Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Power of a Forgiven Sinner

(Eleventh Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on June 12, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Samuel 12:7-10, 13; Galatians 2:16-21; Luke 7:36-8:3.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Eleventh Sunday 2016]

My homily today is entitled, “The Power of a Forgiven Sinner.”  Here I’m using the word “power” in a positive sense.  Normally, of course. when people use the words “power” and “sin” in the same sentence, they do it in order to say something negative about power: “His sin was rooted in his desire for more power”; “He misused his power and committed a sin against his neighbor.”  But when I speak here of the power of a forgiven sinner, I’m using the word in its positive sense: as the power to do good; as the power to have a positive influence on other people; as the power to bring good out of evil.

That’s the kind of power a sinner has—if (and when) he or she repents!

In today’s gospel, for example, a sinful woman crashes a dinner party at Simon the Pharisee’s house, and honors Jesus through her acts of repentance: she kisses his feet, washes them with her tears, dries them with her hair, and anoints them with ointment.

Now the question I have is this: How many people have been changed in a positive way by this woman in the last 2,000 years?  How many sinners—big sinners—have read this woman’s story in the Bible and been moved to repentance?  How many of them have said to themselves, “Well, I guess there is hope for me after all!  If Jesus Christ can forgive this woman for her horrific sins, he must be able to forgive me for mine.”

I’m sure many have.

That’s the power of a forgiven sinner.

It’s the same power that St. Paul had after his conversion experience.  In today’s second reading from Galatians 2, Paul sounds rather saintly as he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”

Well that’s very nice, but, as we all know, Paul wasn’t always so holy!  Prior to getting flattened by Jesus—literally!—on the road to Damascus, Paul was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, a man filled with arrogance.”  That’s how he describes himself in his First Letter to Timothy.  And yet, in that same passage from 1 Timothy 1, he says the following:

You can depend on this as worthy of full acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I myself am the worst.  But on that very account I was dealt with mercifully, so that in me, as an extreme case, Jesus Christ might display all his patience, and that I might become an example to those who would later have faith in him and gain everlasting life.

Paul was not happy that he had sinned so grievously as a young Pharisee by persecuting Jesus and the Church.  But Paul also understood that because he had sincerely repented of those sins and been forgiven by Jesus, he now had a certain power in his life: the power to be an example of conversion “to those who would later have faith in [Christ]”.  In other words, to all of us.

The power of a forgiven sinner.

The reason I’m preaching on this subject today is because of a conversation I had during the pilgrimage I led to Spain and Portugal a couple of months ago.  A woman who was on the trip with us said to me one day, “Fr. Ray, I hope that at some point during this Year of Mercy you reach out to women who have had abortions.  They need to know that God still loves them and that his mercy is available to them.”

I said, “That’s a good idea.  I’ll do that when the Holy Spirit gives me the right set of readings to make the point.

Well, the Spirit has certainly done that this weekend.  I’ve already mentioned the gospel and second reading, but even the first reading points us to the mercy of God—the forgiving grace of God which is available to even the worst of sinners.

In this reading the prophet Nathan confronts King David about two serious sins that he had recently committed and had, up to that point, ignored: adultery and murder. 

Most of us know the story.  David had committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba, and in the process she had become pregnant with his child.  Instead of admitting his sin and turning away from it (which is what he should have done!), David tried to manipulate the situation to make it appear that Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, was actually the father of the child.  Then, when his little plot failed, David decided to get rid of the problem by getting rid of Uriah, and so he arranged to have Uriah killed in battle.  In effect, that made David guilty of both adultery and murder—a fact that Nathan makes clear to him in today’s first reading.

Thankfully, David responded to Nathan’s rebuke with repentance, and his repentance was immediate.  He said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  God’s forgiveness, it should be noted, was also immediate.  Nathan said to the king, “The Lord, for his part, has forgiven your sin.  You shall not die.”

At that moment—at the moment he opened his heart to God’s mercy and received the Lord’s forgiveness for the terrible things he had done—King David received a new POWER in his life: the power to inspire sincere and deep repentance in other people.  And he’s done that now for many centuries—especially through Psalm 51, which he wrote after he was reconciled to the Lord.  That’s the psalm that begins with the words, “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness; in your compassion blot out my offence.  O wash me more and more from my guilt, and cleanse me from my sin.”

If you have had an abortion, and have received the Lord’s forgiveness for that sin in the sacrament of Reconciliation, then the good news is that you now have a similar power in your life—a power that God wants you to use for good.  It’s a power that I don’t have; it’s a power that the pope doesn’t have.  You have the power to speak to other women from experience—to other women who are being tempted to make the same mistake that you made.  You can warn them and influence them in a way that I can’t.  You can tell them there’s a better choice they can make—and chances are, they’ll listen to you, because of what you’ve been through.

And hopefully, in the process, you will help to save a life—or two, or three, or more!

St. John Paul II said it beautifully in his encyclical, The Gospel of Life, when he wrote this:

I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father and His mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone’s right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.

“The power of a forgiven sinner” is a power that God wants all of us to have—and it’s a power that God wants all of us to USE, regardless of what our sins are.

Like King David, St. Paul and the woman in today’s gospel story, may each and every one of us give God what he wants.