Sunday Sermon for March 13, 2016, the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C

Readings: Is 43:16-21; Phil 3:8-14; Jn 8:1-11
In the second reading today St. Paul states that he forgets what lies behind and strains forward to what lies ahead. In this he is not merely speaking of forgetting about his former way of life in Judaism, but he is talking about the sins he committed as well. However, when he speaks about forgetting about the past, it implies that he has addressed the issues fully and now needs to leave it all behind.

This is a lesson of great importance to all of us. The devil tends to get us, as he usually does, at one extreme or the other. He does not want us to be free, so he either tries to get us to bury the past without addressing it, or to remain stuck in the past even after it has been addressed. The truth lies in the middle where the mercy and love of God can be found.

What is the devil’s game and how do we overcome his wiles? The enemy of our souls has only one desire; your soul. He wants to drive you to the point of hopelessness. He does this by finding some area of weakness in you and then exploiting it. For some, this means he will try to convince you to think that you are worthless, no good, unforgivable, lost, etc. Sometimes it is to play on your fears and your sense of shame so that you will be afraid to confess your sins. At other times he taps into our pride to make us think that we are not in need of forgiveness and, therefore, do not need to confess our sins.

The vile creature will use any means at his disposal to cause us trouble. But he is a liar. Therefore, the way to counter his attacks is to acknowledge and maintain the truth. Most of the devil’s lies are based on some point of truth. This can make it confusing for us because we can see that there is some truth and, therefore, we believe that what follows is also true. This is usually not the case.

For instance, in the Gospel reading today we hear about the woman caught in adultery. There is no doubt that this is something very serious. The way the evil one works is to begin with how bad the sin was, then he jumps to the idea that you are just as bad. Failing to make the distinction between the sin and the sinner, the person walks away feeling hopeless.

Another way he will work is to make the person think he has done something great. In attempting to justify the action, he convinces the person that nothing wrong has been done. These people then try to just hide the sin or, even worse, they brag about their exploits as though they were victories.

In the Gospel, our Lord did not condemn the woman who was caught in adultery, but neither did He suggest that it was okay for her to do such things. He upheld her dignity, but also told her to go and sin no more. This is the same thing He does with us. He wants us to confess our sins because it is a human need, but He also wants us to let them go once we have confessed them. Remember, that when God forgives our sins, He destroys them; they are no longer on our soul. This being the case, we have to let them go as well. This is the idea of forgetting what lies behind. God has forgiven and forgotten; we need to accept the forgiveness and forget as well.

To forget does not mean that either God or we are suggesting that what we did was okay; it was not. But neither is it okay to remain stuck in the past. Some people think that because they did something huge, they are not only stuck with it, but they define themselves by it. They cannot condemn it in someone else because they did it too and the devil makes them think they are hypocrites if they were to condemn the sin in another.

This would be like saying that if you spelled a word wrong or did a math problem wrong when you were in grade school, you have to continue to do it wrong for the rest of your life and you cannot say that someone else who makes the same mistake is wrong. Admit the error, correct it, learn from it, and move forward.

God says in the first reading that we are to forget the things of the past because He is doing something new. He wants us to be free. If you have confessed your sins, they are gone. Quit looking back; look forward, free of your sins, toward Heaven.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit