St Mary’s, Lansdowne Road
10th June 2018 The Tenth Sunday of the Year
My dad’s dad died when I was fourteen years old. For the last couple of months of his life he was in hospital in Eastbourne and we as a family would drive down from Kent to see him. He’d fallen over and broken something, he was 88 years old and in pain and discomfort; his wife had died a couple of months earlier and he had taken care of her for years as she struggled with Alzheimer’s: he had achieved everything he wanted to in life. Amid all the noise and discomfort and invasion of privacy that you have to endure while in hospital, he would only complain about one thing, which was that he hated the nurses calling him “darling.” “I’m not your darling!” he would retort. He didn’t really like that sort of familiarity. He’d lived next door to the same person for sixty years and it was only in the last months of his life that he’d ever dreamed of calling her by her Christian name, and it was only then that she had called him by his Christian name, Vernon.
Levels of familiarity change with society’s expectations of what is and is not acceptable. When we read the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis we ought to be amazed with how intimate, how familiar the first man and woman are with God Almighty. God is walking through the Garden: imagine the scent of the flowers, imagine the afternoon breeze after the heat of the day. God had created the world to be enjoyed and He had given to Adam and to Eve instructions about how to look after it, and specifically not to eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. These instructions were given to humankind face-to-face by God. We were programmed to have this sort of communion with God.
You and I are created wonderfully, more wonderfully than just to be flesh and blood: the soul we have now is to endure unto the life to come, but we are to have a different body in Heaven. As we heard St Paul say in our second reading: “when the tent that we live in on earth is folded up, there is a house built by God for us, an everlasting home”. We will have a new body in Heaven, made by God, and one which we need not ever worry about failing us or letting us down or aching or experiencing pain or ageing, because it is eternal, made to last for ever. This eternity makes it beautiful. I could never use words sufficient to describe the beauty of Heaven. Our end goal is to have a communion with God even stronger than that which was enjoyed by Adam and Eve in Eden.
By the time of our first reading, the original innocence of humanity had already been lost: God is walking in the Garden and Man and Woman are nowhere to be found: “Where are you?” God asked. Where indeed! Adam has hidden, cut Himself off from God. This is what we do whenever we sin: we cut ourselves off from the Lord. For us to realise this in our spiritual lives it is important that we take into account our sins of omission. Sins of commission are when we proactively do something wrong: steal, have wicked thoughts, be angry, take the Lord’s name in vein, lie etc. Sins of omission are easier for us to gloss over but no less deadly to our souls, suffocating them, smashing out the image of God within us.
As an example of these sins of omission, it might be that we say our prayers, that we attend Mass, but we do it with less care, less concentration then we used to, or we’re getting later and later in arriving. A different sin of omission would be to fail to show care for people we could care for, like those who passed by the man attacked on the road to Jericho who had been beaten and for whom the Good Samaritan cared. Sins of omission include not using gifts we have been given; cutting ourselves off from the world and staying at home; “minding our own business.” Other types of sins of omission are not telling the truth. We all know that to lie is sinful; but it is also wrong not to tell the truth, to be silent about something or to omit something.
The sins of omission might not always have deadly effects on others and might seem because of that less significant than actually doing something wrong, but the effects on our soul can be no less serious. The failing to do things eats away at us, leads us to become despondent: “Oh, it doesn’t matter whether you go to Mass or not … Go when you can.” We can end up being critical of people who are holier than we are, wishing to chip away at their lives and their acts of piety through criticism or ridicule. We become dried up in our spiritual lives very quickly without realising what has happened.
These sins of omissions will be forgiven us when we say sorry to God for them. This promise of forgiveness is given in the Gospel: “all men’s sins will be forgiven, and all their blasphemies.“ This is won for us on the Cross by Christ as we come every Good Friday in thanksgiving for: indeed that is why it is called Good Friday because such great mercy is revealed, the sort of mercy sung about by the Psalmist: “With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption.” But our Saviour goes on in what he said and the next passage is a little puzzling perhaps: “But let anyone blaspheme against the Holy Spirit and he will never have forgiveness: he is guilty of an eternal sin.” All sin is forgivable or sin would be stronger than God, which it isn’t, so even the worse sins are forgivable. But we have to confess them before our death.
So what is this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Blasphemy is a way of way of life many live out by failing to give glory and honour to God. The ultimate blasphemy is by us failing to repent of our sins. The sin against the Holy Spirit is therefore failing to ask for forgiveness, We do this when we think “Oh, God knows I’m sorry, I don’t need to tell Him.” Similarly, when we believe a sin is greater than God’s mercy and despair of your salvation, this too is to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, to deny God some of His glory.
When we sin, we are inserting yet further nails is to the bloody and sweaty body of our Saviour. We proclaim that death when we come to the altar. When we come here to be washed in the blood of the Lamb, as we’ll sing in one of our hymns later on, we cry out with the crowds who stood at the foot of the Cross, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). And here too at this Mass we have intimate communion with God. We’re invited to kneel in His presence, knowing He is here, not far from us. The intimacy is such that we will receive His Flesh and His Blood. But in Heaven we will also see Him, see our Saviour, and that will be truly wonderful. Amen.