Thursday September 19, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Corinthians 15:1-11) Gospel (St. Luke 7:36-50)
Our Lord tells us this morning that those whose sins are many and have them forgiven will love more. In other words, the more we recognize that we have been forgiven, the more grateful we are going to be. If we think we have no need to be forgiven - or at least we will acknowledge objectively that, yes, we have sinned and need to be forgiven - but we really do not see that what we have done is too terribly bad after all, by comparison to other people, our sins, we assume, are quite small until we stop to read any of the saints. And they all say the same thing: "I myself am the worst of sinners."
Now this is really astounding when you read some of the saints who never even committed a mortal sin in their entire life yet they recognize that they are the worst sinner that has ever walked the face of the earth. They recognize this because they see so clearly. They see the divinity; they see God; and they see Him very clearly. Then they look at their own self and they see their sinfulness; and they recognize that, no matter how small their sins may be objectively, they themselves have sinned against the Lord and they have violated His holiness. They recognize what they have done in failing to love God, and they see the gravity of their own sin. Even if objectively it is small, subjectively it appears very large to them.
So there are two things we have to recognize. First, if we do not see our sinfulness, if we do not recognize just how awful our sins are, it tells us that we have a way to go, that we must not be too terribly close to God yet because it has not yet dawned on us that we are pretty horrible sinners. Secondly, we also recognize that unless we see how bad our sins are and how much we have been forgiven, we are not going to be able to love God a whole lot. Our Lord told us that the one whose sins are many, the one who has greater sins and is forgiven, will love more because that person will be more grateful. If the forgiveness of sin is just sort of a no big deal, ho-hum, no problem kind of thing for us, neither is our love for God going to be any different than that: "Big deal! What difference does it make whether we love God? Yeah, He's there." But if we recognize just how much we have been forgiven, how offensive our sins are, how grave they are, and we see that God in His mercy has written them off, then we will respond with gratitude, with greater love, and with a greater zeal for serving the Lord.
Saint Paul recognized that he is the worst of all, as well. He said, "I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God." Then he said, "But I am what I am by the grace of God." And so it is with each of us. None of us is fit to be called a Christian, let alone a Catholic. All of us are sinners - all of us are great sinners. And all of us could vie for the title of "Who's the Worst". We could all rehearse all of our sins and say, "No, no, no. My sins are worse than yours. I am a bigger sinner than you are. I am the worst of all." And if we cannot say that, we better get down on our knees and begin to ask the Lord to show it to us then, because that is the reality. Subjectively, we are the worst. Objectively, somebody else may have done something worse than we, but if they had been given the grace that we had been given they probably would not have done what they did. And, failing to co-operate with God's grace, we have committed sins that are ultimately worse.
So each one of us needs to be able to say that we are the worst and yet by God's grace we are what we are. That means that by God's grace we are forgiven sinners. We are repentant; we are reconciled; and we are united to Jesus Christ. Our response must be one of great gratitude and great charity in response to the recognition of what God has done for us, sinners that we are. And so, like the woman in the Gospel, our sins which are great have been forgiven. Therefore, our love for God must equal what He has done for us. Those who are forgiven more are going to love more. If we see that we are the worst of all sinners, then we should be the greatest of those who love the Lord in response to what He has done for us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.