Untie Him and Let Him Go - Part II
Sin and guilt can either enslave and destroy us or, if properly understood, can also lead us back to wholeness. Everything and anything can set us on our journey back to God; even sins and feelings of guilt and shame. Rather than holding onto our past sins and thereby condemning ourselves and shutting the door to God’s forgiveness and to a life of wholeness, let us use the very sinful situation to reclaim what we have lost.
The Prodigal Son, finding himself in the midst of pigs, realized where sin had brought him. He need not have committed the sin to realize his predicament, but the situation made him realize that he need not have done what he had done. However, it brought him to his senses to return to his father’s house. Was he ashamed and did he feel guilty for what he had done? Of course, he was ashamed and felt tremendous guilt. But he did not let his sin and guilt define him or destroy him. What he had done was shameful, but that very shame offered him an opportunity for renewal, healing, and growth.
We tend to identify grace with channels that are pure and holy, but God can use any avenue to bless us with grace; even our sinful nature. We come to God not only through righteousness but also through our weakness, vulnerabilities, and brokenness. The worst sinful moments of our life are moments of grace too. We can let our sins trap us in a “court of law” to condemn us, or we can let the same situation lead us to reclaim what we had lost. Let not our past condition our present and future. During the Easter Vigil Service, in the Exultet (The Paschal Proclamation) we sing, “O truly necessary sin of Adam, which the death of Christ has blotted out! O Felix Culpa (O Happy Fault) that merited such and so great a Redeemer!” Such an understanding of sin and redemption are based on the words of St. Paul who teaches, “And where sin abounded, grace did more abound” (Romans 5:20). And in Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” It is indeed consoling to hear that all things work together for good; even our sins and feelings of guilt and shame.
It was St. Augustine who first used the phrase “O Felix Culpa” but the concept was already developed by St. Ambrose. Let us ponder the words of St. Ambrose:
My fault has become for me the price of redemption, through which Christ came to me. For me Christ tasted death. Transgression is more profitable than innocence. Innocence had made me arrogant, transgression made me humble (De Iacob et vita beata, I, 21).
The Lord knew that Adam would fall and then be redeemed by Christ. Happy ruin, that has such a beautiful reparation! (Commentary on Psalm 39, 20).
We who have sinned more have gained more, because your grace makes us more blessed than our absence of fault does (Commentary on Psalm 37, 47).
Evil in fact has a utility within itself and evil has even insinuated itself into the saints by the providential will of the Lord (Apologia David, 7).
St Augustine, reiterates the teaching of St. Ambrose when he writes:
Looking to this, you do well to regard the evils of this world as easy to bear because of the hope of the world to come. For thus, by being rightly used, these evils become a blessing, because, while they do not increase our desires for this world, they exercise our patience; as to which the apostle says, We know that all things work together for good to them that love God: all things, he says — not only, therefore, those which are desired because pleasant, but also those which are shunned because painful; since we receive the former without being carried away by them, and bear the latter without being crushed by them, and in all give thanks (Letter 131).
St. Thomas Aquinas echoes the teaching of Augustine when he writes in his Summa:
But there is no reason why human nature should not have been raised to something greater after sin. For God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom” (Third Part, Question 1, Article 3, Reply to Objection 3).
How many of us can say of our sins, ‘Oh blessed fault because of which I have come close to God?” Definitely, it is not a question of falling into sin that grace may abound. Harken to the words of St. Paul who warns us, “What then shall we say? Shall we persist in sin that grace may abound? Of course not! How can we who died to sin yet live in it (Rom 6:1-2)?” It is better not to fall into sin but if we have sinned, our sinful situation opens the gate to God’s unconditional mercy and love, which probably we would not have come to realize had we not sinned and repented. In the process, our spiritual life gets deepened. Thus, rightly understood, sin, when repented, has a positive dimension in God’s divine plan for us. Isn’t this the story of humanity?
The Samaritan Woman, Mary of Magdala, Zacchaeus, Matthew, the tax collectors, the sinners… their encounter with Jesus are beautiful narratives of Jesus’ unconditional love and the reality of their life when they met Jesus. It is the context of their life that enabled them to accept the invitation of Jesus to a life of personal relationship with him.
Peter became the un-daunted leader after his fall, Saul, while lying on the earth after being knocked off the horse becomes Paul, the doubting Thomas, after his encounter with the risen Jesus becomes a great missionary, Augustine of Hippo needed his sinful life to become St. Augustine, Francis of Assisi, after a lavish life of pleasures became the beacon of peace, dissatisfaction of his life (alcohol and sex) drove the young Thomas Merton to embrace a life of solitude and prayer…
John Newton the slave trader while reading The Imitation of Christ in the midst of storm penned the beautiful hymn, Amazing Grace, only after reaching the rock-bottom of alcoholism did Bill Wilson and Bob smith come up with the concept of the Alcoholics Anonymous…
Aren’t these stories a reminder to us that there is no real shame or feeling of unhealthy guilt while facing our sinful nature? We need not hide from the face of God as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. The God of Jesus comes to meet us where we are and gives us the opportunity to be where we are meant to be. While we pray that we do not fall into sin, but if we do fall let us realize that the very abyss of darkness has an arrow pointing to the mercy of God. When people told Jesus that Lazarus had been dead for four days and that there will be a stench, Jesus still insisted on visiting the tomb of Lazarus. Oh, how beautiful to realize that for God there is no stench. Sin and guilt need not have the last word leading us to self-destruction, like Judas, but it can lead us to a new life, like Peter. The choice is ours.