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Monday, second week of Lent

February 21, 2005

Blessed feast of St. Peter Damian! (look for his story in a neighboring post)

We’re a little more than one-quarter of the way through our Lenten retreat. How quickly these precious days fly!

Readings:
Daniel 9:4-10 (Daniel confesses his people’s sin and begs forgiveness)
Psalm 79:8-13 “Lord, do not deal with us as our sins deserve”
+Luke 6:36-38 (as you give and forgive, so shall you receive and be forgiven)

I’m sure St. Peter Damian identified with Daniel as he looked at the state of affairs in the Church of his day, bringing the sins of the people before Almighty God and begging for mercy. Like Daniel, Peter Damian began his work of reform in his own life, ruthlessly rooting out anything that might lead him into sin and begging God for mercy. We too live in an age when sin is rampant, even socially expected, when reform is badly needed. We too must start with ourselves, acknowledging our own responsibility for the current state of affairs. As St. Ignatius said, “You wish to reform the world: reform yourself, otherwise your efforts will be in vain.” Our sins, however private, sap the Body of Christ of spiritual energy. As we fast and pray, as we eliminate from our lives those things that lead us into temptation, and take on disciplines that strengthen the spiritual life God gave us in Baptism, we build up the Body of Christ. Then grace flows more freely to all who need it. Without that grace, the outward attempts we make to reform others will be fruitless.

Jesus warns us against judging and condemning others, even in the midst of social depravity, lest we be judged and condemned. It’s just a fact of human nature that we find it much easier to see the sins of others than to recognize our own. We need to clean up our own act and extend to others the mercy we know we need ourselves.

This point can be troublesome for those who consider themselves basically good people, who have no obvious, heinous sins of which to repent. It seems they need so little mercy–why should they extend so much? Here’s where we need to catch a glimpse of sin from God’s perspective. Sin is not so much a breaking of petty rules as it is the breaking of a relationship (among other things). An enemy who remains an enemy is unpleasant, but he can’t pierce our hearts as deeply as the friend to whom we’ve become vulnerable, who then betrays us. The wicked person is God’s enemy. As such, even if his sin is objectively more serious than that of the righteous, it can’t break a relationship that doesn’t exist. It can only persist in preventing one. The sin of the righteous, however, who are supposed to be His friends, is a betrayal, a wounding or even severing of the relationship He has extended to us. Thus, this sin is in need of greater mercy, even if it appears to be trivial from the outside.

When Jesus tells us not to judge and condemn, He is not saying that we should turn a blind eye to sin. He condemned sin (Matthew 23:13-38 & John 9:41, among others)! His Church tells us that one of the spiritual works of mercy is to admonish the sinner. Jesus wants us to fight sin for the sake of the sinners. He knows that their sin is killing them and He loves them enough to call them to new life. We must do the same, not out of a sense of indignation over the harm their sin is causing to us, but out of compassion for the harm their sin is causing to them. As St. Catherine of Siena said, “Evil is often more hurtful to the doer than to the one against whom it is done.” In everything, love must be the source and foundation of our lives; love for God and love for our neighbor. As we live and give this love, so shall we receive the love we need.

May God open our eyes that we might recognize our own sin and may He strengthen our determination to fight it wherever we find it.

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