Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Our Debt of Gratitude

On Palm Sunday, I was asked to lead our entire CCD student body in Stations of the Cross.   Many of the younger kids, and some of the older ones too, have never experienced Our Lord’s via dolorosa, or Way of Sorrows.  One of the teachers told me she tried to explain the Stations of the Cross to her first communicants, but they did not seem to get it.  So, I thought some explanation might be necessary before we began.  I also wanted to approach the subject in a way to emphasize the importance of attending Mass on Sundays.  This is what I said to the class:

What is a debt?  It is when you owe something to someone.  If you borrow money from your parents to buy a video game, you need to pay them back.  This is a debt that you owe.  If you break your neighbor’s window, you have to pay for the window.  It is a debt you owe your neighbor. 

Imagine having a debt you cannot pay.  Suppose it’s the Fourth of July and you are shooting off fireworks in your back yard at night.  You notice your neighbor’s bedroom window is open and you think it would be funny to shoot a bottle rocket into his bedroom while he is trying to sleep.  You do it and the rocket lands in a wastebasket and starts a fire.  The neighbor’s house burns down and you get in big trouble.  You end up in court and the judge orders you to make restitution.  You owe your neighbor a new house, right?  It might cost $100,000 or more.  You haven’t got that kind of money.  It’s a debt you cannot pay.  The judge could send you to jail.

Now suppose I say to you, “You cannot pay for your neighbor’s house that you damaged, and a judge can take away your freedom if you don’t pay.  I don’t want that to happen to you, so I will pay your debt for you.  All I ask in return is that you give me one hour of your time each week.”   Would you accept my offer?  It’s a pretty good deal, right?  Jail or visit me one hour every week to show your appreciation for what I have done for you.  It’s an easy choice to make.

When our first parents, Adam and Eve, sinned in the Garden of Eden, their sin offended an infinitely good, perfect God, and we inherited that sin from them.  Our sins also damage our relationship with that perfect God.   To repair the damage, we need a infinitely perfect offering to God.  That is something we cannot produce on our own.  All the money in the world could not make up for our sins, and before we can be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven, that debt must be paid.   It is a debt we owe that we cannot pay.

Before Jesus was born, people would try to pay for their sins by giving one of the best animals to God as a sin offering.  In the Jewish Passover supper that we will be remembering this Holy Thursday, an unblemished Lamb was offered, but even that animal was not sufficient to pay for our sins against a perfect God. 

So, think about this.  Each one of us owes a debt to God that we alone cannot possibly pay, and we cannot get to heaven unless the debt is paid because nothing unclean can enter heaven.  Sin against a perfect God requires a perfect sacrifice for atonement.  But Jesus comes, and He says, I will pay your debt for you, so that someday, you can get to heaven.   Why can Jesus pay the debt?  Because He is the perfect sacrifice.  He is God in human form.  He is the true Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice. 

Jesus allowed Himself to be sacrificed, tortured, beaten, nailed to a cross and killed, to pay your debt for you, so that you can someday get to heaven.  And, all you are asked to do in return is follow Jesus and give Him at least one hour of your time a week giving thanks.  You come to Mass on Sunday where HIs sacrifice is re-presented for you in an unbloody form, and He makes Himself available to you at that Mass in Holy Communion.  What a deal for all of us!  All we have to do is accept His sacrifice and participate in that same sacrifice when we go to Mass on Sunday.  We would be foolish to pass up a deal like that!

When I was about your age (a long, long time ago), there was a comedian on TV named Jack Benny.  And the running joke about Jack was that he was a miser, a cheapskate.  He wanted to keep every penny he ever earned.  He drove an old antique car called a Maxwell because he was too cheap to buy a new one.  So, one day on his TV show, Jack was walking down the street, and a robber jumped out of the alley, poked a gun in Jack’s ribs, and said, “Your money or your life.”  There was a long pause.  The robber said it again, “YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE!”  Jack said, “I’m thinking it over.”  The joke was that Jack had to think about what was more important to him, his life or the ten dollars in his wallet.

Jesus says, “I will give you eternal life by paying your debt for you.  All you have to do is giving me an hour of your time each week.  Would we really have to think about that decision?  Would you say, “Well, okay Jesus, but sometimes on Saturday nights, I like to stay up and play games on my Playstation until 3 o’clock in the morning, and I might be too tired to go to Mass on those Sundays.”  Or, “okay Jesus, I will show my appreciation for your wonderful gift of eternal life by coming to Mass on Sunday unless I have a football game or if it’s too cold outside.”

No.  We should say, “Yes, Jesus.  Thank you!  I will give you an hour each week, two hours, ten hours, my whole life is yours.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you for paying my debt.”  That is why the Church requires us to go to Mass on Sundays.  Is it because the Pope likes to make rules and be mean to us?  No.  It is because he wants to stress the importance for us to keep up our part of the bargain by remaining in God’s grace.

The problem is, we don’t always think about what Jesus had to go through to pay that debt.  We don’t realize the infinite value of the gift we have been given.  Which is more valuable to me, eternal life or my Playstation?  That is why the Stations of the Cross are displayed on the walls of every Catholic Church, to remind us of His suffering a death for us, so we remember the importance for us to do our part by leading a good Christian life and giving thanks at Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  Now let us go into the church and think about what Our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us as we walk His road of suffering.

No comments: