How does God respond to our sins? We know for sure that He always offers us forgiveness for our sins. But is that all that God offers to us sinners?
Matt Fradd’s book, Delivered, contains the conversion story of recently baptized Catholic Audrey Assad. She had stumbled upon pornography at the age of fifteen while watching television in the basement. Thus began her two year struggle with the destructive shame that came from habitual viewing of porn and masturbation. She then did what many of us attempt to do with sin – try to drown out the pain, shame and guilt. She went to Church, became a leader of the youth group, taught vacation Bible school classes, sang in the Church choir and volunteered her time generously. All along, she was too ashamed to even offer a prayer to God. By a heroic act of the will that was fuelled by shame, she stopped watching porn and masturbating after about two years. Yet, she still felt like she was dying inside.
Audrey knew that God was not satisfied with her just having an iron will against her addictions. In Audrey’s powerful words, “I understood then that freedom meant more than not sinning – it meant receiving the mercy and love of God and finding my identity in that love.” This realization of God’s love for her and His desire to bring out the good in her began her true liberation process from sexual addictions. But this liberation process was not complete without the formation in the chaste living that Audrey got from studying John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body. In her words, “Formation gave fullness to my resolve, and I have never looked back.”
God, not being satisfied with liberating us from sin, also offers us ongoing formation. Audrey’s testimony reminds us that sin cannot be covered or suppressed but must be surrendered to God. It is this surrendering of sin that allows us to experience both liberation from sin and the formation in right living that God carries out in our lives. There is nothing that we can say, do, achieve, possess, enjoy, etc. that can cover the shame or guilt of sin. But surrendered sin can set us on the path of both liberation and growth under the influence of the Spirit.
In first reading, the Israelites experience the two primary effects of sin – alienation from God and a wicked slavery in Babylon. In this sense, they received “double for their sins.” God’s merciful response to sin is also two – fold i.e. liberation and formation in preparation for union with Him. He forgives them their sins and forms them as His people by drawing them back to Him by another exodus experience: “Her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.” After liberating them, God plays the intimate role of the shepherd who tenderly forms His people, “feeding His flock, gathering His lambs in His arms, carrying them in His bosom and leading the ewes with care.”
In the Gospel, St. John the Baptist’s words and witness are so powerful to bring people to him in the desert. His clothing and food speaks of penitence and self-denial. But John is aware that his words or even his water baptism cannot take away sin. He points to the baptism of the Spirit that Jesus brings, “One mightier than I is coming after me…I have baptized you with water but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” It is through this Spirit that we indeed receive double for our sins.
On the day of our baptism, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, we received double from the Lord for our sins, both personal and original sin. The Holy Spirit initiated our liberation from sin and directs and energizes the ongoing formation of the baptized.
“By baptism, all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as all the punishment for sin…Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son of God, who has become a ‘partaker of the human nature… The sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit allows them to grow in goodness through the moral virtues.” (CCC#1263,1265, 1266)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in every Sacramental confession of sins, we also have a sort of baptism experience in that we too receive double for our sins. In addition to the sins that are forgiven in this sacrament, “God gives us the grace to begin anew…The same Spirit who brings sin to light is also the Consoler who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion.” (CCC#1432,1433) Because the new life received in baptism does not abolish our human weakness and inclination to sin, there is a need for an uninterrupted second conversion after the first and fundamental conversion of baptism. Confession, the second conversion, is not just forgiveness of sins but a chance to draw closer to God and to gain strength to fight against our weakness.
Let us also have a two-fold reflection this Advent Season. Firstly, what are the ways in which we are tempted to try and cover or suppress the shame and guilt from our sins? Have we allowed our world’s unbridled consumerism to numb the pain of emptiness that we experience on the inside? Have our workaholic tendencies, perfectionism, and drive to achieve become a way to escape from the darkness that we feel on the inside? Have we fallen for the temptation that more Pride Parades will somehow cover the pains of our immoral sexual practices? All these and more are nothing but futile attempts to take away or numb the pain of sin within.
Secondly, we must ask ourselves how ready are we for formation in Christian living? Liberation and formation go together as God’s response to our sins. Are we seeking for liberation without a willingness and readiness to embark on ongoing formation under the direction of the Spirit? We are always novices in the spiritual life and our union with God is not possible without this continuous formation in the School of the Spirit. Keeping these twin aspects of liberation and formation constantly in mind can bring a newness and life to our Sacramental confessions.
In this Eucharistic encounter with Jesus Christ, let us recall the words of St. Peter in Sunday’s Second Reading, “The Lord is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” He shed His blood for us on Calvary and offers us that blood in the Eucharist today as always “so that sins may be forgiven” and we be so close to Him that we become “one with Him as He is one with the Father.”(Jn17:21) If we choose to unceasingly surrender our sins to His redeeming blood in the Sacrament of Penance and refuse to cover or suppress them, He will forgive and liberate us from sin, form us in righteousness, and draw us closer and closer to Himself. This is how He offers us what no one could ever offer us – double for our sins.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honour to Mary!!!