Sunday, 3 April 2011
4th Sunday Lent, Year A, Shaftesbury
I'd like to put a question to you today: When did you last weep for your sins?
Or, maybe if you're not the crying type: When did you last come NEAR to weeping for your sins?
Lent is a time when we should be thinking about our sins and weeping for our sins. And I would like to point out that this is actually yet another way in which Lent can become a season of joy.
I've spoken previously about how our fasting, our "giving things up the Lent", can make Lent a time of joy because this fasting opens us more to the everlasting and deeper joys of heaven.
But there is another way in which Lent can become a season of joy, and that is by following the path from sorrow for our sins to rejoicing in being forgiven for our sins.
Catholics, at least English Catholics, are perhaps not stereotypically associated with deep outward displays of emotion in our repentance for our sins. Perhaps we would be more likely to expect an American evangelical on the TV to be gushing forth in tears as he publicly proclaims his sins, and then publicly rejoices in the fact that Jesus has forgiven him. However, regardless of how it is outwardly displayed, the experience of knowing that we are sinners, feeling deep sorrow for our sins, but then feeling an even deeper joy in experiencing the forgiveness of the Lord -this should be part of the experience of each one of us. That’s why the saints of old had a special prayer asking for the gift of "holy tears".
However, in contrast with “holy tears”, quite often I will have people say to me: I know I'm not perfect, I know that I must have sinned since my last confession, but I honestly can't think of anything in particular that I’ve done, I can think of any sins I’ve committed.
Such a statement is a good starting point in that it realises there is a problem. But I need to be honest with you and point out that this is nonetheless a SERIOUS problem, a problem that needs to be addressed.
If we think back to that gospel passage that I just read out, Jesus condemned the Pharisees because of their spiritual blindness, because of the fact that they did not see their sins.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us... If we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”(1 Jn 1:8;10)
If we think that we are not sinning then this is not a sign that we are better than other people, rather, it is a sign that we are worse because we are spiritually blind like the Pharisees.
So, how can we come to see the sins that we presently do not see?
This is a question that we all need to address: those of us who cannot think of any sins, but also those of us who can think of some sins -because there are almost certainly other sins we need to see also.
How can we come to see them?
First, we must pray, that the Holy Spirit will enlighten us. The Spirit gives the gift of joy but He also gives us the gift of sorrow for our sins –a sorrow that leads to joy afterwards.
Second, we must examine ourselves. A good written examination of conscience can be a great help in this regard: a written list of sins can be like a mirror that we gaze upon and see the features, not of our face, but of our fallen lives.
If we are not familiar with doing this it will be hard work at first. But like so many things in life the more often we do it the easier it becomes, and the less burdensome it becomes, and the more it can become what I started by saying it should be, namely, a path to joy. In terms of familiarity and regularity, the practice of a nightly examination of conscience is an important tool in the spiritual life. And, of course, all of this should lead towards regular use of the sacrament of confession -and anything less than monthly confession will make it very difficult for us to remember our sins.
There have been no jokes in today's sermon. Sin and spiritual blindness are not a laughing matter.
Nonetheless, to quote from that same passage, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins”(1 Jn1:9). And the experience of knowing forgiveness brings a greater joy than the sorrow that precedes it -but we will only have that joy if we are open to recognising those things in our daily life about which we need to have sorrow. When did you last weep for your sins?
A link to a examination of conscience on the seven deadly sins is available here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/36289758/Examination-of-Conscience-for-Parish-2009
A link to an examination of conscience for teenagers is available here: