Perhaps you’ve heard the piece of wisdom about how you can never outdo God in generosity. Not only is that true, but I think we could say that we can never humble ourselves by a factor greater than that which God will exalt us. As an example, let me describe the strangest confession that I have ever made. Note, I was the penitent. Back in 2011, I went to Krakow as a newly ordained priest for John Paul II’s first feast day. Well, I was in Chicago O’Hare’s terminal waiting for a connection and I was told that I really shouldn’t take my backpack as a carry-on – that I should check it. Reluctantly, I went along and checked the bag and hopped on the plane over the Atlantic. My baggage was promptly lost. So, I get to Krakow and now I’ve been wearing the same clerical clothes (all I had) for over a day and I have no Mass kit. The only way to have Mass would then be to go and ask some priest to borrow an altar. While that seemed tough, I had no other choice. So the following day, smelling as wonderfully as I did when I woke up, I didn’t immediately have the guts. I walked around Krakow and bought an alb and stole and a polo shirt from a religious goods store, so that I would only have to ask for a place and not vestments as well. Ahh, but I changed into my polo before I got the courage to go talk to the students at the front gate of Krakow’s seminary. Here I am, looking kind of grimy in civilian clothes and broken Polish trying to explain my predicament – and would it be possible that someone in there could let me in and set me up for Mass? No. But, they explained that the Dominicans across the street heard confessions all the time, and why don’t I go over to them and approach them in confession and explain myself to them – they might be able to help. So, this is the backdrop for my strangest confession. “Father, I confess that my airline lost my luggage along with my Mass kit and I need to say Mass…” Actually, my broken Polish wouldn’t have been capable of all of that, but my confessor spoke perfect English and within 15 minutes, he was leading me to their private chapel to say Mass before a five hundred year old altar. I clung to them all week and experienced one of the greatest thrills of my life – concelebrating Mass in their Gothic Church with all of the brothers. Never has a man been more thankful to lose his luggage (which did eventually find me).
Well, if it is when we are admit our need to God we receive an overabundance, we see that if we conceal our problems things only get worse. Consider King David. He was loved by all, but when he takes Bathsheba, another man’s wife for himself and then she informs him she is pregnant by him, by King David – he seeks to make it all go away. Quickly he calls Uriah, the wife’s husband, home from battle and tries to get them together romantically. When that doesn’t work, he simply returns Uriah to the army and has him put in the most dangerous spot in the front lines where he is killed. King David thinks he can now simply take Bathsheba for his own wife and everything will be good. He’s past the point of a touch-up and into a full scale cover-up.
The Prophet Nathan reveals to David that God knows what he has done and reveals to him the true horrific ugliness of his sin. When David sees for himself the true depths to which he has fallen, and then admits his sin, he is granted forgiveness.
It is significant that the great mercy of God is bestowed upon David by Nathan, someone outside of himself – able to inform David of his newfound spiritual life.
Today, the woman in the Gospel, should move every one of our hearts. She has no concern for her outward appearance – even intruding upon a private party of the Pharisees and weeping over her Lord’s feet for her sins. She is only desirous of the chance to show honor for Our Lord. According to St. Paulinus: “The Lord was pleased not with the ointment, but with her charity, because with modest shamelessness and pious boldness, fearless of reproach or rejection, she entered uninvited a house not her own, that of the Pharisee, with that violence whereby the kingdom of heaven is taken by force; and hungering so much for the heavenly Word, she ran, not to the table of the host, but to the feet of Christ, and was cleansed and fed there, and made His feet to be (if I may say so) her sanctuary and her altar. There she consecrated her tears, made offering of a sweet-smelling savor, and made sacrifice of her affections and passions, for a broken, contrite heart is a sacrifice pleasing to God.” St. Ambrose explains, “Christ washed not His own feet, in order that we might wash them with our tears.”
This woman stands for humanity itself. How we need to move beyond the cover-up and seek intimacy with Christ. She is the opposite of Adam and Eve – just like David, when they sin they first go off and hide. Today, thankfully we have a true believer who desires to repair her relationship to God through Christ more than she cares about public opinion.
Some of us might almost feel jealous of her though. The Pharisees themselves might have felt a jealous pull. Why? Because Christ comes into this moving closeness with her and allows her to touch Him, because she has such grievous sins. But, Jesus tells us that if we are forgiven little – we will love little….and we might say, “But, I’m not living a life of dissipation, fornication, other varieties of lust…I’ve never embezzled a lot of money or taken candy from a baby, etc.” If perhaps I’m not so lost, maybe I will not that cause of that great a celebration of the saints and angels and Christ Himself for being found. The thing to remember is that we all have been forgiven the lion share through baptism. We all were freely justified by God when we were still joined to the Old Adam through original sin.
Still, you realize that you could love more in your life. Something tells you that you have not received enough of God’s mercy. Confession of sin does not only have to be a panic button kind of operation. We can incorporate the sacrament into our devotional life, so that it is a regular feature. Even should we not have mortal sins to relate, we can seek to anoint Christ’s feet with sorrow over our smaller sins. The more we are aware of our need for Christ, the less we get caught in the trap of the Pharisees who appeared holy, but were always thinking that others were worse than they. If we ever feel like, uhh….these other people are getting away with murder and if they could just be like me – a common enough feeling – we can check this temptation by receiving the mercy we ourselves need in the sacrament.
Finally, the Pharisees were so weak spiritually, because they considered the sinful state of others like this woman to be infectious. They were unavailable to help, because they thought they would be contaminated by being in the same vicinity. Certainly, prudence is required when dealing with a member of the opposite sex, but in this situation there were plenty of other people to act as a check on one’s passions. Christ does not reciprocate this woman’s affection in a physical manner, but by receiving her as a sister He makes room for her in His Sacred Heart and calls us to do likewise.
King David and Bathsheba and this woman and the Pharisees and all of us have something in common. We all desire to be loved. This woman today reveals after so many broken attempts to be fulfilled that it is admitting our need for mercy through which we can say with St. Paul “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”