Guilty as Sin~ by Fr. Bryan Wolf

Luke 13:1-9
13:1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  13:2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?  13:3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.  13:4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?  13:5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”  13:6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none.  13:7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’  13:8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it.  13:9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'”

“Guilty as sin”. An old American colloquialism. It is an expression I heard often when I worked in law enforcement for almost thirty years. Bantered about by cops, attorneys, witnesses and I think, on even an occasion or two- from the bench itself. The defendant is no doubt, “guilty as sin”.

What image does such a condemnation conjure up? An egregious act worthy of the strongest penalty. No doubt a person so referred, has commited an act which violates the moral sensibility and fiber of the community. Beyond any chance of rehabilitation, this defendant is for certain- going a way for a long time.

But this phrase more then likely can bring to mind someone who, is due for confession. For admittedly there are those certain churches that seem to make this guilt, a prerequiste for membership- if not for their every existence.

In his book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, Bishop John Shelby Spong; Bishop Emeritus of The Episcopal Church, tells us: “When we examine the history of the church, it appears that guilt- not forgiveness, has been at the center of ecclesiastical control. Guilt has alsoo been the source of the churches power. Faith in life after death has been predicated on that guilt being alleviated, purged or punished eternally.” In earlier times, and staking a strong foothold until now, the church makes herself indispensable. Bishop Spong continues: “Religious leaders throughout the ages learned that controlling peoples behavior rested upon exacerbating these human feelings of guilt and weakness.”

In fact the Roman Catholic Church today finds herself at a wall she cannot get over or around. Originally termed “Reconciliation”- to express the forgiveness of the church, this sacrament was branded early on by church fathers as “Confession”. Defined by Webster’s dictionary, confession “is an admission of guilt or sin”. Complicated by the Papal practice of “special dispensations”, where wealthy people could by their absolution and freedom from condeming guilt, the Church mired in a situation it had created. Though the Second Vatican Council tried to heal this scar by shifting away from the “confession itself” to focus on penance and forgiveness, most Catholics today consider the act a true confession equal to criminal guilt.

I know personally many Catholics who refuse to enter a church or have expressed sadness at not having participated in the beautiful mystery of the Holy Eucharist for so long- because they have not been to “Confession”. There are many of those out there, thirsting for God- longing for that spiritual connection to God, only to believe they are not deserving because an imposed requirement, roadblock if you will, has not been overcome.

What then is the ultimate message being sent by the Church? Does Christ offer unconditional forgiveness, or is it something the Church can only approve once there is an acknowledgement or an embarrassment of guilt? Some churches move so far as to temper their own frustration that this constraint of Confession causes, as misguided faithful evaporate from the pews, by proclaiming- condemn the sin, but not the sinner!

Clerics and religious people are tasked today to reexamine, and perhaps even redefine if necessary, what is “sin”. Our interpretations of such must be made with contemporary understanding and sensitivty, and not first century ignorance. Saint Paul himself rationalized that “all have sinned and all fall short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23] How then could anyone, hope to be above the grasp and grave of sin at all? Bishop Spong throws out a life preserver: “To be human, we are by definition fallen from grace and in need of rescue. But Jesus forgives anyone- everyone. There is no limit to the forgiveness of God.”

In her book Rites of Justice, Dr. Megan McKenna a Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, challenges churches today to “revisit reconciliation not so much as something that was done or needs to be undone, but to call us to a change of heart, mind- to move from apathy and ignorance to political and social justice.”

We must be ready and willing to accept and embrace everyone. The church must be prepared to forgive and receive everyone- as Jesus did. Without the predispositions and ambiguities that all can be forgiven as long as you read the “fine print” first. A church trap set to ensnare and rebuke the searching soul.
No one is to be denied the forgiveness and acceptance of God’s love.

Even the Holy Eucharist is to be offered freely to anyone who approaches God’s table. For the love of God is so great and God’s mercy limitless, that even those who would participate in the Holy Eucharist to seek God’s grace without such requirements of “Confession”, do so at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit within them. There is no deception, deceit or ulterior motive- for the Holy Spirit will replace that in the beautiful connection of the soul to God. Christ tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” [2 Corinthians 12:9]

Bishop Spong warns us that: “the very future of the Christian faith rests not on reasserting traditions of antiquity, but in our abilities to reeaxmine and refashion how Christianity will be understood in our time.”

Almighty and most merciful God. You know what is truly in my heart. Help me to clarify and purify my intentions, as there are so many contradictory desires within me and I get preoccupied with things that don’t really matter or last. I know that if I give to you my heart- I will follow my heart.

In all that I am today and all that I try to do- in all my encounters and reflections- even in all my frustrations and failings- and most especially at this time of prayer- I place my heart and soul into your hands and at the foot of your Cross. I am your child, my Lord. Forgive me and raise me up for your glory. Amen, and Amen.

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