Friday, 27 March 2015

Blasphemy - grave sin against the love of God

Jesus was accused of blasphemy which was punishable by stoning. It was a serious crime then and it is for us today also a very grave sin. Sadly it is all too common for us to hear people uttering blasphemous words and sentiments in everyday speech; we need to be very careful indeed about our own speech with this regard because we can easily put ourselves out of a state of grace.

Because of its gravity and because it is so common, we need to be clear what the sin is and what to do if we commit it.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Ex 20:7; Dt 5:11

Blasphemy is a sin against the love of God and opposes the second commandment. It is any uttering against God. This uttering can be silent and within, as well as audible. And it does not affect the gravity of the sin whether others can hear it or not. Any words of hatred, reproach or defiance against God are blasphemy. It can be speaking ill of God. It can be failing to respect God in one’s speech. And of course blasphemy is misusing the name of God, not least in a curse.

Blasphemy also extends to language against Christ’s Church, against the Saints, and against sacred things or places. It is also blasphemous to use God’s name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce people to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death. Blasphemy is contrary to the respect and honour due God and His holy name.

Blasphemy is intrinsically a grave sin. Some sins are intrinsically grave, and this means that whatever the circumstances are, and whatever the motives for sinning are, it is an act which in and of itself is gravely sinful. We cannot talk our way out of it!

So blasphemy’s intrinsic gravity means that if we commit that sin knowing it is sinful and we were not pressurised* into it, we have committed mortal sin. By this sin we have cut ourselves off from God, turned away from Him and destroyed charity in our heart. In the state of mortal sin we can only be brought back by a new initiative of God’s mercy – that is, through the sacrament of Penance. In the state of mortal sin we may not receive the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar without bringing condemnation on ourselves and committing sacrilege.

If we realise we are a blasphemer we need to repent as soon as possible and we need to get to confession regularly until we have driven the habit out of our system.

We live in a time and place where God and His Holy name is regularly profaned, but for those without faith there is ignorance to defend their action. For those of us with faith, we have no such defence. God’s Holy name is for salvation not for cursing – by profaning His holiness and His sacred name we curse no one but ourselves.

Fr Ian

See also the article in the Catechism: CCC 2142f.

* Pressure can come for example from peers or from bad habits. If we have laid down a habit of blaspheming over a long period of time while the first times we blasphemed might have been mortal sins, now because of the habit, the sin though grave is not a mortal sin. However recourse to the sacrament of penance is the best course of action after committing blasphemy.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

No other option if we take the evidence seriously

Jesus scandalised the Pharisees by eating with tax collectors and sinners. He spoke against those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Jesus scandalised them when He suggested that the mercy He showed to sinners was that of God’s own attitude to sinners; by sharing the table of sinners he was admitting them to the messianic banquet. Perhaps even more did He scandalise them by forgiving sins. Only God can forgive sins, so either Jesus was blaspheming or He was speaking the truth.

Only if Jesus is truly divine can He justify such claims that would otherwise be scandal and blasphemy. So all who listen to the Gospel must decide, is Jesus insane/wicked or is He divine – there is no other option if we take the evidence seriously.

Jesus’ divine identity was gradually revealed in what He said. When He said, “He who is not with me is against me”, this could only be taken seriously if Jesus was divine. Similarly when He said, “something greater than Jonah… greater than Solomon”, and something “greater than the Temple” was in Him. His reminder that David called his Messiah his Lord, was also revealing the Messiah as being divine. But then we come to the gospel of today (Jn 8:51-59) and Jesus then makes it quite plain: “Amen. Amen. I say unto you, before Abraham was, I AM.” “I AM” was the divine name revealed by God to Moses at the burning bush.
Thus the Sanhedrin had to make a stark choice: was this man the Messiah God, or was Jesus a blasphemer deserving death? They made their choice and Jesus became the victim.

We too must make this choice. We make this choice when we accept the Christian faith as our faith. But we must also make this choice in the moral decisions of daily life. When we choose to sin, we choose to go against the way of Christ, and we thus make Him out to be a liar. Sin is an anti-Christ action, and in that sin we are identifying with the Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus. When we resist temptation, we affirm that Jesus is God the Saviour.

Fr Ian

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience

The angel announced that Mary was “full of grace.” This fullness of grace means that there was nothing in the way of Mary’s relationship with God; nothing contrary to her relationship with God. And not only was she without sin, but she was without concupiscence, that is, inclination to sin. Mary was preserved from original sin. Unique amongst humankind since Eve, Mary came into the world without the burden of the Fall. She knew true freedom. She was free from finding sin attractive; however, this does not take away her free will. Mary had the capacity to sin but unlike Eve (who was also free of original sin and lived in harmony with God) Mary chose to obey God rather than disobey. 

