-Thirty-third Ordinary Sunday – B –
A cartoon had a man dressed as a prophet and holding a sign which read: “Resist temptation.” In the next frame was a rather scruffy-looking fellow who said to the prophet: “I’m not looking to resist temptation. I’m looking to find it!”
That cartoon tells us something about our humanity. We know that, with God’s grace, we are to resist temptation. But sometimes we actually look for temptation, and then feel guilty after we have fallen for it and sinned.
What do we make of our guilt? That is something that the Letter to the Hebrews tells us about today. It says that Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins, and took His seat forever at the right hand of God.”
There are people who suffer from overwhelming guilt. Edgar Allen Poe’s story, “The Telltale Heart,” deals with a man with a guilty conscience. He had killed a man, and his own heartbeat was a reminder of his sin. As his heartbeat grew louder and louder to his senses, he eventually loses his mind.
There are people who suffer from guilt in extreme ways and without any proportion. My heart goes out to people who suffer from scrupulosity. While venial sin is sin indeed, the scrupulous person tends to see every sin as a mortal sin. And they can become obsessed with guilt.
But for most of us, guilt can be a very healthy tool. As someone put it: “Guilt is for the soul what pain is for the body.” We do not go looking for pain, but when we have a physical pain it tells us that something needs attention so that we can feel better again.
Guilt can do that for our souls. It tells us that something is wrong and needs attention. It can lead us to God’s mercy and forgiveness, so that we can feel better.
A preacher was talking about the weight of sin. And someone in the congregation asked: “How much does sin weigh? Five pounds? Ten pounds? One hundred pounds?”
The preacher thought for a moment, and then replied: “If you put a two-hundred pound weight on a corpse, will that body feel anything?”
“Of course not,” the man answered, “because that body is dead.”
The preacher went on to say: “When our spirit is dead, we stop feeling the weight of our sin.”
That is an important observation because guilt, if properly felt, can lead us to God’s mercy and grace. But sometimes people would rather live “dead in their sins” – and prefer to change their beliefs rather than change their behaviors.
Where can we go with our guilt? It should lead us to Jesus Christ. Today’s second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins, and took His seat forever at the right hand of God.” We can go to Him because He is the only one that can forgive our sins. And His cross shows us how ready and willing He is to offer us His mercy and grace.
A novelist writes about a man who is on his deathbed. He is very sorry for his sins and begs Jesus for His mercy. The man then closes his eyes and dies.
He is then standing before Jesus Christ, and looking rather dirty and disheveled. Jesus smiles at him and takes a wet sponge and begins wiping the smudges off this man’s face until he is clean.
And then Jesus says to him: “Your heart is repentant and I have forgiven you. Now go play in my kingdom of heaven.”
Our guilt is a good thing if it leads us to Jesus. For He is the only one who can forgive our sins. He is always ready and willing to do so. He simply waits for us to ask Him.
He has given us the great Sacrament of His love – Confession, Penance, Reconciliation – in which He wipes away our sins and removes our guilt.
As we prayed in today’s Responsorial Psalm : “You are my inheritance, O Lord. You will show me the path to life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever. You are my inheritance, O Lord.”