Imbedded deep in the hard wiring of the human psyche is the thought that we’ve got to earn our way to heaven. All our life we have had to prove ourselves—to our parents, our teachers, employers. So we project our need to be worthy unto God.
The Hebrew Scriptures have accounts where God got angry, God punished; God even relented of calamities that He was going to inflict. People offered sacrifices to God to keep Him happy. They knew they had sinned. Fear that God was watching—ready to strike kept the majority at a distance. God could only be approached by a chosen few—the prophets, the priests, those who were pure. The common folks had no voice in matters of religion. Common folks like carpenters, fishermen, tax collectors. Those kind of people came to the synagogue, said their prayers and paid their temple tax—but they had no theological training. Therefore, when Jesus—son of a Joseph, son of Mary—who were ordinary people—dared to talk about religious matters—He was rejected by the authorities. Jesus had no background to contradict years of tradition. Jesus was a rebel who upset the social status. Imagine telling people that “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.” Blasphemy! How could Jesus say such things? Who told Him that He was equal to God? Some people not only murmured, they plotted how they were going to kill Him. However, Jesus had a following. He was growing in popularity. Many were drawn to His words.
Jesus was adamantly opposed to the sacrificing of animals, observance of Sabbath laws, avoiding sinners. Fact is that Jesus went out of His way to associate with sinners. Jesus touched women—that was a big “no-no”. He healed lepers. Little wonder that the local clergy were suspicious of His actions. Our Lord lifted the burdens which the priests imposed, especially on the poor. While the priests made salvation seem impossible, Jesus announced freedom in forgiveness. A message that was too good to be true. To this day, we have difficulty believing that we are saved just because God loves us without conditions. A message too good to be true. However, that’s what Gospel means: Good News. The Good News which Jesus preached: God is Father—God provides—God forgives—God gives us His Son as food for the journey. Meanwhile, many remain prisoners of guilt.
Folks continue to mention sins from years past, although already confessed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but the guilt haunts them. Whose voice do we suppose is speaking? Who keeps rubbing our sins in our face? Not God—not the one who sets us free. The “other guy” is always our accuser—who tells us that we can never be worthy of the Bread of Life. The irony is that He’s correct. We can never be worthy of the Body of Christ. Nobody is. Jesus makes us worthy at the moment we admit our sin. Pride has to come down. No room in the Church for folks who think that they’ve bought the pew. We come to bow humbly before God, admitting our smallness, trusting in His mercy. Holy Communion is one of the Sacraments of healing. There is the anointing of the sick; Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Venal sins should not keep us from receiving Holy Communion. The Penitential Rite happens at the beginning of Holy Mass to set the pace—from the start. Lord have mercy—we depend on His mercy. Bad thoughts—whatever those are—bad words—getting angry: those are all venal sins. Serious sins need to be brought to confession, which never hurts anybody. Grandmother’s theology was that everything was a sin and that we had to go to confession every time we were going to receive Holy Communion. We should know better. Jesus was not legalistic. He came to tell us about God’s love, not God’s punishment.
Oh happy day when Jesus walked our planet. The happy day is now—He still walks among us, especially in the Sacrament of the Bread of Life.