sin

The Gospel in the Altar Rail

The altar rail separates the congregation from the Sanctuary, symbolising our sin, separating us from Heaven and from God. The holy place is on that side, and we’re stuck on this side, able to look but not enter.

But the altar rail also stands for Christ Himself, who for our sake became sin. As the altar rail stands in the middle, as both sanctuary and nave, and the meeting point between them, so Christ, in becoming our sin, has made it the meeting point of heaven and earth.

And it’s at this meeting point that we come, right to the threshold of Heaven, to kneel down, receive God Himself into us, and take Him out into the world.

God bless you!

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God loves sinners

God loves sinners.

I think this is a lot easier to accept when the sinner in question isn’t myself. When I’m the sinner, I find it impossible to accept that God really loves me, and can’t help hiding from God and trying to earn my way back into His good graces. Which I also know I can’t do.

Basically, God has to batter me down with His tenderness, to accept His merciful love. It’s impossible for me, but not for Him. The most I can do is ask Him to do this.

When we sin, we are in a state of sin, and live by the logic of sin, which is entirely incapable of understanding God’s grace and mercy. We think God is like us, judging and measuring up and seeking to exploit his friends and crush his enemies. Like Adam and Eve, we hide from God, because love doesn’t make sense to us.

Somehow God breaks through. I am put in His presence, and His merciful love breaks me down. In fact, it crucifies me. The heart of stone is shattered, and I’m set free, made alive again.

But it’s not about becoming “righteous”… In fact, I think that when I’m no longer the sinner that’s being crucified by His merciful love, I’m back in the logic of sin, and will soon commit a sin that makes that clear. Christian holiness is God’s own life in an unworthy sinner, and once we’re “worthy”, we’ve kicked Him out.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen

The prodigal son smells

After taking and squandering his inheritance early, his new homeland was struck with famine, and he ended up working with pigs. And in fact, he was treated worse than the pigs.

So, when he comes to his senses and returns to his father, he is very dirty and very smelly. When his father sees him in the distance, he sees first of all just a man covered in pigs muck. Then he recognises him as his son, and everything else becomes secondary.

He runs out to him, and doesn’t think twice about clasping him tight and tenderly kissing him, despite inevitably getting smelly, unclean pigs muck on himself. He takes on his sons filth, and embraces him in it. And his tears, borne of long sorrow and fresh joy, begin to cleanse the son.

And then he orders the best robe to be brought out and put on him. He is clothed in his father’s righteousness, dignity, and glory. He is his father’s son, and all the father has belongs to the son.

No doubt he will be washed first. To put on the father’s robe, he will first be stripped and washed. His shame will be removed, to make way for his glory, that is the glory of his father.

The transformation is striking, from penniless wanderer, reeking of pig, to honoured, celebrated, dignified son. He is a new creation.
God bless you!

We’re forgiven before we ask

‘Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.’ [Luke 15:11-24]

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Did you notice, that the father actually ignores his son completely? He doesn’t hear a word he’s saying. He doesn’t even let him finish, but starts talking to his slaves.

The father forgives his son, when the son hasn’t even dared to ask forgiveness. And it couldn’t be any other way. We couldn’t ask forgiveness, if we were not already forgiven. We have no right to ask forgiveness, nothing to appeal to. Except that the Father loves us, and rushes out to embrace and forgive us. His grace always comes first.

An excellent prayer of repentance: Say, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” And then feel the Father put his arms around you and kiss you, tears of joy running down His face.

God bless you

The root of all sin is fear

‘The root of all sin is fear: the very deep fear that we are nothing; the compulsion, therefore, to make something of ourselves, to construct a self-flattering image of ourselves we can worship, to believe in ourselves — our fantasy selves. I think that all sins are failures in being realistic; even the simple everyday sins of the flesh, that seem to come from mere childish greed for pleasure, have their deepest origin in anxiety about whether we really matter, the anxiety that makes us desperate for self-reassurance. To sin is always to construct an illusory self that we can admire, instead of the real self that we can only love.’

– Herbert McCabe, OP, quoted in ‘Why Go To Church?’ by Timothy Radcliffe, OP (a very good book so far)

God bless!

The Sins of Our Fathers

I believe that we are responsible for crimes and sins committed by those who went before us, and also for those done on our behalf by those in authority.

I know this is contrary to our modern ideas of justice, rooted in an individualistic worldview. But that worldview is incomplete.

