Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Seized with astonishment

Then astonishment seized them all,
and they glorified God,
and, struck with awe, they said,
"We have seen incredible things today.” - Luke 5:26

I contemplated the passage from the Gospel according to St. Luke which was proclaimed at Mass tonight, and the above statement stood out and stuck with me long after it was over. Of note, the story leading up to the proclamation of the awed crowd was one of healing. Jesus is teaching the crowds with Pharisees and teachers of the law present, when a paralyzed man is brought to him for healing. Since the crowd is so large that the man is not able to get to Jesus, they lower him on a stretcher through a hole in the roof of the building. Jesus sees the faith they have displayed through their persistence and announces that their sins are forgiven which sends the Pharisees and scribes into a tailspin with cries of blasphemy. Always quick to realize the mindset of the scribes and Pharisees (I am pretty sure that Jesus liked to get their goats), he asks which is easier, to tell the paralyzed man that his sins are forgiven or to ask him to walk. Of course, the kicker is that he does both, and the man walks home stretcher in hand, much to the amazement of the crowd.

The interesting thing is that even today people decry priests accusing them of blasphemy for announcing absolution of sins in the confessional with the same cries that the scribes and Pharisees used: "Who but God alone can forgive sins?" Christ responds by saying that "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins", an authority which he passed to his disciples and their successors through the ordination received in the ministerial priesthood of the Church (John 20:22-23). It is not that the priests have power in and of themselves to forgive sins, however, through ordination Christ bestows his authority on the priest, and sins are forgiven in the Name of Christ, whom the priest represents in the confessional. So in a profound way, Christ says to the people who question the authority left by him to the ministerial priesthood of the Church which is his body, "Is it not easier to tell a person their sins are forgiven?"

But is the most amazing aspect of the story that the man arose and walked home with his stretcher? Perhaps to some. I, on the other hand, think that the most amazing aspect is that the man was freed from his sin, for while paralysis cripples the body, sin cripples the soul. Paralysis interferes with a man's ability to move about in his surroundings, alienating him to a degree from the world around him, but sin clouds his judgment and interferes with his ability to reason soundly thus enslaving him to his own selfish passions and alienating him from the source of happiness which is God.

Now, return to the story of the paralyzed man. It would seem that the man's sins have resulted in his physical paralysis, yet I think there is something greater underlying the story. Jesus first forgives his sins, and only after being accused of blasphemy does he demonstrate his authority and ask the man to rise, or you could say he demonstrated to the people around him through a physical sign that the man received spiritual grace which led to the forgiveness of his sins. In other words, Jesus demonstrated a sacrament or the physical manifestation of received spiritual grace. This is exactly what happens in the confessional, albeit not always in such a dramatic fashion. Regardless, the grace received is the same, and the assurance of forgiveness is a priceless gift to the soul of the penitent.

The cool thing is that after confessing, when I hear these words from the priest:

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from all your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

I rejoice, give glory to God, am struck with awe, and then pick up my own stretcher and go home. Incredible things indeed!


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