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“Ask a Priest: Why Do Some Biblical Lines Make Us Feel So Miserable?”
Q: I have a question that bothers me a lot. How can God say he loves us, if he says things sometimes to make us feel miserable, such as “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do'” (Luke 17:10)? And how can we accept ourselves as sinners when I sometimes get the impression that the Catholic Church keeps harping over us for being so sinful and terrible? Every time you fall into sin, you feel so guilty and hardly ever have the grace to accept yourself and your sinfulness such that you can repent. Often I feel that the Church (and maybe I am just misunderstanding) cannot accept that you are a sinner. All the time you hear frightening things about how the wages of sin is death and that we should never sin. But unless a person repents, which is not so often, he is stuck in the sin for years. Why are we made to feel frightened of sin? Thank you. — P.M.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: I’m sorry to hear that you have such a dark view of the Church’s attitude. The Church, like Jesus himself, hates sin but loves sinners.
Regarding that passage from Luke: it is always good to read biblical passages within the whole context of Scripture.
One strong theme that comes through the Bible is how often God has shown patience and mercy with us.
Looking at the cross should remind us of the seriousness of sin as well as the love of God who wants to save us from perdition.
It’s true, of course, that some biblical passages are very sobering. The words of Jesus that you cite remind us that we shouldn’t presume too much about our own righteousness. Our Lord’s words are meant to keep us humble, not discouraged.
As for the Catholic Church “harping” about our sinfulness: I’m not sure what your experience of the Church is. Pope Francis called for a Year of Mercy a while back. I don’t recall any popes announcing a Year of Condemnation.
In any case, sin is something that a person freely chooses. And a person who sins or who is stuck in sin might be tempted to shift the blame.
We want to be honest with ourselves. If we have weaknesses and failings, we want to confront that truth and bring it to Jesus in the confessional. This takes humility, no doubt. But Our Lord never turns away a repentant soul.
Perhaps there is something happening in your life that prevents you from seeing the message of mercy and hope offered by Christ through the Church.
You want to be sure that you are a beloved daughter of God. He only wants your holiness, and he is ready to offer his grace.
It might help you to seek out a solid, regular confessor and/or spiritual director who can guide you. There is no need to beat up on yourself.
Some reading might be helpful. Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Dives in Misericordia is worthwhile might be worth reading, as is Sister Faustina’s diary and her experience with Divine Mercy. You might also enjoy and find helpful our series of Retreat Guides (do-it-yourself online retreats) on mercy, at https://rcspirituality.org/retreat_guide/.
The Church is serious about sin because God is serious about sin. The Church is also serious about extending his mercy, for mercy was a big reason why Jesus was willing to suffer and die for us.
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