Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
"You burden me with your sins, and wearied me with your crimes. It is I, I who wipe out, for your own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more." Isaiah 43:24b-25
The readings for today’s Mass speak to us of sin, transgressions and forgiveness. St. Paul, in the second reading, remind us that God is faithful, and that we should not be "yes" one moment and "no" the next. And yet, we are very much aware of our own personal frailty, our weakness, and our sinfulness. Isaiah the Prophet, in the first reading, says that our sins weary and burden God. Yet God is greater than any of our sins, and for our own sake, God forgives us. This very awareness causes shame and gratitude both at the very same time. We are shamed by the fact that our sins have burdened God, but grateful that God forgives for our own sake, because God is God.
In the seventies, when I was just beginning my ministry, there was a very popular song by Waylon Jennings: "Looking for Love in all the wrong places." This sentiment just resonated with us, because we thought that it was our calling to look for love, only to discover that we could never find it. True Love always finds us. The same can be said about forgiveness. We look for forgiveness in all the wrong places because we think that forgiveness, like love, is a commodity, it is something that we can trade for, and even worse, we can buy. We have fallen out of the practice of seeking forgiveness because we are truly sorry for our sins and transgressions. We think that as long as the public does not know our sin or weakness, there is no need to seek forgiveness. Most of us have lost the sense of sin as a social reality and therefore we think that forgiveness does not require a social context.
It seems to me that one of Jesus’ great accomplishments is exposing sin as a social reality. In the Gospel for today’s Mass, Jesus clearly associates our human frailty with our sinful condition, and demonstrates that he, as Son of God, has the power to forgive sins and to cure infirmities. When those who come to Jesus broken and downcast and Jesus forgives and heals them, we see the public nature of sin and of forgiveness. Yes, it takes courage to seek forgiveness within a social setting. But ultimately, it takes grace. When we say "yes" to the grace of God to seek forgiveness from Jesus in the social context of the Church, then we are a step closer to truly being with the Jesus of today’s Gospel.
So many of us think that the most authentic forgiveness we can experience is when we approach God in the secret of our aloneness. We forget that the sin we are asking forgiveness for in the solitude of our personal space has already left its mark on society, either because we failed to live up to our responsibility or because of selfishness or because we have hurt and demeaned the human and cosmic relationships that make up our life. Forgiveness reaches its perfection in the social context of our sacraments, which are by nature, social events.
Then, we will be able to echo what we read in the first reading, as God says: "See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?"
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is a member of the General Council of the Passionist Congregation and is stationed in Rome.