IS THERE A SIN THAT IS BEYOND GOD'S MERCY?

Twenty fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
[Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14. Ps 51, 1 Tim 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-32]

Do you know a person who seems to have no sense of God in her/his life, without moral values, seems to have lost his/her way, and might be labeled as a 'lost soul?' Most likely this person has lost contact with the Church, may be blaming the Church for its shortcomings, and may be lacking any faith anchor to which he/she can turn in times of difficulty. This person may be addicted, now or in the past, to alcohol, drugs, gambling, greed, selfishness, sexual promiscuity, infidelity in marriage, cheating in business, or to some form of 'golden calf.'

This person may have done wrong things in the past, swept these actions under the carpet, never dealt with them, and put blame on others for his/her unhappiness. This person might be your son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother, cousin, fellow-worker, friend. This person might be you at one time in the past, or it might be you at the present time.

In my opinion, it is difficult for this person to turn his/her life around and begin living a Christian life style. He/she may feel so guilty that he/she considers he/she does not deserve God's mercy and 'that there is no way God will forgive me.' He/she may not be able to forgive himself/herself and does not confront the past and is not willing to confess wrong doing. Maybe, like St. Augustine, this person does not want to change now because it might mean having to let go of friends or give up some sinful habit or behavior.
Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_

If this person has little or no faith anchor and has a lot of pride, he/she will conclude no need of God or of his mercy. He/she may simply say 'that's the way I am, I cannot change.' That is wrong, everyone of us can change if we want to change. Sometimes people ask what is the unforgivable sin referred to in the Bible? Simply explained, it is a person's arrogance that causes him/her to refuse to ask for or accept God's mercy.

What do we learn from today's (24th Sunday in Ordinary Time) sacred scriptures? The OT reading tells us that Moses went to the mountain top to talk with God. There God set forth the rules of living as His people and gave Moses the commandments. The people lost patience with Moses during his forty day absence from them on the mountain, gathered all their gold jewelry and made it into a 'golden calf,' and began to worship it. God spoke of destroying them, and Moses pleaded that He not do so. God forgave them.

Paul in the second reading recalls his earlier sinful past and expresses his gratitude for God's mercy to him and for his call to be a disciple. In today's Gospel passage, the religious leaders who are critical of Jesus ask, ‘If Jesus is a prophet and a holy man, why does he eat and drink with tax collectors and public sinners?' He answers by telling them three stories that explain that their God is a merciful God and that he himself is doing the will of the father.

God is also like a shepherd who loses one sheep out of a hundred and searches for it until he finds it; and when he brings it back, he invites his friends to celebrate with him. God is also like the woman who lost one coin. She searched and cleaned the house until she found it, and then called in her friends to celebrate. Finally, God is like the father in the prodigal son story, who welcomed home his wayward son and held a great welcoming banquet.

What does it take for a person who has strayed from his/her faith and lost contact with the Church, with God, and maybe with the people who love him/her to turn his/her life around? Essentially, there are three factors:
1. God's grace must touch his/her mind and heart. This might come directly from God or through the prayers and love of someone in their life
2. He/she must have a sincere desire to change - feel a need for healing, is able to admit the need for God, and is able to ask God for forgiveness.
3. The journey will not be easy and will require perseverance and patience. If one falls occasionally, one should remember that God is always a merciful and forgiving God.

The concluding thought/prayer comes from today's psalm (Ps 51)
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness.
In the greatness of your compassion,
wipe out my faults and failures.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt,
and of my sin cleanse me.
AMEN.