Posted February 26, 2016 in Word Made Flesh:
Is Sin Really No Big Deal?

by Fr. Denis Lemieux.

So how’s that Year of Mercy going for you? You do remember (of course!) that it is still the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Church. Right?

It is a well known truth, mind you, that sometimes these years start off with a big bang—lots of talk from the pulpit and maybe a parish event or two, some publicity from Rome. And then….

Well, a year is a long time. How can we remember something like "mercy" for more than a couple of days or weeks, maybe a month, tops?

It is one of the great ironies of our modern times that whereas we have infinite attention spans to spare for all manner of pop culture trivia and associated nonsense (Just what are those Kardashians up to now? Who can keep up with them?), it is very, very hard for us to remember things like the Year of Mercy for more than a short time indeed.

Well, it’s still the Year of Mercy, folks, and here we are in Lent, well known in Madonna House as "The Season of Mercy." We even have a book by that title.

So it’s a good time to talk about mercy some more, just in case the subject has slipped not just to the back burner, but further back yet and is lying in a heap behind the stove somewhere.

We have Lent as a season to ponder the infinite mercy of God, all in preparation for his proving that mercy to us in his grand act of dying for us—the great drama of merciful love for our sake. And he has proved the power of that merciful love by rising from the dead and ascending to the heights of heaven.

So when we look towards the Third Sunday of Lent and its Gospel, we eagerly expect to hear a consoling word about the beautiful mercy of God. Perhaps it will be the Gospel of the Prodigal Son, or maybe the woman taken in adultery, or perhaps one of the great healing miracles… Oh, let me summarize this Third Sunday reading for you all!

Some of those present told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices … . [He replied] Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did… . [He tells the parable of the barren fig tree.]

Let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down (Lk 13: 1-9).

Uh… so… mercy. Yeah. Gulp. People perishing, trees being cut down (and the tree in that parable signifies you and me—let’s be clear about that!), towers falling on people and throats being cut. And you better repent or it’ll all happen to you.

This is not "the Church" telling us this. This is not mean old Bishop Jansenist or crabby old Fr. Puritan or Sister Mary of the Perpetual Frown. This is Jesus Christ, our Lord, our Savior, our God.

Ah, mercy! Such a big word! Such a beautiful word! Such a word that is sometimes so very misunderstood in our world today.

For so many people, mercy seems to mean kind of a waving away of the whole notion of sin. Either there ain’t no such thing, or it really is no big deal, you know.

Like, the Church, or some neurotic human person, makes such a big fuss about sin, like it matters or something. And so mercy consists in assuring people that God doesn’t really care about any of that stuff, and we can all just relax.

Plus we have this really cool pope now who is just about to change all the rules anyhow, and even if he doesn’t do that, it doesn’t matter because God is merciful and sin is no big deal.

Stuff and nonsense! Mercy is a big deal, precisely because sin is a big deal. Sin kills us, body and soul. The mercy of God is utterly vital (in the literal sense of that word) because it gives life to what is otherwise dead.

Mercy is not a matter of telling people that they’re not sinners or that their sins are unimportant. This is the same as telling them that their choices, their actions are unimportant (since it doesn’t really matter if they choose and do rightly or wrongly), which is the same as telling them that they are not important.

Mercy is something much better than that.

Mercy is God meeting us in our bad choices, our wrong decisions, the things we do that make our life barren, fruitless, lifeless, dead … and offering us a chance. Offering us life, in the very place of death (Golgotha, the tomb).

But we still have to take that chance. We still have to accept that gift, still have to make one move in his direction so that his entire life can be poured into our dead barren hearts.

And this acceptance, this movement, this gift is repentance. Repent and believe are the first words Jesus spoke to us in his preaching.

The graves have been opened, the stone has been rolled away … . But Lazarus still has to come forth, still has to walk out of that place of death, which is the place of sin in our lives.

And if we refuse, if we think that somehow mercy means that we get to cling to our sins and keep on doing exactly what we want to do, and that God somehow has to just deal with that and haul us up to heaven regardless … Well, that’s not what the Gospel tells us, is it? If you do not repent, you will perish (Lk 13:3).

And this whole business of manuring the fig tree: this is where we really see God’s mercy at play. Because the "manure" is not … well, manure.

It is the blood of Jesus Christ. It is the words of the Gospel. It is the sacraments of the Church. It is the wisdom of the saints and the doctors and fathers who have taught us the path of life.

God has given us so much "manure," to use the Lord’s own word for it. Everything that can be given to make a tree blossom and bear fruit has been given.

This is where the Year of Mercy becomes a work of mercy. We must proclaim Christ to people.

We must bring them all the gifts of mercy the Lord has given us, and bring them above all our own tender compassionate love, so that they can maybe, perhaps, begin to believe that there is a life for them on the other side of sin and death, and maybe take those first halting steps out of the tomb themselves.

That’s what Pope Francis is really asking us to do. It’s not about waving sin away as a silly distraction, but about being met by God’s mercy ourselves, and meeting others with that mercy. And in that, to be brought to repentance ourselves, and doing what we can to bring others to that beautiful place that opens us up to the treasures of heaven.

So let’s get back to it, and proclaim mercy—real mercy—loud, long, and clear wherever we go this Lent, this year, this life.

—A reflection on Luke 13:1-9, the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent, February 28, 2016


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