Sunday, 11 September 2016
I'm a Sinner. 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
As I think most of us know, meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous always start by someone saying, “Hello, my name is XXX, and I’m an alcoholic”. (Now, actually, I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not teetotal like Fr Patrick, I enjoy real ale, red wine, and American bourbon. But I’m not an alcoholic.)
To return to that image, members of Alcoholics Anonymous start by declaring their weakness, their being an alcoholic. And they do this because they need to start with a declaration of the truth and a declaration of their state.
We do something similar when we come to Holy Mass: we start with an act of contrition, we start by acknowledging, “Hello, I’m Father Dylan, and I’m a sinner”.
There are two ways that we can make such an acknowledgment, a statement like, “I’m a sinner”.
One way, is to do so ALONE, looking in the mirror, looking at nothing but myself.
I see the truth. I see my ugliness, and I despair. I see my sin, and I despair.
And I despair because I look at my sin alone. I look at it seeing nothing but my inclination to sin and sin again.
There is another way, however, of looking at my sin, namely, not by looking at it alone, but by looking at Jesus.
I still see my ugliness. I still see my sin. I still see that truth.
But I see it with an even bigger truth, namely, I see my sin and myself with the LORD. And the Lord is the one who promises to save me from that sin.
And so I see my sin, but do NOT despair.
In the 12 steps program of Alcoholics Anonymous the alcoholic does not just admit his weakness, he also submits himself to a ‘higher power’, a power greater than himself.
We, as Christians, don’t just submit ourselves to some vague ‘power’ but to a person: the Lord Jesus.
And there are two reasons why that person saves us from sin:
First, because He is powerful. Yes, I am weak. Yes, I have sinned and continue to sin. But, His power is greater than human weakness, and so I call upon it.
Second, because He is merciful. Yes, He has seen my sin. Yes, He did not want me to sin. Yes, my sin saddens Him. But, He is merciful, and so He reaches out to remedy the problem rather than reject me because of it.
St Paul expressed the heart of this in our second reading with his great summary of the Gospel: “Here is saying that you can rely on and nobody should doubt: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”(1 Tim 1:15).
This said, there is a different problem that often present itself. A problem that I have often known in my own life, and the problem is this:
I may see and acknowledge my sin TODAY. But, somehow, by TOMORROW I have dressed it up differently. By tomorrow I have told myself that I am a ‘decent’ person really.
And then I become unable to move on.
Not only am I unable to move on, but I have rejected the truth of the Gospel. I reject it in practice, even though I don't reject it in theory. I reject it because I don’t admit my impatience, or my irritability, or my selfishness, or my laziness, or my critical judgments, my lust, my pride, or my gluttony, and more.
If I cannot admit these and other sins then I have refused to accept the AA starting point: my failure.
Today’s Gospel spoke to the joy that is experienced in heaven over one sinner repenting (Lk 15:1-10).
There is another joy, however, that Pope Francis repeatedly remind us of: the joy of the sinner who repents and comes home, the joy of the sinner who knows he is welcomed back, the joy of the sinner who experiences forgiveness. “How good it feels to come back to Him whenever we are lost!”(Pope Francis, EG 1,3)
Admitting I am a sinner is not a negative self-defeating thing.
Admitting I am a sinner, and bringing it to the Lord, is the path to truth, to forgiveness, and to joy.
Hello, I’m Father Dylan, and I’m a sinner.