Sunday, December 09, 2018

Sin: Name it, claim it, and get rid of the blame for it!

(Second Sunday of Advent (C): This homily was given on December 9, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126:1-6; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Advent 2018]

A church group was in the habit of using a large hotel in a nearby city to hold its annual conferences.  Now in the lobby of this particular hotel there was a large sign.  On the sign was the hotel’s motto.  It read: “There are no problems, there are only opportunities.”

Well it happened that this year, a few moments after the group had checked in, one of its male members came running up to the front desk.  He said to the desk clerk, “Excuse me, but I have a problem—a big problem!”

The clerk responded, “Why sir, you know our motto: There are no problems, there are only opportunities.”

The man said, “Call it whatever you want, but when I just walked into the room you gave me, I found a pretty young woman sleeping in my bed!”

My brothers and sisters, problems are still problems, even if you don’t call them problems.  And you know what?  As hard as this might be for some people to believe, sins are still sins even if you don’t call them sins.

And many in our modern world don’t.  Just think of the euphemisms that are used today to describe behaviors that are clearly sinful.  I’ll give you a few very common examples …

  • ·         Hatred is called “justified anger”—especially if you’re dealing with a political opponent.
  • ·         Cursing and swearing are called “expressing your feelings.”
  • ·         Gossip and slander are called “sharing.”
  • ·     Missing a Sunday or holy day Mass without a good reason is called “taking time for myself and my family.”
  • ·    Living together before marriage—and even adultery—are talked about in terms of “entering meaningful relationships.”
  • ·         Homosexual activity and transgenderism are called “alternative lifestyles”.
  • ·         Euthanasia is called “dying with dignity.”
  • ·      Greed is called “making a living”—especially if you’re deeply involved in professional sports on some level.  I love golf, for example, but $9 million for 18 holes?  There’s something deeply troubling about that; there’s something morally-deficient about that—even if the opponents in the match happen to be Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.

There are even euphemisms that are used for sin in general.  I found some of them online the other day:

  • ·         Mistake
  • ·         Flaw
  • ·         Error
  • ·         Indiscretion
  • ·         Oversight
  • ·         Misstep
  • ·         Foible
  • ·         Blunder
  • ·         Shortcoming

And on and on the list goes.  Now please do not misunderstand me here.  I am NOT saying that every mistake, every flaw, every error, every indiscretion, etc. is a sin.  I’m simply saying that sometimes those words are misused in order to deny or excuse certain sins.

This, of course, would not have been acceptable to John the Baptist, whom we heard about in today’s gospel reading from Luke 3.  John came to prepare God’s people for their Messiah, by making clear to them that they needed a Messiah—a Messiah who would bring them forgiveness for their sins.

And so he baptized people in the Jordan River—as they confessed their sins.  (St. Mark tell us that last detail in his gospel.)  They didn’t just get dunked in the water; they also expressed verbally what they needed to be forgiven for. 

Now, can you imagine how John would have responded if the people who came to him for baptism had used our modern-day euphemisms for their sins?

“John, please baptize me—I made a mistake!”

“John, baptize me—I committed an indiscretion the other day.”

“John, baptize me—I have a flaw.”

John would have freaked out!  He would have gone ballistic!  He would have said, “You made what?  A mistake?  Was that when you were balancing your checkbook? You committed what?  An indiscretion?  What does that mean?  You have what?  A flaw?  Well join the club!  Welcome to the human race, tainted as it is by original sin!  We all have flaws!”

Thankfully, that’s not the kind of thing John heard when he was baptizing.  What he heard were things like, “I lied”; “I stole”; “I cheated”; “I killed an innocent man”; “I committed adultery”; “I had hatred in my heart for another person.”

Just sins; no euphemisms!

John the Baptist’s philosophy on all this can be summed up, I think, with these words: Name it, claim it, and get rid of the blame for it.

That’s why John, if he were alive today, would absolutely love the sacrament of Reconciliation!  Because in order to make a good confession, you first of all have to NAME the sin.  You can’t just say, “I’ve done some really bad things, Father.”  If they’re serious sins, that’s not sufficient.  You have to identify the sins by name—like the people at the Jordan River did—and you have to mention how often you committed the sins. 

Then you have to CLAIM the sin—meaning that you have to take personal responsibility for it: “Yes, I did it.  I knew it was wrong, I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but I made the choice to do it anyway.  No excuses; no attempts to rationalize or justify my actions.  I was wrong; I admit it—and now I seek God’s mercy.”

That’s the attitude we should have whenever we confess a sin—any sin (mortal, venial, whatever it is)—because that’s an attitude which pleases God immensely and opens us up to his total and complete forgiveness, which we receive when the priest absolves us in the sacrament.

And thus we get rid of the BLAME—the guilt—for the sin (or sins) that we confessed.

One of the most depressing and tragic thoughts I’ve had as a priest is the thought that there have probably been people who have come to confession to me over the years who have purposely not “named” certain sins that they knew deep down inside they needed to acknowledge.  Maybe they were afraid; maybe they were embarrassed; maybe it was for some other reason.  But it’s always tragic when a person takes the blame for a sin out of the confessional with them because they weren’t willing to “name it” and “claim it.”

We’re supposed to get rid of our blame in the confessional, not take it with us when we leave!

Name it, claim it, and get rid of the blame for it.  That was John the Baptist’s approach to sin.

May it be ours as well.