Sins of omission

Scripture Readings for 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Amos 6:1a, 4-7, 1 Timothy 6:11-16, Luke 16:19-31

By Deacon Rusty Baldwin

The readings today are about the sin of indifference; two kinds of indifference as a matter of fact. The first kind is indifference to the bodily and material needs of others which is depicted in the rich man’s indifference to Lazarus in the Gospel. This kind of suffering is alleviated by practicing the corporal works of mercy in a spirit of love, which includes feeding the hungry and binding up their wounds.

The second kind of indifference is indifference to the moral suffering of others which the “complacent in Zion” were guilty of in the first reading. Zion, that is, God’s chosen people were not made ill by the collapse of Joseph. The prophet Amos was writing in the 8th century B.C., right after the tribe of Joseph had been conquered by the Assyrians. For decades the people of the tribe of Joseph had become weaker and weaker due to their sins of commission, which included apostasy, turning from God to idols, and their abandonment of the rest of the 10 Commandments as well. Finally in their weakness, they were conquered by the Assyrians. During the many years of their decline, however, their fellow Israelites didn’t seem the least bit concerned about their sorry moral and spiritual state, according to Amos. Moral and spiritual suffering is alleviated by practicing the spiritual works of mercy in a spirit of love, which includes instructing the ignorant, admonishing the sinner, and praying for the living and the dead.

And even though sin is not a popular topic, it is the one thing Jesus himself told us to fear, because sin brings death to our souls. That’s why although God loves sinners like you and me, God hates sin! God hates sin like a doctor hates cancer. Doctors do everything in their power to kill cancer because cancer kills us!

In just the same way, sin kills if we deliberately choose to commit a mortal sin and remain unrepentant; if, in an act of rebellion, we decide we’re going to sin, knowing full well what we are about to do is seriously wrong. But it would be a mistake to think such an act of rebellion has to be the in your face, shaking your fist at God kind that says, “God, I don’t care what you say or what your Church says; I don’t care what the Bible says, I’m doing this anyway!” Just as deadly is a passive rebellion, a kind that sadly and quietly with eyes cast down says, “God, I know what I’m about to do is seriously wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway. I’m really sorry it hurts you – I hope you understand.” Either way, I still chose to sin, didn’t I? But what constitutes a mortal sin? Well, beyond obvious things like theft and murder, you can pick just about anything our culture praises in the name of freedom for an example of mortal sin. Things like pornography, premarital sex or homosexual acts, using contraception, or abortion – these are a societal cancer. But what happens when you tell people such things are wrong? They accuse you of being hateful, when actually it is precisely because you love them that you are warning them that such things are so very harmful to them; when you say that if they but ask, God is longing to forgive and heal them. We need to understand that our modern culture has perverted the truth about sin and we should be heartsick our society has reached such a state that it calls evil good and good evil.

And that’s what the prophet Amos is asking us today. Are we heartsick over what America has become or are we complacent? Do we have the attitude: well, our society is what it is, what can be done? Well, perhaps the first thing to be done is to realize Amos was talking to us today as well. And let’s do that by bringing the reading from Amos a little closer to home: from Zion to America; from 800 B.C. to 2022 A.D. Here’s an updated version of the reading for today.

“Thus says the Lord God of hosts. Woe to the complacent in America, stretched out in front of their big screen TVs, eating their fill, lying comfortably on their couches. They spend hours on social media, talk endlessly on their smartphones, drink their lattes and Frappuccino’s and yet are not made ill by the collapse of their culture.”

The plain fact is our culture has made freedom its idol and god. Not the kind of freedom God intended; a noble freedom to choose to do any number of good things for love of God or neighbor. That is, a freedom for doing good for others. No, our culture has corrupted freedom in the same way it tries to corrupt our consciences – by equating freedom with license. By saying freedom is all about doing anything you want to as long as, we all know how this ends, you don’t hurt anybody. That, my friends, is a lie on a couple of levels. First, as I said previously, that’s not what true freedom is. Second, there is no such thing as a sin that doesn’t hurt anybody. There is no such thing as a private sin. Any sin I commit may not affect you immediately, but unless I repent, it will eventually. Why? Because my conscience will be weakened and injured by that sin and eventually, the sin I commit in private, I’ll want to justify committing in public, and I will also want to convince you that it is not a sin but rather just a choice, just a choice…maybe a choice you wouldn’t make, maybe one you would – but in any case, who are you to interfere with my freedom to choose? And then I will try to convince you that interfering with my freedom to choose is the real evil.

