ISAIAH 63:16B-17,9B; 64:2-7. 1 CORINTHIANS 1:3-9 MARK 13:33-37
We’re beginning this Season of Advent thinking about judgment. In the first reading of the day, the prophet Isaiah describes the sins of the people who have hardened their hearts and wandered away from God. He puts it this way. Speaking for them he says “we have become like unclean people, all our deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.” His words give us much to think about. His prophecy invites us to take an honest look at our personal lives and our corporate lives.
Often, when we think of sin, we only think of what we’ve done that offended God. This approach to sin comes from that part of our spiritual lives that’s still in its infancy. Our relationship with God is based on fear of punishment as a child would fear a strict parent.
Sometimes, when we think more deeply about these same sins, we come to the realization that we’re not offending God directly. When we sin, we sin against other people. We hurt them. Sin is the opposite of love. When we sin against another person we sin against love, and so we sin against God who IS love. This isn’t so much an offense as it is a refusal to love. This is a more mature way to think about sin in our lives.
When I make my examination of conscience, I can question myself about the decisions I make concerning my own well-being. Is
everything I do beneficial for me? Do I smoke? Do I drink too much? Am I overweight? Do I care for my health? I can also judge my interactions with others. Am I kind, understanding, compassionate, supportive, loving?
This is a productive way to examine our consciences. However, there’s another element to sin that we rarely acknowledge – corporate sin. It’s as worthy of judgment as any of our sins against ourselves and others. What is corporate sin?
Corporate sin is like a hidden fire that’s smoldering without our being aware of it. Until we personally see flame and are personally threatened by the fire we ignore it.
We need to recognize that we’re citizens of a city, a state, a country, and we’re citizens of the world. We tend to turn our attention away from our corporate responsibility and so we don’t include it in our examination of conscience. Corporate sin is society’s sin. Each of us is part of society and so we can never absolve ourselves from the sins of society.
To the great delight of the evil one – Americans are hating each other almost as much as we did during our Civil War. Hate is the direct opposite of love. This is sin – corporate sin. Here’s another example of corporate sin.
Our government, that’s us, is presently taking children from the arms of their parents, putting them in cages, ignoring their trauma, their terror, their illnesses. Our government hopes that these human sacrifices will teach a
lesson to anyone who want to cross our southern border illegally. Corporate sin deludes us into thinking that this isn’t my sin – it’s the sin of the people running my government. That sin is screaming out to God. My refusal to hear that scream is corporate sin. It’s as much my sin as the person who tears that child away from her parent’s arms.
As we end one liturgical year and begin a new one, I believe it’s most appropriate and important to make a serious examination of conscience on a mature level, and through the lens of our corporate responsibility. It takes tremendous bravery because acknowledging the sin isn’t enough. As the old catechism taught, a sin wasn’t forgiven until I “confessed my sin, did penance, and amended my life.” As a nation we’re not unified enough to even confess our sin. Never mind doing public penance. Never mind amending our corporate life.
Isaiah, speaking God’s message to us, gives us a word of hope in the darkness of our corporate lives. “There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt. Yet, O Lord, you are our father. We are the clay and you are the potter. We are the work of your hands.”
Let go! Don’t cling to what can’t heal our sin. Our government, our democratic party, our republican party, our socialist party, our green party isn’t ready to confess, do penance and make amends. The prophecy is telling us our only hope is for each of us to put ourselves in God’s hands – like clay in the hands of a potter. We’re being challenged to trust God. To believe that God is the father of love. To submit to love. To allow ourselves to be molded into a new person, individually and corporately. Let’s lift up Isaiah’s prayer every morning, every noon and every night.
“Lord, you are my father; you are our father. We are the clay; you are the potter. I submit myself to your creative hands. Mold me as you will. Use me to heal the world. Amen.”