I’d like to introduce you to the term spiritual amnesia, when we forget where we came from spiritually and what Jesus has done for us. Very often, we take for granted Jesus’ gifts to us and don’t share them with others.
I mentioned once before how God overcame the sin of pornography when I was 19, and this helps me help others to overcome this sin. But one incident has recently come back to me that reminded me of my immaturity. In my first year of seminary, about ten friends from high school came to visit me. When we were driving back to Richmond, a bunch of us decided to stop off and eat dinner without telling the other car. When we got back to Richmond, my friends in the second car were waiting outside my house and were devastated. I didn’t mean to hurt them, but I was just so careless and stupid. The friendship was over.
The grace Jesus gave me was that I accepted what they said; I didn’t argue or make excuses, but apologized. Before, without Jesus, I would have justified myself and made things worse. And, years later, these friends forgave me. It’s good for me to remember this, because I want to pass on to other people the grace of taking responsibility for my sins.
St. Paul today writes, “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service…” (1 Tim 1:12). Our attitude today is gratitude, because, when we look back on our past, or even our sins now, we have to start from Jesus’ perspective, that He loves us and died for us, and has either forgiven us or offers forgiveness. We’re going to resist the temptation to unhealthy guilt, which leads to self-hatred or despair. Healthy guilt, on the other hand, leads us to Jesus’ mercy in Confession. And from there, Jesus ‘appoints’ us to share with other people what we’ve been given.
“even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 1:13-14). What did we used to be? A liar? A liar is someone who lies repeatedly so much so that it becomes part of their character. A thief isn’t someone who stole once, but someone who steals repeatedly. St. Paul calls himself a ‘a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence’ because he did those things repeatedly. This is a tough one for us, because it hurts when we realize who we used to be, or if we’re still struggling with repeated sins. In the Bible, there are sometimes references to ‘fornicators,’ ‘adulterers,’ ‘drunkards,’ (1 Cor 6:9-10) because these sins became a lifestyle for people.
‘But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.’ Does anyone know why Satan and his devils went straight to hell after only one sin? They committed one sin of envy or pride and they separated themselves forever from God—why? Because angels see all the consequences of their actions. When they choose something, they know full well what they’re choosing. But it’s not like that with us. When we sin, we always feel guilt sometime after. At the time, it felt good, but, later, we know it’s wrong. That’s why St. Paul writes, ‘I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.’ All of us, even when we commit mortal sins, still don’t fully realize what we’re doing. That’s why Jesus prayed on the Cross for all of us, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
St. Aelred once wrote this meditation, and it’s so beautiful that I’ll read it in full: “It was not enough to pray for them: he wanted also to make excuses for them. Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. They are great sinners, yes, but they have little judgment; therefore, Father, forgive them. They are nailing me to the cross, but they do not know who it is that they are nailing to the cross… therefore, Father, forgive them. They think it is… an impostor claiming to be God… and they do not recognize my glory; therefore, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”. No matter what we’ve done or are doing, if we turn to Jesus sincerely, He will forgive and give us new life!
“The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim 1:15-16). The five times St. Paul uses this phrase ‘The saying is sure’ he does so to introduce an article of faith that is believed by all Christians. In this case, it’s that Jesus came to save us who are overwhelmed with guilt for our sins. It’s normal that we feel like we’re the worst, and St. Paul’s point is that he felt the same thing!
And one reason why He forgives you and me is so that we can say to others, “If God forgave my sins, He will forgive yours.”
I hope that we don’t have spiritual amnesia. I hope we receive Jesus’ forgiveness in Confession as soon as possible, and then share this grace with others! This is why St. Paul ends this section on the high note: “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1 Tim 1:17).
We now have a video from Gail about her own experience of God’s forgiveness and her growth in Faith Studies. This is our last weekend to sign up, and this is the most incredible 6-week program of spiritual growth.