Three attitudes towards sin

Homily for on the readings for Sept. 12, XXIV Sunday in OT, cycle C

There are three fundamental attitudes we can have towards our sins.

A first attitude that we sometimes have is denial. We can come to believe that we are not really sinners at all. It’s the attitude of the Pharisees and scribes in today’s gospel, mirrored by the attitude of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son. They speak of “sinners” only in the third person, and proclaim their own righteousness and fidelity. This in itself reveals at least one sin: pride. They may in fact keep most of the laws scrupulously, but they take the full credit for it instead of recognizing that it is a gift from God. Furthermore, St John says in his first letter that those who claim to be without sin, deceive themselves, and the truth is not in them (1 John 1:8).

Because they are proud and boast before God, Jesus tells us elsewhere (in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican in the temple, Luke 18:9-14) that their sins are not forgiven. Not recognizing our own sins is thus a great danger because we will neither work to correct them nor ask pardon. If we don’t go to confession because we can’t think of anything we did wrong, we don’t really know ourselves. We might not have grave sins, but there are probably at the very least some times when we committed sins of omission because we were not as generous with God as we should have been.

The second attitude we might have towards our sins is the opposite extreme: despair. If we are all too aware of our own sins and weakness we can start to think that God won’t forgive us, that there is no hope for us – or at least that there’s no point in asking God to forgive us until we’ve completely reformed our lives. This is just as false and dangerous an outlook as the first. We have but to ask God for forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation with sincere contrition – or at the very least because we “fear the loss of heaven and the pains of hell” – and our sins are forgiven. We need to have a sincere desire not to sin again, but we can’t avoid sin without God’s grace. Confession is the starting point of our battle against sin, not the end.

Jesus says that the only sin that cannot be forgiven is sin “against the Holy Spirit” – which is often interpreted to mean, the sin of willfully and obstinately denying that God can forgive us. St Paul in the second reading offers himself as an example of how God can forgive anyone who repents. He calls himself the worst of sinners because he actually persecuted and helped kill Christians before his conversion, and denied the divinity of Christ.

The third attitude towards our sins is the right attitude, and we see it in St Paul and in Moses in the first reading. It is to recognize that God himself has fundamentally one attitude towards us as sinners: He hates the sin, but He loves us sinners, seeks us out to save us, and rejoices when we come home to Him asking forgiveness. He longs to bless us and restore the spiritual gifts we lose through sin. He waits for us and draws us to Himself. We have nothing to fear from Him if we just turn to His love with humility and trust. At times he also punishes us for our sin, but only in order to help us to be purified of our attachment to sin and to reject it more energetically.

So let us pray with the words of Scripture: “I will rise and go to my Father.” “My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.”


About Matthew Green

I am a translator, origami artist/teacher, and photographer, a blogger, former philosophy professor, and I love to sing. You can see my photos on Flickr and buy prints of some of them on Fine Art America. You can find me on Instagram, Twitter (@mehjg), and in various and sundry other social media sites on the web.
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