Sunday, June 16, 2013

What a Shame

Blessings on all the Dads out there!

   Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time   C 

A proud father had worked hard 
to raise his sons right—
among other things, 
making sure they got to Mass every Sunday. 
One week, on the way out of church,
his youngest looked up 
at Fr. O’Malley and said,
“When I get older, 
I’m going to give you some money.” 
“Well, thank you,” the priest replied, “but why?” 
“Because,” the boy answered, 
“my dad says you’re one 
of the poorest preachers we’ve ever had.”

We’ve all experienced guilt:
when we regret having knowingly done something wrong.
And we’ve all experienced embarrassment:
we’ve been concerned about what others might think
when we’ve slipped-up…or when our kids have.
Both guilt and embarrassment come about
when I feel that I’ve done a bad thing.
But shame is an emotion that runs a good bit deeper,
because beyond feeling bad about my actions,
it’s a matter of feeling bad about myself.
Shame comes either when our flaws have been exposed,
or we merely fear that they will be.
Unlike guilt or embarrassment—
which at their best spur us on to do better—
shame often leaves us pretty well paralyzed
because we’ve grown unsure that we actually can be better.
Shame leaves us feeling very unworthy…
…and not necessarily because anybody else has condemned us;
the one we generally struggle most to forgive, after all, is ourselves.

You see, shame is precisely what many people feel
when they acknowledge their sin, when they uncover their guilt,
when they confess their faults to the Lord.
But shame is precisely what God does not want us to feel
when we come to stand before him.

Look at the woman in the gospel:
we are not told the specifics of her crime…
…but her sins are apparently public enough
to be familiar to many others.
With what compassion Jesus speaks to her:
“Your sins are forgiven; go in peace.”
And consider King David: his sins we know!
Captivated by the beauty of a married woman,
he seduces her, sleeps with her, gets her pregnant,
and then sends her husband off to be killed in battle.
Yet even in the face of such a grievous offence,
what tender mercy is shown by God:
“The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin.”

Some people today question the truth
of the many miracles recorded in the Bible.
Some are uncertain about Christ’s resurrection—
wondering if it isn’t just a fine metaphor
for a new springtime of humanity.
But I suspect what more people—in every age—
have a harder time believing than anything else
is that God still deeply loves them
no matter the depth of their sin.

Every human father knows—even if only instinctively—
that his love for his children
isn’t based on their successes or achievements,
and that a truly fatherly love is far bigger than any of their failures
or any embarrassment they might cause.
As he helped to bring this life into the world,
so a father would do whatever it takes to bring it to birth again:
to see a troubled life restored and renewed—to see it saved.
How much more must that be the case with our heavenly Father
when he sees us weighed down with guilt
and wounded by shame!

We are not justified 
by following the letter of the law.
God’s love isn’t a reward 
bestowed only for doing good!
Rather, it’s because God loves us 
without condition—
the very heart of our faith,
revealed oh-so-clearly on the Cross—
that we want to be good, 
to do what pleases our Father,
to obey the Lord’s every commandment.
It’s love—God’s love—
that alone has the power to heal us
of sin and guilt, of embarrassment and shame.
And when I recognize it—
when I can accept that God has accepted me
despite all of my flaws—
then the only appropriate response 
is love in return:
great love born of forgiveness;
love which overflows
like so much precious ointment over the feet
of him who has loved me 
and given himself up for me.

What is it that you’re most ashamed of?
(No—please—don’t say it out loud!)
And can you believe that almighty God, the Creator of all things,
sees right through it to the dignity and immeasurable worth
with which he made you in the first place?
Dare you believe that you have a Father in heaven
who loves you that much?
’Cause if you can believe that God loves you as you are,
then you must also believe that God’s love
won’t be content to leave you that way.

As you can see, we ought to feel no shame
presenting ourselves before the sinless One.
Nor should we feel shame in the company of other sinners;
we’ve all been there!
(Now, run into someone like Simon the Pharisee—
a sinner who somehow thinks he’s sinless—
and that’s a problem…but his problem, not yours!)
Do not be ashamed, but instead have faith:
faith in a Father who loves you so much
that he sent his Only Begotten Son to take away your sins.
I sure hope I haven’t preached it poorly…
…because that’s the faith which can save you.

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