Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 19, 2005
Prophets will name the sin
Edmonton Catholic school superintendent Dale Ripley gave educators – and the rest of us – a lot to think about in his welcoming address at the Aug. 31 school opening Mass. Ripley called on people to reflect on their own sinfulness before they judge others. In fact, he urged people not to judge and to strive mightily to understand and accept the other person, even though he or she sins.
He referred to theologians who say there are only two kinds of people – sinners who admit they are sinners and sinners who deny they are sinners.
Indeed, denying one's own sin is the pathway to death, spiritual death and, if persisted in, eternal death. Our society suffers mightily because so many deny their own sin, not only to others, but even to themselves. This is true hardness of heart. It heightens one's own self-centredness and destroys one's potential for empathy.
That is why it is important to say there are more than two kinds of sinners. There are also sinners who are prophets, sinners who call other sinners to conversion. In the Old Testament reading for the Sunday following Ripley's address, we heard Ezekiel receive God's commission to warn others of the sinful path they are on.
The prophet cannot be indifferent to the sin of others – his own salvation depends on him telling the sinner that he is on an evil path from which he must turn. The prophet calls the sinner – and, in some cases, a sinful society – to conversion.
Unfortunately, this is the aspect of Jesus' ministry that was missing from the superintendent's presentation. Ripley asked, "When I look closely at the example of Jesus Christ, what do I see? I see a man who was comfortable in the presence of sinners, who sought them out, who loved them, who was patient with them, who nurtured them and who constantly forgave them."
All of this is true, profoundly true. But missing is an acknowledgement that it was Jesus who told the woman caught in adultery, "Go and do not sin again" (John 8:11).
It was Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount who said, "You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).
And it was Jesus who told his closest disciples, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6).
It is important for teachers and other role models in the Christian community to hear this side of Jesus' teaching as well. Teachers, among others, have the prophetic role of calling young people to turn away from sin as well as themselves to provide an example of outstanding character.
We all fail in that prophetic ministry. But that's exactly why we need to be called back to it.
One cause of the proliferation of sexual abuse in the Church was that there were too few prophetic voices. There was too much patience and nurturing of sinners and too few people in positions of leadership saying, "This sin will not continue."
Some will say it is an oversimplification to view the sexual abuse crisis solely through the lens of sin. Perhaps.
But in going to the other extreme of reducing all sinful activity to psychological causes, we fall into the category of those who Ripley says deny they are sinners.
Recall Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's reflection at this year's Good Friday Way of the Cross when he had the courage to reflect on "how much filth there is in the Church. . . . How much pride! How much self-complacency!" Filth always needs to be cleaned up.
Our call is to be like Jesus. Forgive the sin; be compassionate to the sinner. But do not be afraid to name the sin and do not let indifference to sin be the model of behaviour we give to our young.
- Glen Argan
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