St Irenaeus, of the second century, wrote:

The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.  (St Irenaeus of Lyons, Adv Haer 3,22,4)
To become the mother of the Saviour, Mary had to be the perfect door through which the perfect God could come into our imperfect world. Where Eve said, ‘No’, Mary said, ‘Yes’. Where Eve’s faith failed, Mary’s stood firm.

God’s purposes for Mary are also God’s purposes for all mankind. Mary shows us the summit of God’s success, for she is perfectly conformed to Christ by grace. She is the summit of God’s business of making Saints. She shows how high humanity can rise with grace.

Saints are made by love. Mary is the greatest saint because she was full of the most perfect love. She was full both of God’s love to Mary and Mary’s love to God. In Mary, God exalted a creature as much as any creature could be exalted. He gave to the “max” in Mary. And Mary gave to the “max” to God. She obeyed the first and greatest commandment, to love God with her whole heart, mind, soul and strength. She loved God simply and purely. God withheld nothing from her, and she withheld nothing from God: “Be it unto me according to thy Word.”

May her response to God be our response to God in the same fullness, simplicity, and purity. Amen.

Fr Ian

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Sin is to enclose ourselves in on ourselves

Our Lord says in our gospel today to the crowd following Him, “You will die in your sin.” (Jn 8:21,24) Sin is not just doing something bad. Sin is, also, to enclose ourselves in on ourselves – to be wrapped up with ourselves. Enclosed in on ourselves in our own petty problems and relying only on human wisdom, we refuse to open ourselves to the horizons of God. This leads to death. A life closed to God is no real life at all.

In Holy Scripture people are divided into two camps: those from above, who seek God’s ways, and those from below, who seek limited human goals. Sin is to refuse to allow oneself to be born again from above, as Jesus told Nicodemus (Jn 3:3). The Jews, Jesus was speaking to, did not believe in Jesus. Jesus’ life and Jesus’ message reflected a world of transcendent values and goods – values and goods beyond this world. This did not attract them. Speaking any more with those Jews who did not believe in Him would have been a waste of time. They were closed; they were locked in on their sin.

In this part of the Gospel Jesus gives witness to His own divinity by using the expression “I AM” seven times. This was how God designated Himself before Moses, and thus Jews called God “Yahweh”, that is, “He who IS”. Jesus claims for Himself “I AM” which is a claim that should not be applied to any creature. Jesus IS. But the fullest expression of who Jesus IS will be when He is “lifted up”, that is, in His Crucifixion, His Resurrection and in His Ascension.

Fr Ian

Monday, 23 March 2015

Christ desires to forgive rather than condemn

When the woman caught in the act of adultery was brought before Jesus by the Pharisees and the Scribes, they were not seeking legal advice from Jesus, they were setting a trap. If Jesus authorised capital punishment then He could be reported to the Romans – the Jews were not permitted to administer capital punishment. If Jesus forbade the stoning, He could be discredited as a false messiah because He contradicted the Law of Moses, which made adultery a capital offence (Lev 20:10; Dt 22:22).

So Jesus’ response is a way of thwarting their trap: “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” He neither authorises the stoning, nor does He forbid it. The genius of His response is of course that He turns the tables on the Pharisees. They have now been trapped in their own snare. Although the Pharisees might well have regarded themselves as sinless (as Saul had done, see Phil 3:5-6) they knew that if they had condemned the woman to stoning the power of Rome would have fallen on them. So the Pharisees walk away because they are frightened, and thus they have been made to look like sinners, which they didn’t believe was true, but Jesus knew was true!

The Pharisees’ actions are a warning for those who are tempted to condemn others and bring the full weight of the consequences on that person. They also warn us that we need to be more sensitive to our own sin (which we can truly do something about) than other’s sin. The Lord is merciful and so must we be. However we must be under no illusion that adultery (and all the sexual sins that come under that heading) is a grave sin. Jesus does not condemn the woman, but neither does He condone her sin. She is forgiven rather than condemned. By the action of Christ, by grace, she is made ready to be able not to sin again, which is what Jesus exhorts her to do.

This mercy of Christ to desire forgiveness rather than condemnation is what He offers us all in the Sacrament of Penance. Our imagination tells us sometimes that confession is condemnation, but that is a lie. Our Lord is merciful and so the Church’s Sacrament dispenses Christ’s mercy to all of us who are sinners and who are repentant. Let us repent and receive that mercy as often as we can, that we may have the grace to sin no more.

Fr Ian

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)