Spirituality for Today – March 2014 – Volume 18, Issue 8

Guilty as Charged

Rev. Raymond K. Petrucci

A photo of a gavel

How modern culture can tolerate our judicial system is beyond my apprehension. Standing before the assemblage at a trail, the foreman of the jury brings the proceedings to its denouement by issuing the verdict. The very notion that the defendant may be found guilty is ludicrous. Our age has dismissed guilt. Has it not? Of course, there still is crime and punishment and the conviction of persons who are "guilty as sin." This fact makes the case for this Lenten message.

The famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow, in a fit of despair, once said, "There is no justice, neither in court nor out of it." While it may or may not be the reality on earth, justice is the reality before God. Final Judgment easily can make people shiver. That shivering, however, is a sign of hope that they are thinking about their actions and if their actions reflect the very love and mercy of God on which they themselves depend. Those who cling to the popular view that they are entitled to heaven, that conscience and sin are antiquated and useless concepts are self-deluded. How the love and mercy of God has translated into indifference toward virtue or vice in human activity is beyond reason. Why did Jesus die on the cross? Who needs a Savior? Mankind's laissez faire attitude toward sinfulness and contrition only can lead to oblivion.

Throughout the history of Christianity, the reality of sin and its consequences have been a topic of much theological thought and development. There are a number of Protestant faiths that adhere to Luther's understanding that faith alone is required and good works are irrelevant. He saw sin as insuperable and man, while sinning greatly, must believe more greatly. In essence, faith covers the sinful nature. For Catholics and some other Protestants, there is from God a sanctifying grace that transforms humanity in holiness and leads to salvation as expressed by the person through Christ-like acts. The belief is that in Christ's presence we become someone higher and holier and that must be reflected in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Lent places us before the gruesome effects of sin and calls upon us to do something about it. We address the problem of sin with the solution of grace. We trust in God's mercy and fulfill God's trust in us in holy acts. Lent is a time of action.

In early 19th Century Ireland, Catholics were engaged in a struggle to free themselves from persecution by the British. Although America would come to benefit from the immigration of millions of Irish to its shores, those who remained sought relief from the plunder of their homeland. Ironically, it was an Irish Protestant, Charles Phillips, who, as a representative in Parliament, was a leading and eloquent advocate of Catholic emancipation. When it comes to battling sin, his comments concerning bigotry given to a Catholic audience at a meeting in Cork are most illustrative [Source: An Address to Catholics, Bartleby.com]:

But to what end do I argue with the bigot? – a wretch whom no philosophy can humanize, no charity soften, no religion reclaim, no miracle convert; a monster who, red with the fires of hell and bending under the crimes of earth, erects his murderous divinity upon a throne of skulls, and would gladly feed, even with a brother's blood, the cannibal appetite of his rejected altar! His very interest cannot soften him into humanity. Surely if it could, no man would be found mad enough to advocate a system which cankers the very heart of society and undermines the natural resources of government; which takes away the strongest excitement to industry by closing up every avenue to laudable ambition; which administers to the vanity or the vice of a party when it should only study the advantage of a people; and holds out the perquisites of state as an impious bounty on the persecution of religion.

These words from the past remind us that in the present it is just as easy to be blind to sin and to the immoral hue of the times. Jesus reminds us that in order to see the speck in our brother's eye, we must remove the plank in our own.

Yes, Lent is about sin and how is diminishes human existence and poisons relationships at every level, but ultimately, Lent is about hope and reclamation. Lent is an act of faith that God can overcome every sin of which we are capable and an act of faith in ourselves as being able to become better and holier. Functioning as doctors of our own souls, we bring our soul in for a check-up and test for every spiritual illness (sin). Although prescribing the most effective medicine for our hearts and minds and souls might be problematic, the effort creates an atmosphere that lends itself to a spiritual health that strengthens us now and for eternity.

In God's court as well as in the human enterprise of life, we, indeed, are guilty as charged, but we are loved and valued by the Creator God in whose mercy we can strive and grow and produce the good fruit.