You Are Not the Worst Thing That You Have Done

Do not wallow in your sins, and do not attempt to hold your enemies in their sins. How can you accept God’s forgiveness and then refuse to forgive?

Guercino, “The Woman Taken in Adultery”, c. 1621
Guercino, “The Woman Taken in Adultery”, c. 1621 (photo: Public Domain)

You are not the worst thing that you have done.

There is more to you than just your failings and faults. You are, at your core, an immortal soul. You are made for eternity.

But the fallenness that pulls you down is wound into you. Nothing you can do can ever break its hold on you.

St. Paul called this fallenness “the flesh.” He didn’t mean the tendons, muscles and bones of our actual bodies. He was talking about the fallenness that Catholics call original sin. He was describing the yearning for the things of this world, despite the spiritual poisons that are hidden inside each bauble and toy we seek.

Fame wraps itself around soul-killing poisons. Power, especially power over other people, is corruption waiting to happen. Ambition, pride, great talent, strength and prowess of any sort in any arena are all good things, all gifts of a sort. But they have their hidden barbs that will dig into us, fester and then separate us from God.

Lent is, among other things, an annual reminder that we are both immortal and mortal. Our precious bodies are quite literally made of the dust of this earth, and, in the end, they will return to the dust from which they came. If you think you are your body, then you also believe that your destiny is to nourish the microbes that break down rotting flesh and slowly decompose it back to the soil.

Our bodies on which we lavish such care are destined to be fertilizer. We can mummify or embalm them. We can dress them up as if they were going out for a special occasion. We can style their hair and paint their lips. But they are, once the soul leaves them, a thing.

The miracle is that we have a promise that these things will live again. The promise is the Resurrection.  

St. Paul says that 500 people saw Him at one time. Mary Magdalene was the first, the one to whom He revealed His resurrection. At first Peter and John had to content themselves with the message of an empty tomb and a convincing winding sheet. Later, the Apostles touched Him. He ate with them and talked to them, preparing them with a last preparation for what as to come. He was risen, and they walked and talked with their risen Lord.

Then, He left them. And the Holy Spirit came into the world.

You are not the worst thing that you have done.

You are more than dust. You are an immortal soul, bound for eternity. You are made in the image and likeness of God.

You do not deserve respect and what we call human rights because of your achievements, talents, power or wealth. These things, like the flesh of our bodies, will be devoured by the microbes of time and death. You have a right before God and man to these things because you are made in God’s Image and the breath of life within you is the breath of the living God.

None of us is fit for heaven on our own. Our goodness will not get us there. Our righteousness certainly will not.

We cannot earn our way past our own sins. We cannot unhurt, unkill, undegrade, unwound the people we have harmed in our lives. There is no rewind for a life lived wrong. We can repent and try to do better. But on our own, all that will get us is a kind of grinding effort laced with anger and relentless regret.

The burden of our sins is too heavy for us to carry. Which is why so many of us ignore our own sins and spend our time pointing out other people’s sins. We are trying to find redemption in invidious comparison. We are seeking salvation in our own actions, and, not finding it there, we grind our guilt into the lives of others and name ourselves oh-so-pure by comparison with our mental pictures of them.

This is not righteousness, this anger and bitterness. It is the despair of those who try to carry the burden of their sins themselves.

Condemnation of other people is not salvation. It is another form of death.

Self-righteousness is not righteousness. It is a sin that separates us from God.

There is nothing we can do to unwind, rewind, undo our sins. Our own efforts leave us doomed to wallow in our sins, both in this life and for eternity.

And yet, we are not the worst thing we have done. We are immortal souls, yearning for a transcendence we cannot quite grasp. We are, every single one of us, made in the Image and Likeness of God.

That is the source of our value. That is why every human person deserves respect, possesses essential human rights. It is why every single person is, as Jewish custom tells us, the world entire.

There is no one, not one, who has not done harm to other people.

You have hurt people. You have wounded them and damaged them. You, even you, are unfit for heaven.

But you are not the worst thing that you have done.

You are a child of the living God. You are made in His Image, and destined to live on past the grave in which your body will lie and rot.

You cannot redeem your sins. You cannot undo the harm you have done. You cannot unhurt the hurts you have inflicted.

But God can.

You may not see it in this life, but He can rewind, unwind and undo all the harm you have ever inflicted on other people. He can heal them, redeem them and make them new.

And He can do the same for you.

You can be reborn. You can be remade. You can be the recipient of a second chance of eternal dimensions. You can be made new in Christ.

Lent is a time of reckoning, of looking at our tattered righteousness and seeing it for what it is, which is nothing at all. It is a time of allowing ourselves to be the lost sheep and letting Him find us and bring us home once again.

The penances, alms and confessions of Lent are akin of a spiritual spring cleaning. We are fluffing the pillows of our lives and clearing out the dust bunnies under the furnishings of our existence.

But without Jesus, that is just an exercise in futility. By our own efforts, we truly are the worst thing that we have done, and we will be judged by that worst thing when our time comes.

Life in Christ is not an intellectual construct. It is not a theological game. Life in Christ is an actual, on-going reality. Life in Christ is walking in the Holy Spirit of God, answering the Paraclete with a new “yes” each morning and on through every day.

Life in Christ is a gift, and like all gifts, it is not earned. We are not the authors of our salvation. We are the little children who have had salvation given to us because we could not earn it ourselves.

In the cross, in the blood that ran down the wood and into us, we are made new.

You are not the worst thing that you have done. If you are in Christ, you are made new.

If you walk in Christ, if you allow the Spirit to lead you, chances are that He will let you participate in the redress of your sins. He will give you the gift of participating in the healing of the wounds you have inflicted.

Jesus Christ makes all things new. He frees us from the tyranny of remorse and sets us on the path of healing. He uses us in our broken places, in the things we have done wrong. We are the most useful to God precisely where we have broken ourselves on our sins and then were healed. He uses us there, uses our darkest bad as a light to others who are in the same pit.

You are not the worst thing that you have done.

But if you allow yourself to see yourself for the sinful, battered little soul that you are, and you turn to Him for healing and help, He can use you in your fallenness.

Self-righteousness makes you useless to God. It makes you into a weapon the devil can use to separate other people from their salvation. If your righteousness is in you, then you are not of Christ.

He told the rich young man, There is only One Who is good, and that is God.

Find peace in that message and stop trying to be perfect. Know with all your soul that you are a child of God and He will lift you up and hold you close, if you just let Him.

Lent is a time of facing ourselves. But without Christ that would only drive us to despair or to denial.

We cannot face our sins alone. We need the Holy Spirit holding us as we look. We need the healing of Christ, the trust in Him that He still loves us, to move past our sins.

You are not the worst thing that you have done.

And neither is anyone else.

Do not wallow in your worst thing, and do not attempt to hold them in their worst thing. How can you accept God’s forgiveness and then refuse to forgive?

Lent is a time of penance, alms, confession. It is not a time of paying our debts for our sins. We cannot do that. Rather, it is a time of remembering who we are and knowing that there is hope for us, knowing that we can be made new at the foot of the cross.

You are not the worst thing that you have done.

You are God’s own precious child.

And you can be made new.