The following talk was given by Monsignor Moroney at Good Shepherd Church in Linwood, Massachusetts as a part of the Parish Mission entitled: Silence, Sin, and Sacrament: A Lenten Journey.
Why do we sin? Why do we turn away from God and from his Church?
Three reasons: We don’t believe it. We’re selfish. And we’re fickle.
1. Often we just don’t believe. The good news is just too good to be true. That Jesus died for me, that my sins can really be forgiven, and that God wants me to love him like he did? It’s all too much to believe?
Father of the Prodigal
it’s hard for us to believe just as it was for those to whom Isaiah spoke. Full when you lost, it’s hard to picture the road home. When you’re in the middle of a vast wasteland, it’s hard to picture a flowing river. And when eyes burgeoned guide with my sins and we read him with my crimes, it’s hard to imagine that he is really in the mood to forgive all my sins.
It’s easier to think myself lost in to stay that way.
2. The second thing that keeps me from God is that I’m selfish. In this I’m just the opposite of who God is. The psalmist tells us God loves below my and the poor, and the man who shares this love of those who are little will be saved by God on the day of his misfortune.
Mercy and begets mercy and compassion merits the mercy of God. Think only of the words we pray, if only we really meant them, each time we pray the Lord’s prayer. Forgive me my sins, Lord! But forgive me just as much as I forgive my enemy.
To the one who loves the sick, God will grant relief from his sickness. The one who has pity on his enemy, God will have pity on him. Listen again to the Psalmist: “because of my integrity you sustain me, and let me stand before you forever.” When we lack integrity, when we fail to love is God loves, faithfully, we are led far away from him.
3. The final thing that keeps folks from God is their fickleness. One minute we’re faithful, the next we’re faithless; one minutes we love Christ with our whole heart and soul and long for nothing so much as the kingdom of heaven, and the next we’re concerned with nothing so much as selfish pleasure and grabbing for all the gusto we can get.
But God, St. Paul tells us, is not yes and no, on and off, hot and cold. God is the incessant yes to love, a faithful and perduring love, the Alpha and Omega, who was and who is and who ever will be. And calls us to be the same.
So here we are at this penance service, preparing to return to God. And from one wounded conscience to another, I offer two reflections on how to figure out what I need to confess. One based on the decalogue and the second on the Lord’s imminent return to judge the world.
2. The Decalogue
The Feast of Saint Patrick is just around the corner, and I’ve been thinking of him a lot lately. One of the images I have of hum from the time I was a child is his work as a kind of divine exterminator, driving barrels of snakes into the cold North Sea.
But the snakes which Saint Patrick drove from Erin’s shores were not the kind that slither along the ground. No, the reptilian nemesis of the Bishop of the Emerald Isle was the sort which wends its way into men’s hearts and, like the serpent which led to the fall of our first parents, deceives its way into our lives and casts us out of the paradise God has created into the cold, dark hell of selfishness and sin.
So, I invite you, for a bit, to go snake hunting with me, for the evil which slithers into our hearts and which follows the serpentine paths of our own deception.
By the hands of Moses, God gives us a script for this journey, and while this morning does not give us the time to consider all ten of its parts, I recommend two commandments for your consideration: I am the Lord your God, and You Shall not Lie.
I am the Lord your God.
The first commandment from Sinai establishes the foundation for the rest. Saint Patrick describes it in these words: “There is no other God, nor was there ever before, nor will there be hereafter.
It is the clarion call of the Shema Israel: The Lord is God, and he alone! Herein lies the core of our religion: that we don’t call the shots…God does! That he is truth and there is no truth apart from him, no matter how many times we say otherwise. For :
- No matter how many times we make believe that we’re made for pleasure and he who dies with the most toys wins…it just ain’t true!
- No matter how many times politicians or anyone else make believe that an embryo is just a bunch of cells and that they can decide who lives and dies …it just ain’t true!
- No matter how many times we make believe that democracy determines truth and marriage is made and defined by civil authority …it just ain’t true!
- No matter how many times we make believe that belief in God is a personal matter and I don’t need the Church and the sacraments …it just ain’t true!
God is in charge. He is the truth. And anything short of that is a lie.
And Second: Thou shalt not lie.
As Saint Patrick once admonished: ‘By your lies, you destroy and kill, and you should dread the judgment seat of God.’
Doesn’t seem too complicated does it? So then, why do we have such a hard time with it? Obfuscations, deceptions, deceipts, fabrications, falsifications, misrepresentations, misstatements, prevarications and subterfuges and little white lies…. Did you ever notice how many words we have for the lie?
But it is really quite simple:
- If I say I love God, and I give him nothing. I am a liar.
- If I write down that I worked forty hours, and I really worked 36, I’m a liar.
- If I say I’m his friend and then talk about him behind his back, I’m a liar.
- If I write on line 39c that it was $10,000 and it was really $15,000, I’m a liar.
- If I say Yes, Lord, of course! and then walk away, I’m a liar.
And if I am a liar, and I do not confess it, I risk nothing less than the pains of hell. It is kind of simple.
