The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on June 16 during the Vigil Mass for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.
In his encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (No. 1). So then, you and I are Christians, disciples of Christ, because we have met, encountered, a Person, who gives our lives a new horizon and a decisive direction.
Who is this person? The sinful woman in today's gospel account tells us. It is Jesus! She met Him, encountered Him in Simon the Pharisee's house. Recall the scene! "Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that (Jesus) was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment."
What happened? What was the result of this encounter? Listen to what Jesus was telling Simon. "…‘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. …Your faith has saved you; go in peace.'" Yes, because of her encounter with Jesus, the life of the sinful woman acquired a new horizon and a decisive direction: a brand new beginning without being trapped in sin! A fresh start filled with hope! A new life!
Why did Jesus do this? One word gives us the answer: love — divine love! After all, God is love and Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who became man, reveals this love and, in fact, suffered, died and rose again, so that we could receive the saving effects of this divine love. Jesus reveals this love. Yesterday, on Friday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. The Heart of Christ is the visible symbol of God's everlasting love. This love can be understood as a Father's love, and in our first reading, we heard how King David confessed his sins and was forgiven precisely because of God the Father's love. Jesus makes known in a new and radical way the Father's love for each one of His sons and daughters.
The sinful woman acquired a new horizon and a decisive direction for her life because she encountered — met — Christ. We too have encountered Christ. When, we ask? First, at our baptism, although most of us were too young to be aware. But that awareness may have been more conscious at our first penance or first Communion. Actually, at every celebration of the Eucharist, at every celebration of the other sacraments, in prayer each day, on a day of recollection or retreat, we encounter the Lord Jesus, who gives our lives a new horizon and a decisive direction. We are His disciples because in meeting Him, we encounter His love!
I would invite you to focus on one specific experience when we very much encounter divine love revealed by Jesus: the sacrament of Divine Mercy, the sacrament of penance. When we humbly and honestly confess our sins, when we sincerely seek their forgiveness and ask for absolution to be given and a penance to be assigned, when we promise to the best of our ability to avoid the near occasions of sin and to improve our lives, there, before Jesus and the community of the Church, both made visible and present by the ordained priest, we are experiencing divine love as did the sinful woman in today's gospel account and are being given a new horizon and a decisive direction for the future.
Now, to experience God's love in this forgiveness of our sins, we need to do two things: (1) to be aware of and grateful for God's ever-faithful love, and (2) to admit honestly that we do sin. Are we truly aware of how much God loves us? And are we truly grateful — grateful enough to open our hearts to His love? Can we really admit our sins, not in a way that makes us scrupulous and depressed, but in a way that acknowledges our accountability and our desire to become more responsible in doing good? When we are grateful for God's love and honestly admit our sins, then we can indeed encounter the only kind of love which can heal us — God's own love revealed by Jesus our Lord. The sinful woman was both grateful and honest; the Pharisee was not. She was forgiven!
Yes, we are Christians because we have encountered a Person, Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, who came to redeem us by His dying and rising. He remains among us, above all, in the sacrament of Charity, the sacrament of Divine Love, in the Eucharist! Because we have met Him and will continue to meet Him in daily prayer; in sacramental celebrations, especially penance and the Eucharist; and in adoration before His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament; our lives will have a new horizon and a decisive direction. And, with St. Paul in today's second reading, we too can affirm: "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; … I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me." Amen.