What do you see in common with these inspired texts from both testaments?
— 1 Kings 8, 46f and 2 Chronicles 6, 36f: “When they sin against you (for there is no man who is without sin), and in your anger against them you deliver them to the enemy, so that their captors deport them to a hostile land, far or near, may they repent in the land of their captivity and be converted.”
— Ecclesiastes 7, 19f: “Wisdom is a better defense for the wise than would be ten princes in the city, yet there is no man on earth so just as to do good and never sin.”
— Romans 3, 9ff: “Well, then, are we better off? Not entirely, for we have already brought the charge against the Jews and Greeks alike that they are all under the same domination of sin, as it is written: [Psalm 14, 3] ‘There is no one just, not one, there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. All have gone astray; all alike are worthless, there is not one who does good, there is not even one.’”
— 1 John 1, 8: “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
It’s Lent, the time of prayer and repentance, prayer of confessing our sin and of converting our hearts away from it, back to the Lord. It’s a remarkably unpopular thing to do, much less talk about how vulnerable we are to it, especially if we thought that Vatican II or Pope Francis have dispensed with it. Not to make anyone paranoid, but Scripture tells us we all are sinners. This in an age when a Protestant sermon board once publicized the following Sunday sermon title: “A Wretch Like Whom?” What do you mean we all are sinners when we thought we had relegated sin to the rank of the neuroticisms of the ill?
If sin were only a carry-over from a less enlightened age, we would not have three sacraments to reinstate ourselves with God’s mercy: baptism, Eucharist and reconciliation. The confusion comes from our not knowing what counts as sin anymore. Steven Colbert of “The Late Show” returns to this theme, speaking for many, joking that this or that cannot really be sinful: everyone is doing it, after all. It’s easy to identify the sin of others: human traffickers or drug merchants. These things hurt people, which is rather contrary to the Lord’s supreme command of love. Can we love our neighbor when we do things like these against him/her?
Individual sins get downplayed while social sins get ignored. The former would be things like missing Sabbath Mass purposely while the latter would be things like the commonplace ruthlessness of throwing the poor over the side of the lifeboat. “You people can’t get into our lifeboats. You’ll get them all wet. Tough luck. Nothing personal.” In our rugged, extreme individualism, we dictate that medical insurance for the poor is their own concern, not to be subsidized by a socialistic economy run by a huge government taking from the rich and benefitting the poor. Our national religion of capitalism encourages this kind of thinking. While it itself is morally neutral, capitalism can lead us and has led us into a cold, hard mentality of selfishness totally foreign to the Scriptures and to our true religion. This religion features a messiah who came to save sinners by selflessly sacrificing himself on a cross, dying when he did not have to die, forgiving the agents of death who stood mocking at the foot of his cross. Missing this means missing not just Lent but the whole point of Christian discipleship.
We all sin. We are all wrapped in a toxic atmosphere which we inhale 24/7. We do not realize that, according to Catholic social teaching, the very purpose and point of government is to minister to the less fortunate, not to cement in place the fortunes of the rich. It is supposed to tax the wealthy more than the poor. It is supposed to provide safety nets so that the poor are not ground under. It is supposed to provide social services like universal medical insurance for all, as many other countries for decades have provided for their less advantaged. Yet what massive social sin was evident in the flannel-mouthed contempt for the poor in televised political ads last fall?
Fellow sinners, let us repent while there is still time.