Father Cantalamessa on the Repentance of Praise
Comments on Jesus' Cure of the Paralytic
ROME, FEB. 18, 2006 (ZENIT) - Here is a translation of a commentary by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Pontifical Household, on this Sunday's liturgical readings.
* * *
7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (b)
(Isaiah 43:18-19,21-22,24b-25; 2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-12)
Your sins are forgiven you
One day when Jesus was at home (maybe in the home of Simon Peter, in Capernaum), such a large crowd gathered so that there was no room to enter the door. A group of people who had a paralyzed family member or friend thought how to overcome the obstacle, uncovering the roof and lowering the sick one on a sheet before Jesus. He, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic: "Child, your sins are forgiven."
Some scribes who were present thought in their hearts: "Blasphemy! Who can forgive sins, but God alone?" Jesus doesn't contradict their affirmation, but shows by deeds that he has the same power over the earth as God: "But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth" -- he said to the paralytic, "I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home."
What happened that day in the house of Simon is what Jesus continues doing today in the Church. We are that paralytic, each time we present ourselves, slaves of sin, to receive pardon from God.
An image from nature will help us (at least it has helped me) to understand why only God can forgive sins.
It deals with the image of a stalagmite. The stalagmite is one of those limestone columns that form in the depths of certain old grottoes by the falling of calcareous water from the roof of the cave. The column that hangs from the roof of the grotto is called a stalactite, that which forms above; the point on which the drop falls, is the stalagmite.
The question is not the water and its flow to the exterior; rather it is that in each drop of water there is a trace of limestone which is deposited and builds on the earlier ones. So it is, with the passage of the millenniums, these columns form, with an iridescent glow, beautiful to behold, but if seen better they appear like the bars of a cell or like the sharp teeth of a wild beast with its mouth wide open.
The same occurs in our life. Our sins, in the course of the years, have fallen into the depths of our heart like so many drops of calcareous water. Each one has left there a little limestone -- that is, of murkiness, hardness and resistance to God -- which is building on what the previous sin had left. As happens in nature, the buildup is taken away, thanks to confessions, the Communions, prayer.
But each time something will remain that has not dissolved, and that is because the repentance and purpose of amendment were not "perfect." And so our personal stalagmite has grown like a column of limestone, like a rigid bust of plaster that traps our will. One understands then the blow that is the famous "heart of stone" of which the Bible speaks: It is the heart that we ourselves have created, by force of consents and sins.
What is to be done in this situation? I cannot eliminate this stone with my will alone, because it is precisely in my will. Thus is understood the gift that represents the redemption achieved by Christ. In many ways Christ continues his work of forgiving sins. But there exists a specific way which it is obligatory to resort to when we deal with serious breaks with God, and that is the sacrament of penance.
The most important thing that the Bible has to tell us about sin is not that we are sinners, but rather that we have a God who forgives sin and, once forgiven, he forgets about it, cancels it, and makes something new. We must transform repentance into praise and acts of thanksgiving, like the people did that day, in Capernaum, when they had been at the miracle of the paralytic: "They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, 'We have never seen anything like this.'"
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