St Francis Q&A

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner"

‘Sinner’ wrote, “Please don't laugh at this question. How do you get over the fact that you are a sinner? I haven't thought of myself as one until recently and its a yucky feeling.” None of us will fully “get over” the fact that we are sinners in this life. Yes, it’s a yucky feeling, but there is also something beautiful at work whenever we realize that we are sinners. Christ points this out in different ways in the Gospels, most especially when he lauds the man who says, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Lk 18:13).

How can it be good or beautiful to point out a bad reality? Because it is the truth. The reality, now matter how ugly it is – and sin can be very ugly – is that we are sinners. Many people try to deny and run away from this reality. We justify our sinful behavior and attitudes regularly; “I hate him because he has been a jerk to me”. We easily make excuses for our vices; “I got drunk the other night because of all the stress at work”. As the Catechism points out (# 387), we like to use other words as substitutes for our sins: “mistakes”, “flaws”, “weaknesses”.

While it is indeed hard to acknowledge that we have sinned and that we are sinners, it is also very liberating. Again, it is the truth; anytime we can see the truth and acknowledge it, it is a step toward freedom. “The truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). It wasn’t until I realized and admitted the truth is that I am a great sinner that I entered into true freedom. It wasn’t until I saw how selfish I can be that I began to live for others. It wasn’t until I admitted my pride and stubbornness that I began to grow in humility. It wasn’t until I acknowledged my slavery to sin that I could live in freedom. As a great sinner, I am far from perfection, but am on the path to perfection.

We live in a world that doesn’t commonly use words like ‘sin’, ‘evil’, or ‘vice’. Our world doesn’t want to acknowledge that we are sinners, probably because it’s a world that doesn’t want to have that ‘yucky feeling’. So, instead of owning up to the truth, the world distorts the truth so that we will ‘feel better’ about who we are and what we’ve done. The problem is that by avoiding the ‘yucky feeling’, we can get into other (and more serious) sins. How many teens are aborting their babies at this very moment because they committed the sin of fornication? Instead of owning up to their sin, they cover it up by committing an ever greater sin. “Two wrongs don’t make a right”.

How many marital and familial problems are results of spouses or family members not admitting that they have sinned? How many divorces have occurred because of the pride of spouses? How many families have been divided because of unforgiveness, anger, or grudges? If humility made its residence in each of our homes, we would live in a different world, a world that would much more closely resemble Heaven. Heaven is home to the humble, not the proud: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18:13).

It is hard and yucky to admit time and again that we have sinned and that we are sinners. But, it is extremely freeing. Admitting to myself, God, and others that I am a sinner frees me from all of the justifications and excuses which my pride has chained me with for so long. If this makes me an easy target for people to attack me, so be it. When I have sinned, they are right to attack me, and may God have mercy on me. When I haven’t sinned, they are wrong to attack me, and may God have mercy on them. Christ is the most humble of all because he never sinned and was ferociously attacked. “He who knew no sin was made sin for us” (see 2 Cor 2:21).


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