2nd Sunday Advent B - Homily 3

Homily 3 – 2011

I would like to continue today last week’s reflection on the issues of God’s forgiveness and our sin.  Last week I made the point that God is not surprised at our sin.  God is only too aware of it and wants to free us from its destructive influence and power.  God has already judged us; God’s verdict is, of course:  Guilty.  Guilty – but loved and forgiven.  God sent Jesus precisely to save us from the power that sin has over us.

Part of our problem is that we aren’t too convinced about it all.  For most of us, our sins are hardly dramatic or spectacular.  Why all the fuss?  We need to break free from the juvenile lists of sins taught to us by our parents, teachers and, perhaps particularly, by us priests.  We are no longer children.  We are adults.  We have consciences.  We need to develop them.  The lists we learnt as children rarely fit our reality as adults.  They trivialize sin.  Instinctively, we feel they are irrelevant.

It’s worth looking more closely.  God offers forgiveness, unconditionally.  But forgiveness is relationship.  Our part in the deal is where our hearts are at.  Sin takes it radical shape in us all as inbred hostility.  The important question is: What is the state of play in my heart in the struggle between love and hostility?  The things we do are relevant to the extent that they express and reveal that state of play.  [The hostility in the heart of a terrorist and the hostility in the heart of any enclosed nun are the same hostility.   It is just that their expression will be different, and that difference is often simply a factor of environment, or culture or upbringing.]

What’s going on in our hearts?  How does my behaviour allow me to see, in the struggle between love and hostility, which one is winning? One problem is often that we are not used to reviewing our attitudes and acts and seeing how they reflect the state of our hearts.  Often, on this issue, what we don’t do is more significant than what we do do.  The opposite of love is not hatred but indifference.  I think it might have been the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said in relation to Nazism: For evil to triumph, it is enough for good people to do nothing.

Consider, for example, your attitudes to such issues as: Asylum Seekers.  In financial matters, should shareholders’ profits be the first consideration? Should the emphasis with imprisonment be on punishment of criminals or on their rehabilitation? What about the environment? Attitudes can vary from agreement to disagreement; from active engagement to indifference and complete opting-out, and every stage in-between.  What matters is: What do our attitudes reveal of the state of our hearts in that crucial struggle between love and hostility? Closer to home: In our workplace or even our family does the way we handle differences, for example, reveal a determined stance for love or the triumph of inbred hostility?

A big problem is that most of us are blind to our deeper sin.  Indeed, a highly destructive aspect of sin is precisely its capacity to blind us to the moral dimension of our behaviour.  The world’s greatest sin was to have crucified Jesus, the revelation of God.  But none of those responsible would have seen their behaviour as sinful.  They would have congratulated themselves for having done the sensible thing, perhaps even God’s Will.   The Chief Priests had removed a blasphemer, the Pharisees a man who flouted the Law; Pilate had averted a potential riot; and the crowds just got excited and carried away and really didn’t know why they behaved the way they did.

Our insights into our deeper sin can be hard to put into a few words.  Our world is complex and our decisions reflect that complexity.  But, to the extent that we trust the unconditional love and forgiveness of God, we find the courage to look closely at our behaviour, without responding either by evasion or denial or useless remorse or despair.  We can begin to face the truth of ourselves, and that truth sets us free.