Luis CASASUS, President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, January 15, 2023 | II Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 49:3.5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:1-3; Jn 1:29-34
Today the dominant culture leads us to understand little of the words of St. John the Baptist in today’s Gospel: This is the Lamb of God. Many of us think that the metaphor of a lamb represents someone who has no personality of his own, who limits himself to obey and be submissive without reflection. Therefore, it is an analogy that is almost always used in a pejorative sense in our current individualistic way of thinking and living.
But this does not allow us to understand something that the good Israelites comprehended very well: the analogy of the lamb was used by Isaiah and other prophets as a messianic metaphor and it was also the animal that was sacrificed to celebrate the Passover, the commemoration of freedom and the end of slavery imposed by the Egyptian people.
The way to remove sin is to be like a lamb: meek and innocent. It is remarkable that all cultures attribute positive virtues to the lamb and it has never had a negative symbolism. At other times, the awaited Messiah was characterized as king, shepherd or judge… but seeing him begin his mission, the Baptist found no better image than “the Lamb of God“.
Let us insist that being innocent, today, has negative connotations. It is something relatively new, which contrasts with what has been pointed out before, with the universal appreciation of innocence. For example, innocence is now often identified with ignorance.
In any case, there are already researchers (neuroscientists, anthropologists and psychiatrists) who are beginning to value innocence, after several decades of the cult of modern individualistic and hedonistic thinking. Thus, Jeffrey Schwartz, of the University of California, affirms that every adult ought to aspire to innocence, as it is “the highest of human accomplishments” and “the defining mark of those who have achieved genuine victory in facing life’s innumerable challenges.”
But the innocence of Christ, to which we too can aspire, goes beyond that. First of all, let us remember that originally “innocence” means “to do no harm”, which is limited to an absence of bad actions or bad intentions, as we so often say: I hurt him with my words, but it was not my intention to offend … That is terrible, for we seek to justify a harm we have done BECAUSE we wanted to defend ourselves or impose ourselves, which, at least, presupposes a lack of intention to control or manage our instincts. Thus, innocence cannot be limited to an “absence of evil intention,” but rather constitutes a “permanent and exclusive intention to do good.”
And what is the power of this innocence? It is certainly not to eradicate sin from our personal lives, from the world, from society, but to offer a safe haven from the effects of sin in the lives of those of us who are sinners.
In the liturgy of the Mass, before receiving the Eucharist, we say: Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace. That peace, which only He can give, is the refuge for those of us who are wounded by sin.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 Jn 1:8) You and I will continue to sin continually, more or less consciously, with more or less guilt, with greater or lesser repentance, and for this reason we have the opportunity and the grace to go to confession of our sins and to receive the Body and Blood of Christ; not once, but frequently, just as our sins are frequent.
The Sacraments are not just a “good idea” of God. They respond to deep needs and constitute adequate instruments to satisfy them, beyond our whim and our personal reactions. This is the case of the Eucharist, but also of Confession or Reconciliation.
Under the heading “confession” we can file a range of activities and emotions, from unburdening ourselves about a serious offense we have committed to admitting that we have skipped diet. We want to be forgiven when we have insulted, when we have deceived, when we have demeaned, when we have abandoned, when we have betrayed. We want to be forgiven for everything, big and small, what we have done and left undone.
Occasionally we bite our tongues and get past the need to act out our confession, but more often we find that confession–of one sort or another–is integral to our innermost peace. Or perhaps we find that we end up telling our deepest and scariest secrets despite ourselves because the desire to confess is too strong to be driven underground for more than a brief time.
Jung (1875-1961) Swiss psychiatrist and founder of the school of analytic psychology, said that hiding an action is a secret and that the possession of secrets constitutes a psychic poison that alienates the possessor from the community. A secret shared, he said, is as beneficial as a secret held private is destructive.
Connected with the fact of hiding an action is the notion of withheld emotion. While it is acknowledged, of course, that self-restraint is healthy, beneficial, and virtuous, it is most effective when practiced as an undertaking shared by others. The injurious effect of withheld emotion and the healing of expressing emotions are poignantly revealed in Saint Augustine’s Confessions as he describes his experience of sorrow at the time of the death of Monica, his mother:
But I know I was suppressing my heart, and I suffered still another sorrow at my sorrow, and was afflicted with a two-fold grief. … It was a relief to weep on Your sight about her and for her, about myself and for myself. I gave free course to the tears which I was still restraining, permitting them to flow as fully as they wished, spreading them out as a pillow for my heart. It rested on them… I wept for my mother during a little part of an hour, the mother who had wept over me for many years that I might live before Your eyes.
