24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 12, 2010
The doctrine on Original Sin says that sin entered into the world through Adam’s
disobedience. There is a joke that if Adam were Chinese, there would not have been
original sin. For then he would have big business selling apples, and eaten the snake
instead. This is not to make fun of our Chinese friends, but this may just be another way of
expressing the heresy of Pelagianism. Attributed to a man named Pelagius in the middle of
the fourth century, Pelagianism teaches that original sin did not taint human nature and moral
perfection is attainable in this life without the assistance of divine grace through human free
will. In other words, man can be saved through his own efforts, without the help of God.
Definitely, this is an erroneous and absurd teaching. The Church condemned it in the Council
of Carthage (418 AD) and in the Council of Ephesus (431 AD). It is impossible to attain
salvation by our own human efforts because we are born sinners with a sinful heart and will.
God’s grace is essential for our salvation. Psalm 127 said: “Unless the Lord build the house,
they labor in vain who build; unless the Lord guard the city, in vain does the guard keep
In the previous Sundays, the Gospels were telling us about what we should do to attain
salvation: strive to enter through the narrow door; be humble at all times; make God as the
first priority in life; carry your cross and renounce all your possessions. These are all on the
part of man. But given our limitations and weakness, can we do all these sufficiently? So,
this Sunday, Jesus gives us the other and the most important part, namely, the part of God.
Salvation is mainly the work of God, and our part is just to cooperate with His grace. To
illustrate this, Jesus tells the three “Lost and Found” parables.
The shepherd noticed one sheep was missing. So he left the ninety-nine and looked for the
lost sheep. When he found it, he put it on his shoulder and announces with great joy the good
news. A woman had to clean up her entire house in search for one lost coin. When she found
it, she invited her neighbors to celebrate with her. A son left the house and was lost in the
midst of worldly pleasure and excess. But his father did not give up on him. Every day, he
searched the horizon, looking for signs of the coming of his son. And when from afar he saw
him coming home, he ran to meet him and kissed him.
In a courtroom, the judge was upset to see the same young man in front of him. “You again?”
exclaimed the judge. “The last time you were here, I specifically told you that I did not want to
see you here again!” The young man replied, “Yes, your Honor! That is precisely what I told
these cops, but they just would not believe me.”
When someone offends us, we would invariably say, “Get out of my sight! I don’t want to see
you again. Get lost!” How different God is from us. He does not want anyone of us to be lost.
So He looks for us patiently and unceasingly until He finds us. This is the main theme of the
three “Lost and Found” parables. Unfortunately, we keep running away from Him, we keep
hiding from His sight.
When we were little children, we always ask our parents, “Can I go with you?” As we grew
older, it is our parents who ask us, “Will you come with me?” Then during our teenage years
and into college, as we enjoy our freedom in the company of our friends, we begin to ignore
the invitations of our parents. And when we got our own job and place to stay, and especially
when we already have a family of our own, we have declared our total independence from
our parents, and many of us have practically lost contact with them. We call on them very
occasionally, and usually only when we need something from them. This is what happens
in our relationship with God. As we began to develop our own resources and capacities,
we also started to have the sense of self-sufficiency. And as we insist on our freedom and
independence, we consciously ignore God, and relegate Him to the sidelines. We eventually
assume a utilitarian attitude towards God – we call on Him only when we need Him. But most
of the time, we are self-sufficient and have no need of God.
Consciously, we may reject Pelagianism. We know that we cannot do anything without God.
But in practice, we are actually doing what Pelagianism teaches. We are acting as if we
do not need God, for we would rather depend on our huge bank accounts, our abundant
talents, our impeccable plans, our material possessions and our loved ones. People reject
atheism, but only in theory, because many are actually practical atheists – living and acting
like there is no God in their life. The temptations to take control of everything and to be self-
sufficient are so strong and pernicious that they gradually make us believe we can attain
salvation by our own efforts, that we can accomplish everything, that we can become God.
The devil can deceive us even in our spiritual life. All the while we think we are leading good
and holy lives, only to find out that spiritual pride has gripped our hearts. One common
example of this is what we often hear in the personal testimonies of many in the Catholic
Renewal Movements: “I am very thankful that now I have found God”, or “Ever since I found
God, my life is not the same again.” These statements are presumptuous and ridiculous,
tantamount to the idea of a mouse seeking and running after the cat, or to a cart placed
before the horse. The fact is that we do not find God; He finds us. We do not choose Him; He
chose us. We do not run to Him; He runs to meet us, and most often, He runs after us. God
always takes the initiative. Our part is just to say yes to Him, to cooperate with His grace, and
to open our hearts to Him. That is why, in prayer, it is God who should do most of the talking,
while we do most of the listening.
Let these words from Saint Augustine become our own: “O Lord, you were within me, but I
was outside. You were with me, but I was not with you. You called, you shouted, and you
broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You
breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you,
now I hunger and thirst for more.”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002