And like Saint Patrick, we need to root out those snakes that are crawling around our hearts and drive them from the land. Snakes which
Snakes which have ignited a bloody civil war in Syria which which 7,500 people have died in the past several months, with no relief in sight. Snakes which slithered into that teenager when he shot three of his classmates to death in the cafeteria yesteray in Ohio.
Snakes which rose up in a Fitchburg man as he sliced the throat of his girlfriend which her three year old son was in the other room. Snakes which are demons in disguise, slithering about in the cold darkness and seeking your soul.
But be not afraid, ye loyal sons and daughters of Patrick, and Bakhita, and Juan Diego. For we have a confessional back there and the Holy Mass up here and the Lord Jesus in here, whose Paschal Sacrifice drives out demons form the temples of our hearts.
3. The Final Exam
And finally, before we go to confession, we might think or a moment about the final exam. We just finished mid-term exams at the seminary. And of all the things the seminarians longed to know, it was what the answers were to the exam. What would he ask? How would he ask it?
Well we have the answers to our final exam. Not the one which Msgr Moroney will give to his students, but the one which Christ will give to Msgr Moroney and to each one of us. Christ gave us the answers when he told us that we would go to heaven or hell based upon how we treated the least of our brothers and sisters:
I was sick....did you care for me?
I was hungry....did you feed me?
I was in prison.....did you visit me?
I was naked....did you clothe me?
We've got the answers to the final exam. Shouldn't be too hard to prepare for it, then!
Remember when the Lord told about the rich man who failed the test. Remember Lazarus, the poor wretch who used to beg for food on the front steps of the rich man's house, and how the dogs used to come and lick the sores on Lazarus' body, while the rich man turned his head the other way and stepped over the beggar on his front stoop.
And you remember how Lazarus went to heaven and the rich man went to hell.
Why did the rich man go to he'll? Because he was rich? No...there's no sin there. He went to hell he'll because he failed to love his brother. And who is his brother. Well, that was last week's parable.
Hospitality, love for the stranger and the alien, the poor wretch and the one whom everyone else forgets is the only correct answer to get into the Kingdom of Heaven.
That's what Abraham and Sarah teach us when the three strangers go walking by their tent on a stinking hot day. They could have ignored this trinity of strangers, but they did not. They invited them in, bathed their feet, gave them something cool to drink and cared for them. Why? Because they knew they were divine messengers? No. They invited them in because God would have wanted them to. And because they did, God fulfilled his covenant with the elderly and childless couple, promising them a son, Isaac, the son of laughter in their old age.
The opposite of such hospitality, such openness to the needs of the others, such love, is selfishness. And just as we are capable of choosing love, so we are capable of choosing selfishness as well.
One of the first things that a child learns, often the hard way, is that we don’t always get what we want. True, when a baby cries he usually gets a response. But the response is not always the one that the child is looking for. A cry of hunger might be interpreted as a full diaper, while a cry for a hug can mistakenly result in a bottle of milk. From a very early age we learn that ultimately, we are weak, imperfect, and little. In other words, we learn that we are not God.
But isn’t it curious that despite all the evidence to the contrary we never stop trying to act like God. Such was the sin of our first parents. Remember the sales pitch of the serpent: “God knows well that the moment you eat of [the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil] your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods who know what is good and what is bad." Eve and her husband wanted to be God!
As did King David, when he took another man’s wife as his own and then murdered her husband. As did Jacob, when he stole his brother's birthright. As did Moses when he murdered the Egyptian overseer. As did Solomon when he married wives with pagan gods. As did Rahab when she became a prostitute. As did Peter when he denied the Christ. Each of them trashed God’s rules and defied God’s will to make believe that they were God.
Only she who was immaculately conceived, blessed among us all, responded to God by proclaiming her littleness and magnifying the greatness of the Lord. For she knew God so well, that she knew that she was not God.
She was unlike you and me. For in our selfishness we build ever more elaborate towers of Babel, convinced that with just one more story of deceit we will be big enough to be God. It is the lie at the root of every one of our sins: to forget the first and most fundamental reality: that God is God and he alone and there are no other Gods beside him.
Without this belief, enshrined in the very first of the commandments, nothing else makes sense. Which is why most of our sins are, at root, sins against that first commandment. Like a little child stamping his feet we shout at the one who made us: You’re not the boss of me now! And you’re not so big anymore!
But he is big and he is the boss. He has revealed himself to us through his redemption of the people Israel and through the Law and the Prophets, and in the fullness of time in a perfect way through Jesus, his only begotten Son. It is a revelation which has been passed on to the Church who, endowed with the gift of the Holy Spirit, is the custodian of all truth.
And no amount of equivocation, negotiation, or academic reflection can mitigate the fact that we are not God and that we will be judged on our obedience to him who came into the world to save us and “to testify to the truth.”
Redeemed by Blood of Christ, who is the Truth, may we empty ourselves of all selfishness and sin, and cling only to him in faithful obedience, undying charity, and perfect joy.