Every people have heroes who have given their lives for the freedom and peace of their community. Their sacrifices, although in the past, live on as an inspiration for us to value freedom and to live generously.
The memory of such heroes helps us appreciate what Jesus has done. Jesus gave His life to bring us interior freedom and peace from the inner tyranny, which is more subtle and pervasive than the exterior tyranny.
We call this inner tyranny “sin.” We can think of sin as this thought, this action, this word, this failure to act, as though “sins” might be glitches in an otherwise well-running machine. In fact, our some of our sins are so deeply rooted that they seem to have a hold on us.
The individual instances of sin are symptoms of our underlying turning away from God. St. Catherine of Siena calls this underlying sin, “selfish self-love.” Even in our prayers, we might want God to serve our agenda rather than to serve God’s agenda.
Jesus’ passion and death was Jesus gift of Himself to the Father. Because He was the Son of God, His self-offering to the Father more than repaid our human resistance to love and obey God. The Father’s raising of Jesus from the dead was His acceptance of His Son’s gift.
The memory of Jesus’ sacrifice continues to inspire us but even more importantly, Jesus continues to liberate us.
The second reading for today, from the Letter to the Colossians (Col 2:12-14) describes our union with Christ through Baptism: “You were buried with Christ in baptism, in which you were raised with Him through faith in the working of God who raised Him from the dead” (Col 2:12).
We are buried with Christ; we are raised with Christ. For the early Christians, baptism was almost always by immersion into a pool of water. The literal going down into the water and rising again dramatically demonstrated the believer’s entering into the death and burial of Christ as well as rising with Him.
Before being baptized, we are asked if we reject sin. In Baptism, we are not only rejecting sin we are surrendering ourselves to the saving power of Jesus’ death and Resurrection, which destroys sin.
The Letter to the Colossians describes us as having been “dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh” (Col 2:13). Jesus breaks the power over sin over us through His death.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in his commentary on the Letter to the Colossians, explains: “Your baptism was like the death of Christ, for as His death destroyed sin, so also does your baptism.”
We had been, as Thomas explains, “chained with a debt of evil actions and of mortal sin.” Thomas affirms that in baptism: “God made you alive.” Theidea is brought out by the Letter to the Ephesians: “Even when we were dead in our transgressions, God brought us to life with Christ…” (Eph 2:5).
Thomas comments: “Just as Christ rose from the tomb, so we rise from our sins in the present, and from the corruption of the flesh in hope. This is accomplished through faith in the working of God, because it was by the power of God that Christ was raised.” The Father raised Christ from the tomb and also raises us from sin.
The water of Baptism is only effective when it is joined with our faith in God’s power, “faith in the working of God.” We believe in the “power of God” by which God not only raised Christ from the dead but also takes away our sin.
We believe that God raises us from sin because the Father raised the Son from the dead. Thomas states, “We rise from our sins in the present” but our faith also offers us hope in our own resurrection from death, “from the corruption of the flesh in hope”:
Christ’s Resurrection gives us hope that we also will rise, as Thomas affirms: “By believing in this resurrection we come to share in it.” St Paul writes: ‘He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies’” (Rom 8:11).
Colossians spoke of the “uncircumcision of your flesh.” According to Thomas, Paul is not so much speaking of a physical circumcision but an “inward circumcision, which is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal” (Rom 2:28-29).
Thomas compares Baptism with circumcision in that “baptism removes the death of sin and circumcises us by cutting off original sin.” Thomas explains, “He made you alive by removing every sin from you, forgiving and remitting all your faults.”
As powerful as Baptism is in our lives, we continue to experience God’s mercy in numerous occasions throughout our lives. The Gospel for today, Luke 11:1-13, contains the “Our Father,” in which we are taught to pray “forgive us our trespasses.”
Colossians instructs us that God’s forgiveness blots out our sin: “And you… God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this He set aside, nailing it to the Cross” (Col 2:14).
Thomas notes that a bond is torn up when the obligation has been fulfilled: “…at the moment of Christ’s death this bond was canceled and destroyed. And so he says, this he set aside, nailing it to the cross, by which He took away our sin by making satisfaction to God.”
Many of us continue to be disturbed by sins of the past, even though these have been forgiven. We judge ourselves as though the sins had never been forgiven.
Thomas asserts “a person incurs two things by sinning, that is, a debt of guilt, and slavery to the devil.” The Letter to the Colossians affirms that Christ has obliterated “the bond against us” (Col 2:14). A “bond” is a warranty that is used in contracts. If the bond has been cancelled, why do we keep thinking of it?
Thomas asserts that violations against God’s law can be “retained in the person’s memory, which it disturbs and stains.” Our sins are remembered by the devil in order to discourage us, “to torment them.”
If we don’t seek God’s forgiveness, we can be slaves by letting our bad habits grow. Furthermore, according to Thomas, the devil accuses us. The result is that we feel trapped.
As we receive forgiveness, we have to also believe that the bond of our sins is destroyed. Of course, God does not have amnesia but our sins are “not remembered by God as something to be punished.” Nor can the devils recall our sins “as something to accuse us of.” And Thomas affirms: “We do not remember our sins as reasons for sorrow: ‘Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered’” (Ps 32:1).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from St. Thomas’ Commentary on the Letter to the Colossians are taken from the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/