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Lord Have Mercy

When St. Paul wrote his first epistle to the struggling church in Corinth (57 AD), he warned them against sharing in the Lord’s supper in an unworthy manner” (1 Corinthians 11:27). The New Life (NLV) translation says that anyone whose “spirit is not right with the Lord, will be guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord.” Whether we call our commemoration, our celebration, the Lord’s Supper, Communion, or the Eucharist, Paul is telling us that taking time for reflection and confession is a good way to start. We want to place before our merciful God every sinful thought, word, and action and implore His forgiveness.

“At the very beginning of the Mass, the faithful recall their sins and place their trust in God’s abiding mercy” (USCCB).

The prayer called the Confiteor begins: “I confess to Almighty God…” I am especially moved by the line that asks forgiveness for, “what I have done and… what I have failed to do.”

“What I have done” is not that hard to remember. If my conscience is on the ball, it’s pretty darn hard to forget. Anytime I ignore my conscience and let temptation get the better of me, I know it’s a sin! But what about “what I have failed to do”? Toward the end of the New Testament, the Letter of James has a verse which says, “Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). It’s called a Sin of Omission. Those are not as easy to remember or even to recognize.

I looked up “omit” in my trusty thesaurus and found these synonyms: neglect, fail, forget about, overlook, ignore, avoid, bypass, leave undone. That’s quite a list. Without much effort any one of us should be able to think of several gospel stories that describe these Sins of Omission. Here are 3.

“The Good Samaritan” in Luke 10:25-37 tells the story of a man who was beaten and left half dead on the side of a busy road. “Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.” They could have helped that poor man, but they bypassed and avoided him. Sins of Omission.

In Luke 16:19-31 we find this story: “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.” The story doesn’t end well for the rich man who ignored and neglected the sick beggar right outside his gate. Again, Sins of Omission.

One more familiar example comes from Matthew 25:31-46 “The Judgment of the Nations.” “Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me… for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’”

For me, these 3 stories make a vitally important point: it’s not just the things we do that matter, but also the things we could do, should do, but don’t do, the suffering we overlook and the acts of kindness we leave undone. Sin takes many forms, and if I look deep enough, I may find it “in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.” That’s why I need to seek God’s mercy every day.

Going back to the Letter of James, we find it clearly spelled out. Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17). Like I said once before: acts of kindness, love, and compassion are never random. They are the signs of a life lived in Christ.

May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Ephesians 1:7

1 thought on “Lord Have Mercy

  1. Oh, dear! Sins of omission. Hadn’t thought much about those.

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