First Sunday of Lent Homily
1st Sunday of Lent, February 22, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
These are the first words that Jesus speaks as he begins his public life.
What would we think if we heard him say those words to us
–in particular, what would you say if he said to you:
“Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
A lot of people today would probably look around to see who Jesus was talking to:
because they know there’s no way he’d be saying “repent” to them.
Because most people don’t like to think that they need to repent
–that would mean they’d have to admit they were sinners,
and well, most people just don’t like to think of themselves that way.
“Sure, nobody’s perfect,” they’d say, “but I’m not a sinner.”
That’s kind of funny, because that’s exactly what a sinner is:
somebody who’s not morally perfect.
This word “sin” seems to be a problem for a lot of folks.
We tend to associate it with all sorts of terrible things,
to think that only murderers, or wife-beaters, or rapists commit sin.
But the fact is that anyone who is not morally perfect,
anyone who ever does anything which strays even the slightest from God’s will
Sin’s not a word to be afraid of, it’s a word that helps us understand the truth.
And the truth is, as St. Paul tells us elsewhere in Scripture:
“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
In 1946 Pope Pius XII said something which was later repeated
by his successors Paul VI and St. John Paul II:
“The sin of the [20th] century, is the loss of the sense of sin”
The “sense of sin” is the ability to see clearly the sins around us,
and the sins in our own lives.
In effect, it’s what some might call the “conscience”
—knowing almost instinctively that something wrong—even in a small way.
Many people today have lost the sense of sin
—they just don’t recognize it,
they don’t even notice it when it’s right under their noses.
You know, when I was in High School I worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant.
And I didn’t notice it at first but after a few months
of handling hot plates coming out of the scalding washing machine,
it occurred to me that I had lost most of the sensitivity to heat in my hands:
I could hold a plate taken right off a hot stove and hardly notice it.
That hadn’t happened overnight,
it was months of conditioning, months of handling hot plate after hot plate.
That’s the way it is with sin, and our sensitivity to sin.
We see so much sin around us, and we try so hard to ignore it,
that over a time, we begin not to even notice it at all.
Think about it.
Think about the way we talk to each other,
the way we dress,
the entertainment we choose.
For example I was flipping channels the other night
and stopped on a rerun of a popular cop show.
A cop show, and even there they degraded marriage:
a couple on the show had been dating for several months,
and the guy asked his girlfriend to marry him, and she said:
“slow down, let’s take this one step at a time….
we haven’t even moved in together yet…”
With shows like this, we wonder why sins against marriage are so common place?
You might say to me, Father, it’s just a show, it’s no big deal.
And I would say to you: “you just proved my point”;
a lot of Catholics just don’t recognize what’s wrong with these kinds of things,
even these ridiculous shows, because they have lost the sense of sin.
And it’s not just the TV and the movies, but music, conversations…it’s everywhere.
All the sins around us, and we don’t even notice them.
Maybe, in some ways, that’s necessary sometimes
—if we were always aware of the evil around us
we might be tempted to just lock ourselves in our rooms.
But more importantly, we’ve become insensitive to the sins not around us,
but in us: our own sins.
Every Lent we priests hear 100’s of extra confessions—and that’s great
People who haven’t been to confession in many months, and even years
—1 year, 2 years, sometimes 20 or 30 years.
And these are great too—I’m glad to forgive someone who’s been away so long.
Sometimes when someone’s been away from confession for a long time
they have some particularly difficult sins to confess.
No problem; as Jesus tells us elsewhere: “all sins will be forgiven the sons of men.”
And as the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament tells us:
“there is nothing new under the sun”
–I’ve probably heard confessed just about every sin under the sun, and in dark,
and nothing shocks me anymore.
The only thing that’s disconcerting in these confessions is when someone,
comes in and says something like:
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned,
it’s been months (or years) since my last confession….(pause)…
well I can’t really think of anything I’ve done that was so bad….”
Now I understand that it’s hard to remember months or years worth of sins,
but how about last week’s?
I’m not making fun of these folks—and this isn’t all that uncommon.
A lot of folks in this room haven’t been to confession in months or even years
because you can’t think of anything you’ve done that was so bad.
But this is not a healthy attitude.
Because sin, whether large or small, mortal or venial,
whether we recognize it or not,
always hurts at least one person: the sinner.
And when we ignore it the hurt goes on.
Yesterday we read in the Gospel at Mass that Jesus compared himself to a physician:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
Sins are a lot like physical ailments.
All of us have something go wrong with our bodies on any given day.
Maybe it’s the muscles pull we get in exercising, or a simple headache or cold.
The problem is, if we don’t take care of small maladies or illnesses
they tend to weaken our system, and pretty soon we have real problems.
Some of you may have heard about a toothache I had a few years ago.
It wasn’t very much—at first an aspirin would take care of it.
But a few weeks later the simple toothache had turned into an abscessed tooth,
and then that turned to sepsis and almost killed me!
When you get a toothache, you shouldn’t just take an aspirin to dull the pain
—you should do something to treat it.
You should probably even see your dentist.
When you have a sin, a little sin,
and you keep filling your life up with more and more little sins,
pretty soon we have very unhealthy patient.
Pretty soon you have a hard time seeing right from wrong on not only little things,
but in big things too.
[This morning, walking over from Church,
I noticed all the patches of ice here and there,
and I was able to walk around them carefully.
But it occurred to me that sins, especially little sins, are like these tiny patches of ice:
you can avoid a few small patches,
but eventually they’re so many you slip on one and fall and break your neck.
And the same with venial sins: as they spread,
you eventually slip and fall into deadly or mortal sins.]
Before Jesus began his public life of preaching the Gospel,
he first went out into the desert for 40 days to pray and fast
—to prepare himself for the mission ahead.
This last week we began our own 40 days of prayer, sacrifice and preparation: Lent.
But all of our prayers and sacrifices are useless
unless we recognize that we are sinners;
unless we re-sensitize ourselves to the sins around us,
and most importantly to the sins in our own lives.
Maybe it’s our little habit needlessly talking about the faults of other.
Or maybe it’s the impatience with the guy in the car in front of us
that seems to have learned to drive from a 90 year old nun.
Or maybe it’s our anger at people who hate our country,
or maybe anger at people who run our country.
Whatever it is—whether it’s a big sin or a small sin, a mortal sin or a venial sin
—don’t be afraid of that word, and don’t be afraid to recognize it.
Because it’s only in recognizing it that you can overcome it.
And it’s only when you can overcome it that you can
protect yourself from falling prey to even worse sins,
and only then that you can be the good person that you want to be.
“Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
Jesus says this to you today, and everyday for the next 40 days.
Do not act as if you don’t hear him, or as if he has someone else in mind.
He has you in his mind, and in his heart.
Recognize his voice speaking to you.
Recognize the sins he calls you to repent.
Recognize them and do not be afraid of them,
but with the grace of Jesus Christ,
and by your sacrifices and prayers,