Sunday, June 16, 2013

"If justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing."

God does not keep score.

Let me simply say that up front, lest anyone be confused. I meet too many Catholics who still envision God their Father with some kind of heavenly grade book keeping a tally of their good deeds and their bad deeds and checking the balance to see if they are O.K. They try to do good deeds in the hope of making up for the bad ones. They look at every downturn in their lives as a kind of divine punishment for their misdeeds.

This is the kind of thinking that Pope Francis apparently took issue with in his private remarks to representatives of CLAR. We are busy tallying our sins and tallying our prayers. We have replaced the 613 commandments of the Old Law with some new ones of our own creation.

Today, St. Paul says knock it off:

We who know that a person is not justified by works of the law
but through faith in Jesus Christ,
even we have believed in Christ Jesus
that we may be justified by faith in Christ
and not by works of the law,
because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Gal 2:16)

This, of course, does not mean that our deeds are unimportant. On the contrary, in today's Gospel the deeds of the sinful woman are very important. They are an expression of her great love. In response to that love, Jesus declares her sins forgiven. So, when I say that God is not keeping score, I am not making any kind of sola fide argument. Our works are important...not because they can earn grace, but because they are a necessary expression of our love for God.

This love, when it is sincere, is met with a greater love on God's part--a love that offers unconditional forgiveness. God is not interested in accounting the deeds of our past, but in clearing a way to a future rooted in Him. "I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me," says St. Paul (Gal 2:20). Our task is only to freely accept this love and allow it to flow through us in both word and action.

"The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin," as Nathan declares to David. Of course, the things we have done continue to have temporal effects just as they did for David: our sin causes problems that are still ours to deal with. We can and should make reparation in the hopes of healing some of what we have broken in the world. And yet God is not punishing us. On the contrary, he promises to remain with us even in the midst of our troubles...even when we created those troubles ourselves.

So, instead of listening to our doubts and fears let us listen to Jesus:
"So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven
because she has shown great love.
But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
The others at table said to themselves,
“Who is this who even forgives sins?”
But he said to the woman,
“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:47-50)
This Fathers Day, know the heart of your Heavenly Father by knowing the Sacred Heart of the Son. "Who is this who even forgives sins?" It is Jesus, the one true image of the invisible God. Think about that image and not an old man with a grade book. Then, go in peace.

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