Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Today’s lessons can be summed up with one verse we heard from Sirach today, “Before a man are life and death, good and evil, and whichever he chooses will be given to him.” Mankind knows the difference between good and evil because we have been given that ability by God Himself. But because of our fallen and sinful nature many times people choose that which is evil – that which goes against the will of God. We are not here speaking of those individuals which are mistaken about the immorality of a certain vice and are unknowingly leading a life of sin. As our Lord said, “he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating.” Meaning that if through no fault of our own, we are truly ignorant of the wrongness of something then we are much less responsible (and perhaps not responsible at all) for the wrong done than if we had known how bad something was and did it anyway. Of these two groups – those who are ignorant and those who know better – we will be focusing on those who are not ignorant. This is for two reasons: first, by knowingly living a life of sin they are endangering their souls to eternal separation from God. Secondly, many times those who knowingly live a life of sin may be committing another very serious sin without even knowing it: the sin of scandal. You see, our actions have consequences – if we do something good we may influence someone else to do something good. On the other hand, when we sin we may very well lead others into sin, which may ultimately lead them to hell.
So, in regards to the first point, why should we care if someone is endangering his soul through sinful behavior? After all, this is a free country, right? Don’t we have the right to choose to live as we see fit? And who am I to tell someone else what is right and what is wrong? All these questions you have probably heard before and they come from a nation of people who have lost sight of the basic understanding of mankind – that we are a people created by God and made in His own image and likeness. At the moment of conception God created an eternal soul for each and every person. In addition to this, each and every one of those souls that God created is unique and of the greatest importance to Him; and He wants them all to be with Him forever in Heaven.
Therefore, if we see our brother sinning – doing that which leads them away from God, then the only option is to lovingly try to lead them out of their sin. And notice I say ‘try’ to lead them out of sin because we cannot force anyone to do something against their own will, whether good or bad. But this brings up an important point: those who live a life of sin can be divided into two groups. Those who choose a sinful life without repentance and those who may be continually tripped up by the same sin over and over but who earnestly want to change. At this point, we shouldn’t try to kid ourselves because to a greater or lesser extent we all fit into this last category. Perhaps you aren’t prone to a particular sexual sin, for instance, but what about the sin of looking down on those who are afflicted with sexual sin? We must never forget that we are all sinners and that if someone perpetually sins then they need our prayers and not our self-righteous indignation. But, at the same time, that does not mean that we are to tolerate sin. Remember, God wants all those He has created to be with Him, and so for love of those souls we must try to bring back those lost in sin because if we do nothing then they may be eternally lost.
But what about those who choose a sinful life without any desire to change? Let’s take the same example I’ve already used – that of sexual sin because our Lord refers to it today. What about the man who goes on in his lust day after day? Even if he never touches a woman our Lord says that he “has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” But, if he steps over that line and actually takes hold of the one for whom he lusts, he has sinned in an even greater way. And this is compounded so often today by those who try to contract a marriage with someone who is civilly divorced. This is not possible! Marriage is until death and unless the Church has proclaimed a previous marriage to be null, then any other marriage is impossible. What did Christ say to the woman caught in adultery? Go, and have all the men you want. No, He said go and sin no more.
And of course this leads us back to the sin of scandal, which I mentioned in the beginning. Those who attempt to contract a marriage with a divorced person can lead others into this same sin by making it seem like it’s OK. The way this happens is that the general consensus becomes, “Oh well, everyone else is doing it – so it must be OK.” But the rightness or wrongness of something is not determined by how many people do or don’t do it – it is determined by God Himself. But nevertheless this has happened with so many sins in this country in addition to remarriage after divorce: abortion, contraception, homosexuality and gay ‘marriage’, cohabitation and fornication and on and on. With every one of these issues it has become a situation where people say, “It must be OK because everyone is doing it.” When in reality these issues, and the scandalous behavior which has caused them to become so prevalent, have actually destroyed the moral framework of a countless number of eternal souls created by God.
Some of you here may be either deliberately or habitually tied up in one of these sins. Please understand that they are not being brought to your attention just to make you feel bad. Instead, the Church wants you to know the Truth out of concern for your eternal soul. God wants you to be with Him and if you renounce these sins and tell God that you desire to change then He will help you to do it. You must understand, though, that the change probably won’t happen overnight and you may slip up again and again. But if you do sin again and again and every time go to confession with true contrition and earnestly tell God that you are sorry and that you want to change, then He will bring you to Himself. We must, therefore, remember the words from Sirach today, “Before a man are life and death, good and evil, and whichever he chooses will be given to him.” The question that remains is this: which one will you choose?