When I look back on my life and recall the worst sins I’ve committed, the consistent theme — the common denominator is this:
Self-justification and self-deception.
It went something like this:
“Ok, doing this would be wrong. But actually now that I think about it, for me right now — in these unique and really difficult circumstances — this isn’t actually a big deal at all. In fact, God will probably totally understand why I would choose this. He can clearly see how insanely hard it is to do the right thing in this situation. I mean, what can He can’t really expect? I’m not perfect and nobody is! He’s merciful after all, right? I can be the exception to the rule this time, right? Yea… you know what? I AM the exception! It’s ok if I choose this! In fact, it might even be the RIGHT THING to do! …YEA! And guess what? Nobody can say otherwise! And if they do — then THEY are being judgmental — THEY aren’t being loving — THEY are wrong…”
Sound familiar at all?
This process of self-justification and self-deception is so streamlined, so seamless at times that maybe we don’t even realize that we are doing it.
But then we come across our first reading today form the book of Sirach, and it stops us right in our tracks, doesn’t it? —
“No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.”
God doesn’t give anyone the right — the license — to sin. He gives nobody the right to justify themselves or deceive themselves.
We can come up with all the excuses we want. We can do all sorts of mental gymnastics to try to quiet our conscience or numb it into oblivion… We can even twist the Scriptures and dismantle them and de-mythologize them until they seem to support our own ideas about reality…
But the bottom line is this:
We can’t change God’s mind on what’s right and wrong.
So we have a choice to make.
As the Scriptures put it, the Lord “has set before you fire and water
to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.
Before man are life and death, good and evil,
whichever he chooses shall be given him.”
This is rather humbling and maybe a little scary even, isn’t it?
Whatever we choose, we can have…
If we choose eternal life in Jesus — it’s ours.
If we choose eternal separation from Him — it’s ours.
As CS Lewis put it so well in his book, The Great Divorce:
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”
God respects our freedom. He will do everything in His power to help us choose what’s best for us — but in the end, He allows us to have whatever it is we want.
So what do we as human beings want? Like deep down?… Even when we or the people we love make horrible decisions, what are we seeking?
St Augustine answers the question for us:
“Everyone wants to be happy. There is no one who will not agree with me on this almost before the words are out of my mouth.”
Everyone in the world wants to be happy.
Nobody does anything with the specific purpose and aim of being unhappy. There is always at least some perceived ‘good’ end that informs our every choice.
And that’s why we try so hard to justify ourselves…
“No really! This WILL make me happy!”
But here’s the beautiful and freeing truth:
God knows what will actually make us happy. He knows what human nature needs in order to be totally fulfilled. Consider this image, if you will:
For a car that runs on gasoline, only gasoline will make your car run well — it makes your car “happy” so to speak. Try putting chocolate milk into your car’s gas tank — and we all know… your car will NOT be happy.
Well, the Lord created the whole human race. And so He knows what makes us “run well.” He knows what really makes us happy.
Ultimately He knows that only a relationship with Him makes us happy. And we call this… HOLINESS.
Holiness makes us happy! Holiness is a synonym for true happiness! As our Psalm put it so beautifully today:
“Blessed — HAPPY — are they who follow the law of the Lord!”
And so, Augustine goes on to say — what should we ask God for?
“Ask for the happy life.”
He will show you! He will teach you! In fact, He will even place His Spirit in you so that you can have the power and capacity by grace to walk consistently in His ways. He Himself will become your greatest happiness, and out of love, you will desire more and more to please Him, and not yourself.
Isn’t this FANTASTIC news? — God WANTS you to be happy!
The world tells us that God wants us to be MISERABLE. That we’re in competition with Him, and that all He really wants to do is pile on a bunch of life-crushing burdens and obligations that are sure to make us sad and frustrated.
We need to reject that caricature of God!
The fact is: Our Father in heaven yearns for our deepest happiness.
So, I ask everyone here right now:
Do you want to be happy?
If so, then it’s time for us to be really honest:
Is there some corner of my life where I am still giving myself permission to sin?
Where I’m giving myself license to choose something out of step with the good and perfect Law of the Lord that will actually bring me true, lasting happiness?
Be relentlessly honest. Find a good examination of conscience. Don’t justify yourself! Don’t let yourself off the hook!
Because Jesus didn’t!
He put Himself on the hook — on the Cross! — for every single sin.
And He did so in order to make our happiness possible — “Whoever sins is a slave to sin” he says — but “I have come that they may have life and have it ABUNDANTLY.”
This is why it’s so crucial for the leaders of the Church to continue proclaiming the unchanging Truth clearly, tirelessly, and with joy:
Jesus came to make us ABUNDANTLY happy. And sin makes us ABUNDANTLY miserable!!!
It breaks my heart when people respond in anger or resistance when faced with the Church’s unpopular teachings on sin, and lets be honest, it’s usually surrounding sexual sin.
They always seem to say stuff like: “But Jesus doesn’t want to exclude anyone from His love! He told us to LOVE not CONDEMN!”
Of course that’s true.
“To love” is to will the true good of the other — the true HAPPINESS of the other — which includes inviting everyone to conversion!
We can’t forget: One of the spiritual works of mercy is to admonish the sinner! With gentleness, love and tact, yes — but with clarity!
The Church’s leaders have an even graver responsibility to do this — We hear in the Letter of St James: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you realize that we will be judged more strictly”
This echoes what we heard Jesus say in the Gospel this weekend:
“Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
And so…. in light of so many pressures you are experiencing in the world today and so much confusion, I want to share with you guys what you probably already know:
Any act outside of a valid marriage — and by that we mean a permanent, faithful communion of love between one man and one woman — any act outside of a valid marriage, either with yourself or with anybody else, is a serious sin — and it will never actually make you happy.
Simply put, this is the Church’s perspective, which is Jesus’ perspective. I share it not to harp on the subject or to shame anyone. I am only doing what St. Paul said in our second reading today:
“We speak not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away. Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory.”
We might add — “for our HAPPINESS!”
The wisdom of the rulers of this age is passing away…
But you were made for happiness!
You were made for holiness!
Don’t waste any more time justifying yourself or duping yourself out of a life fully-lived in God.
His grace is available right now!
With the help of Jesus, start again, start now!
Choose to be holy.
Choose to be happy.