Central Idea: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Doctrine: Perfect and imperfect contrition. Practical Application: Examination of conscience.
For Lectionary 132, click here.
Reading 1 Ex 32:7-11, 13-14
The LORD said to Moses,
“Go down at once to your people,
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt,
for they have become depraved.
They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,
making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,
sacrificing to it and crying out,
‘This is your God, O Israel,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’
“I see how stiff-necked this people is, ” continued the LORD to Moses.
Let me alone, then,
that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.
Then I will make of you a great nation.”
But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying,
“Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people,
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt
with such great power and with so strong a hand?
Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,
and how you swore to them by your own self, saying,
‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky;
and all this land that I promised,
I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’”
So the LORD relented in the punishment
he had threatened to inflict on his people.
- At the very moment that God was revealing himself and the Law through Moses, the Chosen People rejected God and sinned by their drunken sexual revelry and worship of the golden calf.
- God gave Moses a chance to ask for mercy for them.
- God told Moses he intended to kill them all and start over with a new Chosen People, fathered by Moses.
- Instead of choosing to become a new Abraham, Moses intercedes for the Chosen People, asking God to relent.
- Though Moses is revered as the deliverer from Egyptian slavery and Lawgiver, this plea for mercy for the Chosen People might be his greatest act.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19
R. I will rise and go to my father.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
- When we sin, we separate ourselves from God. But God will always welcome us back if we have contrition.
Reading 2 1 Tm 1:12-17
I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord,
because he considered me trustworthy
in appointing me to the ministry.
I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant,
but I have been mercifully treated
because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief.
Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant,
along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Of these I am the foremost.
But for that reason I was mercifully treated,
so that in me, as the foremost,
Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example
for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.
To the king of ages, incorruptible, invisible, the only God,
honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
- Paul clearly teaches a fundamental doctrine of the Catholic Faith: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
- Paul is the prime example of God’s mercy. At one time, Paul was Christ’s foremost enemy on earth. Yet God treated Paul with patience, showed him mercy, gave him grace, faith, and love, and made him an Apostle.
Alleluia 2 Cor 5:19
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
- God entrusts the Gospel to men: first and foremost to Peter and the apostles, then to their successors the pope and all the bishops united to him. But God also entrusts the Gospel to every Christian who by his or her deeds and words are to lead his or her fellows to salvation.
Gospel Lk 15:1-32
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them he addressed this parable.
“What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them
would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert
and go after the lost one until he finds it?
And when he does find it,
he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
and, upon his arrival home,
he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
I tell you, in just the same way
there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents
than over ninety-nine righteous people
who have no need of repentance.
“Or what woman having ten coins and losing one
would not light a lamp and sweep the house,
searching carefully until she finds it?
And when she does find it,
she calls together her friends and neighbors
and says to them,
‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’
In just the same way, I tell you,
there will be rejoicing among the angels of God
over one sinner who repents.”
Then he said,
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns,
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”
- As St. Paul taught, “This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
- Here, the Pharisees and scribes complained about Christ, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Indeed, God seeks out sinners to save them.
- When we lose something of great value and then find it, we are overjoyed. We tell other people. Often, in reality, they could care less, but we can’t help expressing our good fortune.
- These three parables express that God is like the person who has lost something of great value, who searches for it, and who then finds it. He can’t help but express his joy. The others in heaven—saved men and good angels—share his joy.
- In each parable, there is the one who loses something, what is lost, the search, how what is lost is found, and then the rejoicing.
- The shepherd loses one of his sheep who strayed from the flock, searches for it, finds it, and carries it home on his shoulders, overjoyed.
- The woman loses her coin in her own home, diligently searches for it with lamp and broom, and finds it, overjoyed.
- The father loses his son through his son’s leaving him, watches the road for his return, finds him when his son comes to his senses and returns home, and is overjoyed. His older son is like the neighbor who doesn’t actually share in your happiness.
- How do these parables apply to God? God “lost” the human race through the sin of Adam and Eve, “searched” for us by sending the prophets, his own Son, and the Church he founded, “finds” people by Baptism, and then rejoices.
