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home : bishop : columns

9/15/2016 9:00:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
Opening the door of mercy
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


How much patience does God have? When will His mercy finally run out with all the evil in the world?

Many pious people are convinced that, at some point, God will decide not to put up with it any more and just lower the boom. Maybe that is more of a veiled wish: "If only God would punish 'those people,' who have it coming to them!"

The problem with this attitude is that it seems to presume that there are two classes of people: those who deserve God's mercy and those who do not. We are all in need of God's mercy!

We are all sinners, whether we find it convenient or comfortable to admit it or not. Only God knows our (or anyone's) actual degree of guilt or innocence, and Jesus has something very strong and direct to say about those who will look for the splinter in another's eye, but not notice the plank in their own.

It is precisely this kind of presumptive arrogance of which those who do not go to church as often accuse many regular churchgoers. They complain of churchgoers' hypocritical and "judgmental" attitude that looks down on the behavior of other people.

Of course, that criticism could also be turned around. Isn't it also judgmental to accuse other people -- indeed, a whole class of churchgoers -- of being judgmental? It reminds me of what a beloved high school teacher once told us: Whenever you point a finger at someone else, the other three fingers point right back at you.

I think it is fair to say that most people want to live a good and decent life in truth, justice and charity. Despite our best intentions, however, we often fall short of our highest aspirations and give in to forms of deception, injustice and lack of charity. When others notice such inconsistencies, it is easy to become defensive and even self-righteous, to excuse ourselves of what we would not be so quick to forgive others.

Many of the greatest saints observed that the closer they got to God, the more aware they became of their sins, faults and imperfections. That is, no doubt, because the more we draw into God's light, the more we can see those flaws that are hidden in the darkness.

If we find ourselves noticing the sins and failings of others more than our own, we may be in for quite a surprise when God has us take a look in the mirror. This will come, ultimately, when we die and appear before Christ, the judge of all humanity.

Even now, if we are so fortunate, we may find a friend with the courage to admonish us and tell us the truth about ourselves; or a Scripture passage or good homily might strike a sensitive nerve that forces us to admit our own sinfulness.

What a gift! Awareness of sin can be such an occasion of grace. If, instead of trying to justify ourselves and save face -- which is only to cover up the truth - we admit the sin and confess it to God, we have the promise of immediate pardon.

In fact, we are assured by Jesus Himself that God will always show mercy toward the repentant sinner. The worse the sin, the greater the grace of forgiveness. So, then, the awareness of our sins is the first step in opening the door of mercy.

This does not mean that we should carelessly do what we want with the attitude that, no matter what we do, God will always forgive us. That would be to treat God in an absurdly mechanical and impersonal way -- as if He does not care what we do. Of course He does!

Every sin that God forgives cost Him dearly in the sufferings of Jesus, who took those sins upon Himself. God is good, and His holiness is deeply offended by sinful actions.

He does not delight in seeing us debase ourselves and one another, either. Only the devil does -- and those who think and act like him. God wants us to resist temptation and to struggle with our weaknesses, and He will help us, if we let Him.

If we want the healing, peace and happiness Jesus will give us, then we must allow Him to show us the faults that are keeping us enslaved in sinful patterns, and ask Him to deliver us. This is what we ask for in the Lord's Prayer, the "Our Father."

If only our words would become truer expressions of what is really in our minds and hearts, how much the Lord would be able to do for us!

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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