Having had a lengthy day yesterday, with a lot of travelling, and having already been to Mass twice, I rather naughtily ‘bottled out’ of staying at Blackfriars for the 18:15 Conventual Mass & Vespers . . . and as a result missed a splendid sermon (which facebook members can find on his wall) by fr Robert Gay OP, the Priory’s Deacon, who is to be ordained priest on Saturday 24 July.
His sermon, somewhat surprisingly, began with ‘Big Brother’, and used that to make the point that he felt that modern society has lost its sense of sin – and its sense of redemption : and he then moved onto the events in yesterday’s Gospel; the episode in the house of Simon the Pharisee where a lady of a certain type becomes rather over-emotional, and starts washing the feet of Jesus with her tears, drying them with her hair, covering them with kisses, and anointing them with ointment.
fr Robert picks up on this in the following passage which I think you may like to read from his homily :
This takes me back to my two points about a loss of a sense of sin, and a loss of the sense of redemption. Simon the Pharisee is perhaps right that he isn’t as serious a sinner as the woman who gatecrashes his party. But in some way, his sense of sin is so narrow that he has forgotten that he too is far from perfect. He hasn’t realised that he shares in this woman’s predicament.
I think today’s society has lost that sense too, and as Christians we can’t allow ourselves to share that attitude. It’s vital that we remember that in various ways and to various degrees all of us fall short in our relationships with others and with God at times. Sin is not something that we should obsess about, but there is a risk that if we don’t admit that we have failings, we will stand aloof from those whose sins are deemed headline-worthy and serious.
Why is it that in society we have lost our sense of sin in all but a select group of things?
Well, I’d like to suggest that it’s a defence mechanism, to help us deal with the fact that there has been a collective loss of a sense of redemption. We’ve lost a sense of the fact that sin isn’t the last word. If we’ve lost a sense of redemption, it isn’t surprising that we’ve tried to diminish our idea of sin. It’s a natural way of protecting ourselves from a future which is narrow and bleak, with no prospect of repairing damage and hurt that we have done to ourselves and others.
Oddly enough, gently recovering our sense of our own sinfulness is a healthy thing. It stops us from standing at a distance from the woman at Jesus feet, and puts us with her at his feet, attending to him – attending to our salvation. And it’s when our tears break through, our sorrow for our sins, that we discover the gift that he is offering us – the Gift of salvation. Then our tears of confession turn to tears of gratitude for what Jesus has done for us, and become the tears means by which we wash away the old, and make way for a new beginning.
Chesterton in his autobiography makes the point in a different way : When a Catholic comes from confession, he does truly, by definition, step out again into that dawn of his own beginning and look with new eyes across the world to a Crystal Palace that is really of crystal. He believes that in that dim corner and in that brief ritual, God has really re-made him in His own image. He is now a new experiment of the Creator. He is as much a new experiment as he was when he was really only five years old. He stands, as I said, in the whit light at the worth beginning of the life of a man. The accumulations of time can no longer terrify. He may be grey and gouty; but he is only five minutes old.
All I can say is, from my own experience, that this is just so true.
After my Reception into Holy Mother Church, I began to do what I suppose I’d always wanted to be able to do : to go to confession more or less every week; and it is doing that which has not only helped me reawaken my own sense of sinfulness but – somewhat unexpectedly – given me a great sense of joyfulness as well.
For much of my life I am probably far more Simon the Pharisee than the penitent woman : but whenever I come out of the confessional, usually in the quiet of a Saturday morning at the Oratory, I am touched with inexpressible joy that I have been allowed to stop being a whited sepulchre, and instead been allowed, even if only for a short time, to share in the almost lunatic outburst of joy of the penitent woman . . . been allowed to experience, yet again, the awareness of being redeemed, and reborn, through Our Lord’s love for us . . . been allowed to see, even more clearly, the gateway to eternal life which His Cross forms; a gateway open to all who will accept it.
The more often I examine my conscience, and go to confession, and the deeper into my soul I dig when I do, the more I am aware of these things, and the greater the joy that results : and I am convinced that this cannot be unique to me . . . that frequent confession is not only a great means to spiritual well-being, but a great source of joy as well.