I am not merely myself, I am also a member of various societies: my family, my school or workplace, my town, my country, and the Church. And each of these societies has a life of its own, living and acting as one, and so, is capable of both obeying and disobeying God. And as far as I remain a member of these societies, I participate in both its merit and guilt.

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This doesn’t mean that I take on all of the guilt of every individual in society. But I do bear the guilt of society acting as a whole, and every association I belong to, even if I wasn’t even alive when its crimes were committed.

What am I to do? How can I be saved from these sins? How can we be saved from them? I must simply repent. Then in me, my society will be repenting, and being brought to repentance member by member. We must repent, do penance, and pray for the salvation of our families, communities, nations and Church, just as we must for ourselves.

I especially think of our national sins, of wars, colonialism, slavery, exploitation, abortion, etc., and of the sins committed by leaders in the Church, especially in the sex abuse scandal. And I believe that actually, this will be crucial to re-evangelising our society.

Thank you for reading, and God bless you!

P.S. I think it would be especially good in this regard, if on the anniversary of national crimes and sins, we took it as a day of fasting and penance, especially those crimes we are persevering in. For example, the 27th of October and 27th of April for the UK’s abortion act (royal assent and commencement, respectively), and the 20th of March for Iraq war. It would be great if the national bishops conferences could promote this too.

P.P.S. I watched a documentary a while ago about the descendants of prominent Nazis, titled ‘Hitler’s Children’, I think. It showed how they were haunted, even decades later, by the guilt of their parents’ and grandparents’ crimes, with many doing penance by working to prevent such atrocities ever being repeated, and one woman moving to the desert and having herself sterilised. It seems to me, that communal and hereditary guilt is a simple psychological fact, that it would be foolish to deny or dismiss.

God bless you!

‘Ah! My brother, how the goodness of Jesus, His merciful love, are so little known!’

‘It must be that you don’y know me at all well, if you are afraid that a detailed account of your faults could lessen the tenderness I feel for your soul! O my brother, believe me that I shall not need to “put my hand over the mouth of Jesus.” He has forgotten your infidelities long ago. Only your desires for perfection remain to make His heart rejoice. I implore you, don’t drag yourself to His feet ever again. Follow that “first impulse which draws you into His arms.” That is where you belong and I have decided, now more so than from your other letters, that you are forbidden to go to heaven by any other road than the one your poor little sister travels.

‘I completely agree with you that “the heart of God is saddened more by the thousand little indelicacies of His friends than it is by the faults, even the grave ones, which people of the world commit.” But my dear little brother, it seems to me that it is only when his friends, ignoring their continual indelicacies, make a habit out of them and don’t ask forgiveness for them, that Jesus can utter those touching words which the Church puts on his lips in Holy Week: “These wounds you see in the palms of my hands are the ones I received in the house of those who loved me.” For those who love Him, and after each fault come to ask pardon by throwing themselves into His arms, Jesus trembles with joy. He says to His angels what the father of the prodigal son said to his servants: “Put his best robe on him and put a ring on his finger, and let us rejoice.” Ah! My brother, how the goodness of Jesus, His merciful love, are so little known! It is true that to enjoy these riches we must be humbled and recognise our nothingness, and that is what so many are not will to do. But my little brother, that is not the way you behave, so the way of simple love and confidence is just made to order for you.`

-From a letter from St. Therese of Lisieux to Maurice Belliere, a young seminarian [Taken from Maurice & Therese: The Story of a Love]

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God bless you!

A mountain of mercy

This Sunday at mass, I was thanking God that by His grace, I have been given life in Him, so that at that very moment, I was blessed to be communing with Him, loving and being loved, genuinely touching my God. I was thanking God for every sin that by His grace I haven’t committed, and I realised I ought to thank Him for every sin I’ve ever committed being forgiven. I am with God at this moment, because every single sin, throughout my entire life, has been forgiven.

I saw that all the sins of my life would amass to a great mountain, made of all the filth, waste, and excrement of my soul. But where that mountain should have been, there was instead an even greater mountain of God’s mercy, and in my mind’s eye it was gold and precious.

I can’t just thank God for His recent mercy and forgiveness, because if He didn’t forgive my oldest sins, I’d be just as cut off as for my newest. This one moment with God, is thanks to a whole life of forgiveness.

God bless you.

Thank you Lord!