OK, you might be saying, but what do you expect me to do? Singlehandedly root out all the evil in the world? No, we need to do something much harder than that. Something none of us are exempt from, no matter what our state in life, no matter what our age, no matter what our position in the parish or even in the universal Church. It’s something you need to do no matter how corrupt the culture becomes, whether you are the Pope or the newest member of the Church. It’s what St. Paul said so plainly in his letter to Timothy and the bottom line is this: however much sin there is in the world, you’re still responsible for rooting out the sin in you.

“But you man of God, but you woman of God, pursue righteousness, pursue devotion, faith and love. Compete well for the faith by keeping the commandments without stain or reproach.” You see, no matter what else God calls you to do in life, you are to be holy, to love God and neighbor. And that’s hard work, much harder than many other tasks God may call us to because it means dying to ourselves every day, it means giving up our selfish will, our sinful thoughts and desires every day of our lives and replacing them with his perfect will instead.

And that’s hard. And Satan knows it’s hard and so rather than getting us to commit serious sins, sometimes he tries to convince us that God will be satisfied as long as we are nice, as long as we are a so-called good person. Satan tries to deceive us by saying, you don’t have to be holy, just be nice. Be a nice Catholic whose goal is to be liked by everybody. Why does Satan do that? Because he knows the opposite of being holy is not being evil, the opposite of being holy is being complacent. When we don’t do the good we should, when we are complacent, when our goal is to be nice, rather than holy, we commit a sin of omission. When you get home, reread the Gospel passage for today. You’ll find the rich man wasn’t a murderer or a thief, he wasn’t sexually immoral or mean to his mother. He didn’t kick puppies. He was simply a bit self-centered. He didn’t pursue righteousness. Today we would probably say he was a nice person.

The 1993 movie “Schindler’s List” provides a poignant example of the sin of omission. Schindler’s List is a true story of a rather mediocre Catholic businessman, Oskar Schindler, who lived in Poland during World War II. When the war started, he saw an opportunity to make money. He became friends with German officials and worked out a deal with them to use Jewish prisoners as free labor for his munitions factory. Since he didn’t have to pay his workers, he made enormous profits. But little by little he realized the horrors of the Nazi regime. His heart changed, and he started using his factories and his connections with German officers to save his Jewish workers from the Holocaust. He used the money he made early in the war to “buy” more and more Jewish workers, just so he could save their lives. By the end of the war, he was as broke as he had been at the beginning, but he managed to save hundreds of Jews from being massacred.

In the last scene of the movie, the Germans are fleeing as allied troops approach the town where the factory is located. We see Schindler surrounded by the workers whom he had saved; they were thanking him. But then Schindler starts to cry. He looked around at the faces of the people he saved and told them, “I could have done so much more.” He held up his gold watch, and said, “This could have bought someone’s freedom.” “If I had started sooner,” he sobbed, “I could have saved twice as many.” Every face Schindler saw made him think of another person he could have saved if he had been less self-centered. Schindler was completely distraught. He had come to understand firsthand the destructive power of the sin of omission.

Today, you and I have been given a chance to correct any sin-of-omission mentality we may have … to stop being complacent about seeking holiness by loving God and our neighbor whole-heartedly. God gave us the means to be holy by giving us abundant graces through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation. And He rightly expects us to follow the example of Our Lord and spend our lives building up the Kingdom of Heaven – not merely seeking our own comfort. Our Lord gives himself entirely to us in Holy Communion. If in turn we give ourselves entirely to him, if we seek righteousness and put all we have and all we are at his service, there’s one thing we can be sure of: when eternity rolls around, we will have absolutely no regrets.

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