. We all thought that it would make a very entertaining book to read. Well, we never got around to writing that book, but with the popularity of the Internet and the ease of making a web site, I decided to publish all the calling in to work excuses I, or people that submit them, have heard over the years.

I also have sections for missing school and homework excuses, police or accident excuses, kids excuses, getting out of family events and holiday function excuses, breaking dates excuses, doctor excuses . . . missing church excuses (the guy lists 180 of those; none of which, by the way, is valid—so don’t get your hopes up!), wedding excuses, diet excuses, why I ate that excuses, tax excuses, not paying the rent excuses, getting out of home repair excuses, unwanted house guest excuses, jury duty excuses, defense excuses, not voting excuses, miscellaneous excuses. . . . We have all used or heard excuses for missing just about everything. If you have a suggestion for a new excuse page or would like to submit an excuse, please go to the “Submit Excuses” page and send them to me!

Now I could give you the address of this web site, but I won’t, because I don’t want to encourage anyone to make excuses for their bad behavior!

Although the temptation is always there for us to follow that path! In fact, I think the author of this site is absolutely correct when he says, “We have all used or heard excuses for missing just about everything.”

I dare say we have also all heard (and perhaps even used) excuses for any and every sin!

This brings us to an important difference between ordinary people and saintly people. Saints are men and women who consistently overcome the temptation to make excuses for their sins. They face their sins, admit their bad choices, take responsibility for their actions, repent of what they’ve done, receive forgiveness for their transgressions, and then make a serious effort to change their lives for the better.

Now this should be really good news for all of us, because it means that sanctity—holiness—is always possible, regardless of what we’ve done in the past! But a key step in the process of becoming the holy person that God wants us to be is overcoming the ever-present temptation to make excuses for our actions.

I mention all this today because our three Scripture readings this morning are what might be called “anti-excuse readings”.

Take the first. There Sirach speaks about personal responsibility—the fact that we can choose good or evil without coercion: “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand. Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.”

Comedian Flip Wilson, when he played his character Geraldine, was famous for saying, “The devil made me do it.” It was a funny line, but it was also absolutely, positively false! The devil can’t “make” us do anything. He can tempt us, yes, but he can’t force us to sin.

And neither will God! Sirach makes that crystal clear in the last line of this text when he says, “No one does [God] command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.”

So when it comes to sin, we can never say, “The devil made me do it,” nor can we say, “God made me do it.”

We can only say, “I made me do it!”

And hopefully we do say that when we need to.

In today’s gospel reading—a very challenging text from Matthew 5—Jesus indicates that we also need to take responsibility for dealing with sin at its root. As he reminds us here, the root of murder is anger—sinful anger, and the root of adultery and fornication is lust. Jesus understood that if you kill the root of a weed, you will keep that weed out of the “garden” of your life. But if you ignore the root of the weed, it will eventually manifest itself in the “garden” of your life in some form.

This is very important for us to remember because we live in a culture right now where anger and lust are treated almost as rights! They’re not seen as the roots of serious sins (which is what they are); they’re seen as good and healthy attitudes! And so people today will say things like, “I have a ‘right’ to get angry and seek revenge on that other person for what he did to me”; “I have my needs, and so I have a ‘right’ to whatever kind of sexual gratification I want. After all, I’m only human.”

And so excuses abound in our society for lustful and angry behaviors. And if you don’t believe me, just ask any judge who presides over a criminal court.

He or she will tell you.

“But, your honor, I did it because . . . (and then they give the excuse).”

Finally, we have today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians 2—a beautiful text that reminds us of the ultimate gift of God, which is, of course, heaven. St. Paul says, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it even entered into the mind of man what God has prepared for those who love him.”

That’s one of my favorite lines of Scripture, because it reminds me that heaven is even better than anything I can possibly imagine (and I have a pretty fertile imagination, so I can imagine some incredibly wonderful things!).

But, of course, before we can get into heaven, we all must face divine judgment—where we won’t be able to use any excuses for our sins. Notice what Paul says here. He says that the Holy Spirit “scrutinizes everything”. And that means EVERYTHING! Nothing, in other words, can be hidden from his eyes. The Holy Spirit knows not only what we do; he also knows why we do what we do. In fact, he understands our motives and intentions—that is to say he understands our heart—better than we do!

So yes, excuses can influence people here on earth (as “The Mother of All Excuses” web site makes clear), but they have absolutely no effect on the Lord. He’s way beyond our excuses. He sees right through them. To him, they are totally transparent.

So, when it comes to dealing with sin, it’s best not to use them at all.