- How do these parables apply to us? Each of us, individually, is the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Those represent the sinner.
- How does God find us, human beings with free will? He finds us through our repentance. God can’t find us until we want to be found. If the lost sheep does not bleat in its loneliness and fear, if the coin does not give off a tiny glint of light, if the son does not come to his senses, if we don’t repent, then God has made himself powerless to find us.
- Of course, God knows where we are. But he has chosen, out of respect for our freedom and dignity, to let us hide from him, as Adam and Eve attempted to hide from God in the Garden of Eden.
- Are these also not images of definitive separation from God, or hell? The sheep: lost, alone, hungry and thirsty, and in grave danger in the wilderness? The coin: lost, of no value if it cannot be spent, stuck in some dark and dirty crack? The prodigal son: poverty-stricken, hungry, alone, held in no esteem, surrounded by unclean animals?
- But we are found by our contrition. “A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.”
Doctrine: Perfect and imperfect contrition
- According to the Council of Trent, the contrition of a penitent person is “sorrow of the soul and detestation for the sin committed, together with the resolution not to sin again” (CCC 1451). So contrition manifests itself in sadness, disgust, and decision.
- When we realize we have sinned, often the first impulse is either to hide the sin or to hide ourselves. We begin to recover when we experience healthy guilt. We ask, What have I done? Why have I done it? Can I fix it? And we say, I never want that to happen again.
- Again, the Council of Trent teaches that perfect contrition “arises from a love by which God is loved above all else.” As we say in the Act of Contrition, we are sorry “most of all because I have offended Thee my God who are all good and deserving of all my love.”
- What is the effect of perfect contrition? It “remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible” (CCC 1452).
- Many spiritual writers think that perfect contrition is difficult to attain because it is so hard to love God “above all else.”
- But we also say in the same Act of Contrition, “I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell.” This is what the Church calls imperfect contrition, which “is also a gift of God, a prompting of the Holy Spirit.” Imperfect contrition “is born of the consideration of sin’s ugliness or the fear of eternal damnation and the other penalties threatening the sinner.” (CCC 1453)
- This “stirring of conscience can initiate an interior process which, under the prompting of grace, will be brought to completion by sacramental absolution” (CCC 1453).
- On its own, “imperfect contrition cannot obtain the forgiveness of grave sins, but it disposes one to obtain forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance” (CCC 1453).
- Imperfect contrition is truly a gift, since it is sufficient to get us to do what it takes to recover from our evildoing.
- Imperfect contrition is a sign that while we may do evil, we are not the evildoers whom God rejects at the narrow gate.
- Contrition looks to be an emotion. It is really a response of the total person: intellect, will, and feelings. If we do wrong and feel guilt, we are fortunate. Our conscience is working properly.
Practical Application: Formation of conscience
- Your conscience is your reason sitting in judgment on your actions, approving or condemning them.
- But how does reason judge acts? It has to use standards. It has to use the moral law. Reason does not invent moral laws. It recognizes them. These standards are not based on what we wish were the case but on reality.
- Our standard for judging our actions is the moral law, known by reason, revealed by God, and taught by the Church.
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “The reception of [the Sacrament of Penance] ought to be prepared for by an examination of conscience made in the light of the Word of God. The passages best suited to this can be found in the Ten Commandments, the moral catechesis of the Gospels and the apostolic Letters, such as the Sermon on the Mount[,] and the apostolic teachings.” (CCC 1454)
- Because we recognize and do not invent the law by which we judge our actions, it is important to teach children to memorize the Ten Commandments and, as they get older, to deepen their understanding of their contents.
- For us adults, the third part of the Catechism, “Life in Christ,” contains a rich summary of God’s Word on the moral law.
- This is what we need to use as our standard against which to judge our acts, whether in thought, word, or deed.
- To examine your conscience means to use your reason to look at your actions and to judge them against the moral law. Conscience also prohibits future actions that violate the moral law. It tells us not only what we should not have done but also what we may not do.