from Fr. John's homily this morning: "Are you so caught up in your own sinfulness that you can't even see what it is that God is calling you to do? Where is God calling you to cultivate that mustard seed of faith" and do Works of Mercy? [sic]
|What the hell, I have a picture of the quoted priest actually giving a homily, so I might as well use it here. If you want, take a green crayon and turn the chasuble into the proper one for Ordinary Time.|
I happened to have a conversation just before I read the above with a friend who admitted that they had skipped out on Mass with some frequency but did not "feel bad" about it. I am not telling you this to judge my friend; I am telling you this to demonstrate that people may have different notions of "how bad is bad" and when does something cross the line into "sin."
So let's go back to the statement made by the priest. "Caught up in your own sinfulness" is an interesting choice of words for him to use. After all, I could be rather sinful, say, "really bad" - maybe cheating on my spouse - and still write a check to the local food kitchen that can feed hundreds. That is an extreme case - I don't think anyone would argue that the person's sin is not mitigated by their charity. But I like to start with such examples, because now we can back up a bit.
Is spending your evenings watching television sinfiul? You know, a little House Hunters, then some Storage Wars, then maybe some Ghost Adventures before getting down to the real nitty gritty with Person of Interest? By itself . . . no. It is an enjoyable form of entertainment and useful for relieving the stress of the day.
But . . . what if it becomes so mundane that it takes away from family life, and the obligation of being there for your spouse and children? What if it takes away from prayer life? What if it keeps you from dedicating time to performing the aforementioned "Works of Mercy" in that it distracts you from where "work" is needed, be it at your child's school or the local Catholic Worker?
Where is the line crossed?
I commented on the post regarding Works of Mercy towards those which bring you out of your comfort zone. In Luke 6:32-33, Jesus asks:
For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.
So what is that wee bit of sinfulness that might be keeping you from stepping outside your personal shell? Let me propose this: you might be so caught up in your own personal fears and neuroses that you cross the line into the sin of pride. It may not seem like it - how often have you met someone who is miserably unhappy with their lives, or depressed, or simply tell you that they cannot "cope?" It is very self-deprecating and so how could someone be so debasing of themselves be guilty of pride? But . . . if your obsession is yourself, be it a negative self-image or a fear of how others perceive you to the point you become blind to others, can that be sinfulness?
Or this - imagine if a friend came to you to tell you, they are going to have an abortion. You strongly fear that if you try to talk them out of doing so, they will label you a bigot and the friendship will end. So you don't. Of course, you can assuage any guilt you may feel by telling yourself, "Well, nothing I can say will stop her, so I'll pray for her." But what have you placed at a higher priority than the Work of Mercy? Which, in this case, could have saved a life?
We typically excuse such things as "human nature," as if to suggest that our humanity gives us a pass to striving for the Divine. My thought is that Father's use of the phrase "caught up in your own sinfulness" for many means violating a "thou shalt not" rather than "thou shall." If we go back to Luke 6, the verse immediately preceding the one cited above reads:
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
For if sin is turning away from what God wants us to do, and if He wants us to do to others as you would have them do to you, and if you want to be holy and thus want others to help you get there . . . then sometimes we have to view our conduct, as innocent as it may seems, with a more critical eye.
There is an old expression: go big or go home. Would you place that above a confessional? Rather, if a mustard seed of faith can move mountains, be aware that the opposite is true - a mustard seed of neglect, a mustard seed of prejudice, a mustard seed of fear, a mustard seed of pride can turn into the sin that blocks the path to holiness through the Works of Mercy.