A time to name our sins
Father J. Ronald Knott
If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains. John 9:41
So far this Lent, the Sunday readings have invited us to conversion of life by taking us to the desert for insight, to the mountaintop for perspective and to the well for satisfaction. This week we are invited to conversion of life by admitting that we are sick and in need of a doctor.
One of life’s most tried and true coping mechanisms is going blind on purpose. Jim Butcher said it this way: “Most people, given the choice to face a hideous or terrifying truth or conveniently avoid it, choose the convenience and peace of normality.”
Garrison Keillor said it more humorously: “I believe in looking at reality straight in the eye and denying it.”
In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus is dealing with a man who is physically blind and knows it and a bunch of men who are spiritually blind and don’t know it. The man born blind admits his blindness. The spiritually blind deny their blindness.
“Surely, you are not counting us among the blind, are you?” There is no sin in physical blindness, but there is in the denial of spiritual blindness.
We are much too sophisticated today to admit to sin. No, we don’t come right out and deny that we have sinned; we just rename our sins so that they don’t sound as bad, and if they don’t sound as bad, we can more easily live with them.
People don’t actually “steal from work,” they just “take a few things.” People don’t actually “kill unborn babies,” they merely “terminate pregnancies.” People don’t actually “commit adultery,” they just “have affairs.”
Changing the names of sins by using euphemisms is a lot like “looking at reality straight in the eye and denying it.”
Lent is a time to look reality straight in the eye and own it. This is part of many spiritual traditions. The Jews have Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement. In that day in ancient times, Jews pinned their sins to a goat and turned it loose into the desert, thus the term “scapegoat.” Muslims have Ramadan, the holy season that “scorches out sins with good deeds.”
Some Native American tribes had a tradition called “Eater of Impurities,” whereby each member of the tribe was invited to sit down with a shaman and bring to mind some thought or action that they felt they must hide.
After encouraging them not to be afraid, he would say, “Now give me that thought,” and it would be shared between them, and the darkness in which it was held was dispelled.
Catholics have the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a time to go to the Doctor, a time to name our sins and lay them at the feet of Jesus for healing and forgiveness. Even regular doctors are telling us that research is proving that baring one’s soul can calm the heart and lower blood pressure.