Be Grateful for His Mercy
Thursday September 20, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Timothy 4:12-16) Gospel (St. Luke 7:36-50)
In the Gospel reading, we hear that wonderful line: "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven because her love is great." Then, of course, we hear the other half of it: "The ones who love very little, little will be forgiven them." What happens is that as we grow in our love for God, we see more and more clearly our sinfulness. And because we see it more clearly, we have greater remorse. It is not merely a matter, however, of seeing our sins more clearly - it is a matter of seeing God more clearly. The sins, of course, stand between us and God; they are like a barrier at first. When we can have our sins forgiven, then, at least, we are able to start to see. But at first it is kind of foggy. Then as we begin to see God more clearly, we begin to remove the effects of the sin; we start working on all of these things that stand between us and the Lord. As the Lord becomes more clear, so too, do our sins. Then we seek to have them forgiven at a much deeper level. It is not that God did not forgive our sins initially, when we confessed them, but we were unable to have the roots of them removed. The effects of them continued to remain and we were not able to see very clearly.
Yet, at the same time, the Lord makes very clear to us that it is the one who had the greater sin who is going to be much more grateful to God for what has been forgiven. So when we look at our own sinfulness, it is not a matter of looking around at other people and saying, "My sins were bigger than yours," or "Thank goodness I did not have anything as big as you have! I am not nearly as bad a sinner as you are." Quite the contrary. When we look at God, like every single saint that lived, we are going to see that we are the worst sinner that ever walked the face of the earth.
When we look back at ourselves, in relationship to God, we see the graces He has given to us, we see all the love that God has poured upon us - and we see our own ingratitude. We see our sins in that light and we can say to ourselves, "If these other people had been given the grace that I have been given, they would be astounding saints right now. I, on the other hand, this is what I am doing." So we can see it that way. Even if other people's sins are objectively larger than ours, we are able to see ours as being bigger than theirs because we see them in relationship to God. We see how offensive they are, even if, objectively, they may be somewhat smaller than others; objectively, they still offend God, they still stand between the soul and the Lord, and we need to work to get rid of them. Seeing them in that perspective helps us to be humble and we do not judge other people as being worse than we are; but rather, we always see ourselves as being worse than the others. No matter what it was that they did, no matter what it was that we did, we size ourselves up as being worse sinners because we see what we have done to our relationship with the Lord. That is the part that we have to be about.
As we see who God is, and who we are in relationship to Him, then the repentance is at a much deeper level. That is what Saint Mary Magdalene did. She saw, not only what her sins really were, but she saw who the Lord was. And so she did this amazing act of charity: coming in and weeping on the Lord's feet, wiping them off with her hair, putting perfume on His feet. Think about the fact that not even a slave would be required to wash someone's feet in ancient Israel; that hair was the part of a woman that was able to be seen in the ancient world and how carefully they took care of their hair and made sure it was just so, so that it would be presentable to men who might want to look at them and be attracted; and that she would be wiping off the feet of somebody with her hair and then exchanging the filth that would be on the feet with perfume.
Think of what we do to the Lord when we come forward to confess our sins. It is the same thing: We lay our sins at His feet; our repentance, in essence, wipes them; then, having a soul that is forgiven, a soul that is in the state of grace praising the Lord for His mercy is like pouring that perfume on His feet. That is what He is looking for from each one of us: to see our sinfulness and to see what an offense it is. Even if, objectively, they are small things, we who claim to love God are going to be held more responsible; consequently, even the smaller sins become much bigger. That is why we are worse sinners than others and why our repentance, then, needs to be even more profound. Then, we can wipe the feet of Our Lord and perfume them with our confession and with our repentance and with our gratitude for His forgiveness.
That is the kind of gratitude, the kind of joy, the kind of repentance that He is looking for from each one of us. So we need to make sure that Confession is not just a rote thing that we do every once in a while, but rather that it truly is a profound experience with love from the depths of our hearts - confessing our sins with true repentance and rejoicing with profound gratitude - because those whose love is great, their sins, which are great, will be forgiven. But those whose love is little, little will be their forgiveness.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.