Let me tell you again the story of Thais, especially for those who never heard it.  “In the fourth century, a very beautiful young woman named Thais lived… as a prostitute.  The holy bishop St. Paphnatius decided to try to convert her, so he went to her in disguise, pretending to be a client.  She showed him a room, but he asked for one more isolated, so that there would be no interruptions.  Thais led him to a different room, but he was still dissatisfied, so she reassured him, ‘No one can possibly see or hear us.’  Paphnatius asked, ‘And what of God?  Is there no place where we can escape His all-seeing eye?’  Shocked by these words, Thais admitted with fear, ‘Alas, no’ and tearfully cast herself at the feet of Paphnatius, whom she now understood to be sent by the Lord.  The bishop then spoke to her very powerfully about God’s presence, and after Thais had confessed her sins, she went off to the desert, where she spent the remainder of her life in penance (and thus, is known now as St. Thais)” (Fr. Joseph Esper, Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems, 229).

We’ve all committed sins where we figuratively or literally closed the door and didn’t want anyone to see it: cheating on taxes, exams, resumes, while crossing the border; things that happened while at parties, while intoxicated, or late at night.  Question: What are the sins about which we hope no one finds out?  More importantly, what are the sins we wish could be blotted out forever?

It’s reasonable to believe that Zacchaeus was also very aware of his sins.  “Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it.  A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich.  He was trying to see Jesus…” (Lk 19:1-3).  A tax collector was a Jewish person who betrayed his people by collecting taxes from them for the Romans, and, by indicating that he’s the ‘chief’ one and ‘rich,’ the implication is that Zacchaeus is the worst.

However, ‘he was trying to see Jesus,’ presumably because his heart was heavy—this is today’s first positive reality.  As we said last week, healthy guilt is a gift—a sign that the Holy Spirit is working in us and the Holy Spirit says, “Don’t run from Jesus.  Run towards Him.”

“But on account of the crowd he could not [see Jesus], because he was short in stature.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus, because he was going to pass that way” (19:3-4).  This is the second positive reality: the gesture of running ahead and climbing a tree!  Whenever we come to Mass, go to the chapel, or make the effort to go to Confession, Jesus sees this!  And, actually, Jesus is looking for us.  The text says that He knows Zacchaeus by name already. “When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today’” (19:5).  Jesus stays at his house because Zacchaeus needs Jesus.  Jesus said to St. Faustina, “The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy” (Diary of St. Faustina, 723).

Yet the crowd accuses Zacchaeus of being sinful, so, “Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘They’ve done sinful things, too, Lord.  Who are they to judge?  They should mind their own business.’”  He doesn’t say that or hide his sins.  This is the third beautiful reality: He takes responsibility.  “Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much’” (19:8).  Always be your own accuser: Don’t exaggerate your sins, just take responsibility for them.

A Catholic was once on trial for a horrible crime.  His lawyer told him not to bring up anything else that would incriminate him.  Nevertheless, during the trial, he admitted to another offence, because he said, “Better do purgatory now than later.”  Always be your own accuser.

Another man once went against his supervisor’s decision, so he thought about skipping work the next day.  His mentor said, “The best thing to do sometimes is to open up the cage and face the five-hundred-pound gorilla.  He’s going to come after you anyway, so you might as well let him out” (Andy Stanley, Next Generation Leader, 121-122).

Why are we more forgiving to people who ask forgiveness and apologize than to people who hide and then we find out what they’ve done?  Because they’re sincere.  They know that what they did was wrong.  And bringing it up is itself a penance—it takes humility and courage!

Did you ever hear the story about King David’s sin of taking a census of the people?  It was sinful because he was becoming proud of his military might.  So, interestingly, God punished him saying, “Three things I offer you; choose one of them, that I may do it to you… either three years of famine; or three months of devastation by your foes… or else three days of… pestilence upon the land” (1 Chr 21:10,12).  I’ve thought about doing this in Confession: ‘For your penance, you can either take three years of no coffee; three months of having a poster of Deacon Andrew in your room; or three days straight of listening to my homilies.’  God offered David three hard penances because David did not at first accept responsibility.

But Zacchaeus was his own accuser, and chose his atonement: Half of his possessions to the poor, and repaying four times what was stolen are a stringent restitution.  When we meet Jesus and understand His forgiveness, then we want to atone.  This is what happens in Confession: There’s a relief and there’s a desire to make up for the wrong things we’ve done!

So, let’s run to Confession!  St. Jerome, for example, was famous for his anger, but was also famous for his penance: He was gentle with the poor, lived in a cave, beat his breast with a stone, and slept on a rock.

And one of the best kinds of atonements is helping others overcome the same problems through which we’ve gone.  People with anger issues, or are struggling with alcohol, help those with the same issues.  Even if our penances aren’t generous, Jesus still accepts them, because He’s gracious, and ultimately, only He can atone for our sins.

Last week, I told you about a question from a Gr. 5 student, let me finish today with a question from a Gr. 4 student about why we need Jesus.  To explain, I asked for a volunteer and said, ‘Imagine you and I are brothers.  You’re the good one and I’m the cool one.  But I always show up late for dinner and never help with chores.  What are you going to do to make it up to Mom and Dad?’  ‘Ah, do more chores.’  ‘Now, imagine that all your classmates are our brothers and sisters, and we all disrespect Mom and Dad.  What are you going to do to make up for it?’  ‘Thank them more, and do lots of chores.’  ‘But nothing you can do can make up for all the wrong we’ve done.  Now, imagine that the whole world has sinned against God, there’s nothing any of us can do to make up for it.  Only Jesus, Who is God, can make it up to God the Father.  Only love as great as that on the Cross can atone for our sins.”

Jesus says today, “The Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost” (19:10).  Yes, we take responsibility for our sins, and atone for them—this is good but it will never be enough.  Thank God that Jesus died and rose for us, to forgive even our worst sins and offer us life with Him.

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