In a confession, the hurting secret is confronted and accepted. Once confessed, it is no longer injurious. Man must confess himself fallible and human. If this is not done in full and honest confession, an impenetrable wall goes up, shutting the individual off from that vital feeling that he is a man among men.
Another common experience of many people: when we are old enough, we return ourselves to innocence, knowingly. Not like the innocence of childhood, but the wise, informed, innocence of aging. We laugh at the light. We suspend disbelief. We make jokes in the dentist office. We return to innocence because innocence returns us to the newness of things, and we are at last old enough to receive the gifts of things, to delight in the delight of things given. Because innocence returns us to the surprise, the gift of the moment, the grace we receive.
Of course, confession, whether in daily life, in a doctor’s office or in religious life, requires a trustworthy person who listens, accompanies and – eventually – can absolve the penitent.
This explains Jesus’ special closeness to sinners, his insistence on reaching out not only to those forgotten by the world, but also to those who did not know how to pray, in many cases because of their pride, ignoring that an essential and preparatory component of prayer is confession; that is why the Holy Mass begins with the Act of Penance.
Personally, one of the most moving experiences I remember was that of a woman near death, whose confession was that she had not spoken in a “nicer” way to a very unpleasant neighbor whom she had invited years ago to celebrate Christmas dinner. I was moved not only by the sincerity of the confession, a confession of something that may seem insignificant, but by the peace that immediately came over this person. Feeling forgiven and, moreover, absolved, has visible, joyful and lasting consequences. Undoubtedly, this admirable penitent entered eternal life in a luminous and joyful way.
Christ cried out to our Heavenly Father: Forgive them, for they know not what they do! As aware as we may think we are of the evil we have done and the harm we have done to others, we are ignorant of the true extent of our actions. With confession our perspective changes and God allows our weakness and its consequences to appear more clearly in the lives of others, sometimes in people we never imagined, perhaps in the one who hears our confession.
May we say in a new way from now on, especially when we prepare to receive the Eucharist: Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
In spite of what has been said above, it is true that Christ, the Lamb of God, literally takes away some sins from the lives of those who assiduously contemplate his innocence.
One way to understand this fact is to recognize the strength and authority possessed by an innocent person, a person who clearly does not wish to defend or assert himself. Most of us do so, almost always claiming good reasons, even saying that our intention is to defend others, to lead them out of error, or to safeguard the truth. But he who is truly innocent, like Jesus, before those who were going to stone the adulterous woman (Jn 8: 1-11), has an immense power: he saves her from the death to which her sin was leading her, and with his way of incarnating innocence, he makes her see that another way of living is possible.
This explains why Jesus, in dismissing the adulterous woman, had no need to give her any teaching or advice, simply, knowing that forgiveness had transformed her forever, he said to her: Sin no more.
In the Second Reading, St. Paul also begins his Letter to the Corinthians with a gesture of innocence and pure intention. He confesses that he is an apostle because he has been called, not because he had proposed it to himself. But that is the greatest proof of his authority. Unlike the rabbis and teachers of his time, he does not appeal to his studies, nor to the wisdom or experience he has accumulated over the years. He refers to his personal vocation received from God.
The recipient of the letter is the church of God that is at Corinth. “Church” means people convened, “people called” by God It is still the theme of vocation that comes back. If the Corinthians became believers, it is because God called them, chose them.
The Corinthian Christians are convoked saints. “Holy” means “separated,” placed apart, reserved for God. They do not live far away of others; they are separated that they lead a life guided by different principles from those of the pagans. Paul appeals to this holiness to introduce a stricter reminder against the immoral behavior of some members of that community.
They too had been protected by God from the effects of sin, they had been redeemed by the Lamb, that is why St. Paul is angry and surprised that they had fallen into the same divisions that corrupted pagan society. Do we feel challenged in prayer for not living the innocence and purity of intention that is given to every apostle?
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,