Today I am at Immaculate Conception Parish in Green River to celebrate the Rite of Election for catechumens and the Call to Continuing Conversion for candidates. The homily is below.
The Scripture readings for the first Sunday of Lent are all about sin and evil. Why is that? The Genesis story recalls how Adam and Eve defied God. (Gen. 3:1-7) In the gospel, we hear how Jesus is tempted by the devil. (Mt. 4:1-11) In the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul describes the proliferation of sin spreading to the whole human race: “Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12)
Our Lenten Journey begins by staring sin in the face. Why? It is a stark reminder of how helpless we are without God. We have to be honest about our feeble spiritual condition, if we want be restored. Lent is a journey toward new life. The goal is to receive the newness of life in the resurrection of Christ. But you will never experience Jesus’ new life unless you are brutally honest about the effects of sin, personally and globally.
“Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men.” If Paul were writing this letter today, he would probably use a different image. Today he might say, “Adam’s sin went viral.” It was like a pandemic outbreak that infected every single person on earth. Have you noticed the proliferation of the disease of sin?
First of all, recognize how the infection of sin grows in your heart. When you are lazy about prayer for a day or two, it’s easy to stop praying. Because of your distance from God, other sins creep in. One lie leads to another, and soon it’s a habit. Second, acknowledge how sin moves so quickly from one person to another. It might start with a little gossip about someone, then another person joins in, and soon several people are attacking an individual from every side. The contagious contact of sin happens at school, among co-workers or on social media. Next, call to mind the enormity of sin when war or violence destroys the lives of innocent people. It leads to starvation or people living as refugees. As they flee for safety, people take advantage of them by subjecting them to prostitution or human trafficking.
Sin is more prolific and deadly than a viral disease. “Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men.” People are alarmed by the coronavirus which has a death rate of 2-4% of those who are infected. Are you as concerned about spiritual death, as you are about the flu or the coronavirus?
As you come to this point in the RCIA, if you are more aware of how sin has infected your heart, that is a sign of growth. It is a good thing because you are more aware of lethal nature of sin. As we begin Lent, we consider the prolific and deadly power of sin. Why? Not to make us discouraged or downhearted, but to awaken our hearts to humanity’s profound need for God. It reminds us how much we need to be in relationship with God. This Lent, let your weakness in sin not discourage you, but awaken your heart to humble faith.
The Hebrew people lived a spirituality of dependence on God. It is expressed so clearly in the creation story of Genesis. “God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life.” (Gen. 2:7) The Hebrews believed that every breath comes from God. We depend on God every single moment of our existence. Every breath is a gift from God. So when sin separates us from God, the natural consequence is death.
“Through one man sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all men, inasmuch as all sinned.” Yet, even though Adam’s sin went viral and seems to be unstoppable, grace is far more powerful. St. Paul insists on that: “If by the transgression of one man, the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflow for the many.” (Rom. 5:15)
No matter how prevalent sin is in the world, the sickness of sin is not like the new life of grace. There is no comparison. Immediately after this passage St. Paul says, “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” (Rom. 5:20) This is the newness of life that we are meant to experience in Lent. When you turn to God with total humility and complete dependence, then God fills you with an abundance of new life.
However, so often we doubt that grace is greater than sin. We hesitate to believe that grace can conquer our worst sin. In your struggle with sin, have you ever said to yourself, “I will never change”? All of us have felt miserably helpless in the face of sin. Then it is essential to trust in what Paul says. “For if by the transgression of the one, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace . . . come to reign in life through the one Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:17)
Remember that Paul had experienced this first hand. In his conversion experience, he was bowled over by grace. Even though he had persecuted the Church, the Risen Lord chose him to announce the abundance of grace for all people who would turn to Jesus. So he said, “I myself am the greatest of sinners; and if mercy has been shown to me, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make of me the leading example of his inexhaustible patience for all the other people.” (1 Tim. 1:16)
In the Rite of Election, you are also chosen by the Lord. Remember that you are chosen much like Paul. It is not something that you earn or accomplish. The Lord simply surprises you with the abundance of grace. Let it be yours. This is what you anticipate on Holy Saturday night when you will be baptized, confirmed and receive the Eucharist.
This Lent be brutally honest about sin. Then have humble faith that “when sin has increased, grace overflows all the more.” Have hope in God’s power to fill you with new life. Then you will become an agent of abundant grace for others. God has chosen you to be surprised by his gracious love and to be an example of his inexhaustible patience for others, just like St. Paul.
That grace is renewed in every Eucharist. The Eucharist overflows with an abundance of new life. Lent is a time to be renewed in the grace that is greater than sin. What sin plagues your heart? Where do you see sin rampant in the world? Bring that to prayer in the Eucharist today with humble faith that grace is always greater.