Our Lenten scripture readings are heavy ones today: sin. Hosea the prophet is excoriating the sinful ways of his fellow Jews, and the publican, in Luke’s gospel parable, is acknowledging the failures in his life.
We Catholics get upset when there is too much ado about sin. Older ones among us celebrate the liberation we have enjoyed in recent decades from an obsession with sin that made of the sacrament of confession/reconciliation such a formidable chore, and from what we regarded as silly ways of gaining unintelligible "indulgences" from the punishments that had piled up in our account, to be rendered to the Divine Judge at the proper time. We were happy to be about the good life and get off this dour preoccupation with the bad life.
A bit of this recent mindset has been imbedded in our current economic predicament. Ever since we had broken free of the depression era of the ‘30s-the bad times-we’ve been on an upward swing in and through some good times, till recently. Then someone cames along like Hosea the prophet, in today’s readings, condemning us: "For it is he who has rent…he has struck us…I smote them…I slew them…" We obviously took a wrong turn in the road somewhere. We must have resembled the Pharisee in today’s gospel, quite pleased not to be like the rest of humanity, greedy, dishonest, adulterous, since we fasted twice a week and paid tithes on our whole (note the emphasis on "whole") income. The Pharisee lived the good life.
Unlike the tax collector who was in the temple with him but really didn’t have much to say for himself, at least in terms of the good things he had done, but he was pretty good at remembering his failures: O God, be merciful to me a sinner. This seemed good enough to win him an indulgence: he went home justified.
Too much of the good life ill prepares us for a publican-like confession of our bad life, that might open us to Hosea’s message that it is love God desires and knowledge of Him, more than sacrifices and holocausts, good meals two less days a week and 10% (how about 8) on our whole income.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.