Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
"Her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love." Luke 7:47
We read a story of redeeming love in the Gospel today. Jesus dines at the house of a Pharisee. "A sinful woman", having heard that Jesus was there, comes in off the street with a flask of ointment. She weeps over Jesus¹ feet, dries them with her hair, kisses them, and anoints them with the oil. The Pharisee is scandalized. How can this man be a prophet and allow this sinner to touch him, he asks? Jesus answers by teaching a simple lesson. When the love is greater, more is forgiven. "Her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love" (John 7:47). He concludes, "Your sins are forgiven" (John 7:48).
The two most powerful sentences in any language are "I love you" and "I forgive you." The problem is today those sentences have become distorted. People mistake sentimentality for love. Love is equated with feeling good. Therefore, some think that love is allowing whatever to happen, without any consideration for principle or for what is right. Love, however, is rooted not in sentiment but in will. When I love, I will and I act. The woman in the Gospel is overwhelmed by her sins. She must do something to show her remorse. So she empties out her guilt onto the feet of Jesus and in a gesture of extravagant pleading cries her sins away. This is an act of irrepressible love, and Jesus accepts it for what it is, an act of repentance.
This is not a modern day approach. We would rather tell the woman that sin doesn¹t exist, that her sorrow is misdirected, that she is suffering from a complex. It reminds me of the quip by the satirist Jules Feiffer. "I told the doctor I was overtired, anxiety-ridden, compulsively active, constantly depressed, with recurring fits of paranoia. Turns out I¹m normal." The fact is the woman cannot deny the reality of her situation. Love compels her. She has no complex. She has discovered love.
This brings us to the second sentence; "I forgive you." Along with "I love you", this sentence suffers in the modern world as well. I am convinced that perhaps forgiveness is lacking in the world because we seldom hear those words spoken. To express it another way, if I am going to forgive, then I must first hear those words spoken to me.
Forgiveness addresses guilt. If we deny guilt, then forgiveness cannot exist. In a world where no one is responsible for anything and blame is passed on to someone else, guilt is reduced to a "hang-up" that therapy will eliminate.
Pope Benedict XVI offers a forceful insight into guilt and forgiveness. He writes, "Guilt is a reality, an objective force; it has caused destruction that must be repaired. For this reason, forgiveness must be more than a matter of ignoring, of merely trying to forget. Guilt must be worked through, healed, and thus overcome. Forgiveness exacts a price ‹ first of all from the person who forgives. He must overcome within himself the evil done to him; he must, as it were, burn it interiorly and in so doing renew himself. As a result, he also involves the other; the trespasser, in this process of transformation, of inner purification, and both parties, suffering all the way through and overcoming evil, are made new" ("Jesus of Nazareth", p. 159).
At this point it is perhaps good to mention the reaction of the people at table in the Pharisee¹s home. They ask, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" (Luke 7:49). Implied in this remark is the price that Jesus will pay for forgiving others. He will be brought to crucifixion because He did what others thought only God could do. Forgiveness will exact a price, as Pope Benedict so aptly observes. In disbelieving His power to forgive, they missed the point that He was revealing God. Goodness itself is crucified because of the failure to see the possibility of forgiveness.
When I confess my sins, I admit a debt owed to love. And in my sorrow for my sins, I manifest a love that protests my repentance and admits me once again to the reality of God¹s love. I want to hear the words, "Your sins are forgiven." I want to speak the truth of my guilt and appreciate the truth of my reconciliation with God. I do not want to live the lie of saying that I am perfect and that forgiveness does not exist because my failings are not real.
In short, when we love, we forgive, and when we forgive, we love. If forgiveness requires love, then we want to love even more. We want to hear and speak the words, "I love you" and "I forgive you." In this we are not only more fully human but also touch divine life.