Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

26 September A.D. 2010

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

“Take courage … thy sins are forgiven thee.”[1]

    It may have seemed strange to the onlookers when the paralytic was brought to Jesus, that our Lord's first words to him were to forgive his sins.  Surely, his hope was for a cure from his paralysis.  Our Lord's intention was twofold.  First of all, He was gently asserting His divinity before the Scribes, the doctors of the Jewish Law, who were quite correct in saying that only God can forgive sins—and quit incorrect in accusing the Son of God of blasphemy in granting the forgiveness that comes from His divine nature.  Essentially, He was telling them: “I do what I do because it is My right as God, the Son of God.”

    Our Lord was also making clear the relationship between sin, suffering, and death that is common to all mankind, as a result of the sin of Adam:  “by one man sin entered into this world, and by sin death; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned.”[2]  God created man and woman “in His image and likeness”—like the angels, they were spiritual beings, endowed with intellect and free will—but unlike the angels, the spiritual soul of man subsisted within a material body, like the animals of the Earth.  And, like the animals of the Earth, the material bodies of Adam and Eve would have been subject to disintegration and death—except that God endowed them with a number of what we call “preternatural gifts” including freedom from ignorance, and toil, and even freedom from sickness and death.

    But Adam and Eve lost these special gifts by disobeying God's will.  They also lost the supernatural gifts of God's friendship that would allow them to share in His eternal happiness.  To distinguish, the preternatural gifts allowed man to perfect his natural qualities, while the supernatural gifts allowed man to rise above his own nature to a close union with God's divine nature.  All of these gifts were lost to us by original sin.

    Now we know that God promised and did send a Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered Himself on the Cross, to restore mankind to friendship with God, and to allow individual men and women to regain close union with God.  But what He restored were the all important supernatural gifts, but not the lesser preternatural gifts that merely served to make earthly life more pleasant—for eternal life is far more important.  Mankind must still earn its bread with the sweat of the brow, and still brings forth its children in sorrow.[3]  Even Redeemed mankind is still subject to suffering and death.  It seems that only our Blessed Lady escaped these losses due to original sin—not being subject to it because of her Immaculate Conception.  Most theologians presume that giving birth to the baby Jesus was painless for her, and, of course, all Catholics believe that her incorrupt body was taken up with her soul into Heaven at the time of her Assumption.

    So, after telling the paralytic man that his sins were forgiven, Our Lord further directed him to “arise, take up thy pallet, and return to thy house.”  At least in this instance, the forgiveness of sins was accompanied by a restoration of the preternatural gift of bodily integrity.

    But the connection between holiness and health is generally more elusive than that.  Indeed, in the Psalms we read each Thursday morning the lament of the psalmist:

    I was envious of the arrogant when I saw them prosper though they were wicked.  For they are in no pain; their bodies are sound and sleek;  they are free from the burdens of mortals and not afflicted like the rest of men....  Though I tried to understand this it seemed too difficult, till I entered the sanctuary of God and considered their final destiny.[4]

    The arrogant prosper and may escape the sufferings of normal men.  Often, they live a life calculated to make that escape possible.  Someone else is required to do their dangerous or dirty work.  Someone else takes their place in the heat and the sun, and in the cold and the wind.  They demand the best foods, have leisure time for enjoyable exercise, and for consultation with those who practice the healing arts.  Often the burdens of the arrogant are off-loaded to the shoulders of the humble and the good.

    But notice that the psalmist understands this contradiction when he considers the “final destiny” of the arrogant.  He finds justice in this only when he has considered “the big picture,” when he recognizes that the pleasures of life are fleeting, and the truly fortunate are those who find their pleasures in eternity.

    [In their final destiny, the arrogant are set,] indeed on a slippery road;  You hurl them down to ruin.  How suddenly they are made desolate!  They are completely wasted away amid horrors.  As though they were the dream of one who had awakened, O Lord, so will you, when you arise, set at naught those phantoms.[5]

    So, indeed, the holy may endure sickness and misfortune, while the arrogant do not.  But as iron is purified in a crucible, the indifferent man may be driven by suffering to holiness, and as silver is refined from the earth by fire, it may drive the holy man to greater holiness still.  As the psalmist puts it:.

    With You [God] I shall always be, You have hold of my right hand;  with your counsel You will guide me, and in the end You will receive me in glory....  Though my flesh and my heart waste away, God is the Rock of my heart and my portion forever....  they who withdraw from you perish.... But for me, to be near God is my good; to make the Lord God my refuge....[6]

    Perhaps the most important thing we can recognize in today's Gospel is the reality that our Lord can forgive sins—that in His name, His priests can do the same—and that the “healing” of a soul is infinitely more miraculous.  Bringing back to life the soul that is metaphorically dead   is a far greater miracle than even the resurrection of the dead.  The great miracle of this Gospel is not that the man got up and walked home, but rather that he walked home free from sin.

Take courage … thy sins can be forgiven thee.

[1]                 Gospel: Matthew ix: 1-8

[2]                 Romans v: 12

[3]                 Genesis iii: 16-19

[4]                 Psalm lxxii

[5]                 Ibid.

[6]                 Ibid.





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