Fr. Joseph Levine; March 28, 2021
Last Sunday I spoke about the intensity of Christ’s suffering and death, the greatness of the person who suffered and died for us, no less than the very Son of God, and the great good it has brought to us, forgiveness of sins, the life of grace, and eternal salvation. Christ’s Cross also reveals the gravity of our own sins because Christ suffered and died to expiate our sins. We, however, tend to make light of our own sins.
Indeed, in 1946 in a radio address to a catechetical congress in Boston, Pope Pius XII said: “Perhaps the greatest sin in the world today is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin.” (Pius XII, Radio Message, October 26, 1946) In 1946 the loss of the sense of sin had begun. Now it has practically disappeared altogether. It has practically disappeared because the relation of sin to the Cross of Christ has been lost. Immediately before the words just cited (and often cited) the Pope stated: “To know Jesus crucified is to know God’s horror of sin; its guilt could be washed away only in the precious blood of God’s only begotten Son become man.” (Ibid.)
A classic definition of sin is ‘an offense against God’. The only people who are really concerned about sin are those who live in the presence of God, rather than in the presence of human opinion. The only people who are really concerned about sin are those who live under the influence of the Holy Spirit’s gift of the fear of the Lord, the first of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, without which the others cannot exist. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Ps 111:10)
The loss of the sense of sin, then is consequent on the loss of the fear of the Lord, but the loss of the fear of the Lord is itself a consequence of the loss of faith.
We do not like to believe that we are really sinners; we want to think well of ourselves; we want to think that fundamentally we are good people; yes, we do things wrong, but it can’t be all that bad. In order to feel good about ourselves we must compare ourselves to others because we can always find someone who seems worse; that means that we live in the sight of human opinion, not in the sight of God.
The words of St. Paul apply to us: Being ignorant of the justice that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s justice. (Rm 10:3) If we are right then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal 2:21)
Sin in all its ugliness is revealed in the presence of the Cross of Christ, the Son of God. There are the High Priests, who with intense malice and utter hypocrisy, moved by envy, falsify their very office, and condemn Christ, the Son of God, for blasphemy. There are the servants, who seeing the conduct of the masters, accuse Peter of being ‘one of them’ and join in the insults against Christ himself. There is Pontius Pilate, who concerned for finding a ‘practical solution’ to a political problem, has no time for the truth, and ends up condemning to death a man he knows to be innocent. Then there are the soldiers who have great fun engaging in a brutal scourging, then mock Jesus with the crown of thorns. There are the crowds, who hailed Jesus upon his entry into Jerusalem, thinking he would serve their worldly ambitions, but upon seeing him in the power of Pilate, cry out, Crucify him! Crucify him! There are the disciples who flee from fear. There are the passersby who, though ignorant of what is happening, join in the taunts.
Always, on some level, human choice is involved on the part of all these actors in the drama. Each one probably made some excuse for himself at least claiming that his choice wasn’t that bad or that he couldn’t do otherwise in the circumstances. Somewhere in there, we can find a reflection of our own choices and our own sin. It might just be the choice behind our negligence and thoughtlessness, behind our failure to take sin seriously behind our failure to take God seriously, and our consequent lack of a sense of sin.
Yet, our sin, though grievous is not the end of the story.
Again, returning to Pope Pius XII’s words: “To know Jesus crucified is to know God’s horror of sin; its guilt could be washed away only in the precious blood of God’s only begotten Son become man.” It we are willing to take God seriously, if we are willing to take sin seriously, if we are willing to repent and offer to God the sacrifice of a humble and contrite heart, then the blood of Christ is more than sufficient to wash away our guilt, transform our hearts, and raise us to the heights of holiness.
St. John write that the Blood of Christ, cleanses us from all sin … if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. (1 Jn 1:7,9)
The love of Christ on the Cross is greater than our malice in crucifying him.