Among the many parables given by Our Lord, let us meditate on the one of today's Gospel. One day Our Lord was in a boat and had Himself brought across the lake of Genasareth to His own city Capharnaum. They called Capharnaum His city, because He made His home there in the house of Simon, when He was in the vicinity. He had left Nazareth long before, and seldom went back to the place. No man is a prophet in his own country, and the inhabitants of Nazareth were incredulous, and used to ask, "Is not this the carpenter's Son? Whence, therefore, hath He all these things?"
Capharnaum was quite a large city, situated at the head of Lake Genasareth; there was, in a small way, considerable inland commerce and fishing there and the people seemed more approachable than at other places. When they heard that Jesus had come a great crowd ran to the house where He was, filled it, and even blockaded the approaches to it. It was with difficulty that a poor cripple, a man who had lost the use of all his limbs, was brought there. As it was not possible to get in by the door, the man's friend climbed to the roof and making a hole in it, they lowered the sick man into Our Lord's presence. The kindness of those who assisted in this act was certainly very great, for a great deal of labor was required. Our Lord Himself was pleased with this exhibition of faith, and at once took notice of the sick man who was laid before Him. Great was the charity that these men exhibited when they undertook to bring the paralytic to Our Lord. But Our Lord did not consider the body at first; He thought of the soul, and began by forgiving the man's sins. When we are sick, all sorts of advice is offered to us, and the doctor is at once sent for; this is as it should be. My young friends, when you hear that one of your relatives is sick you ought to show an interest in him and do what you can for him; when your friends and companions fall sick, show by your sympathetic manner that you feel an interest in their welfare and in their health; you are thus practising one of the works of mercy, which is very important. Nothing is more beautiful than to see young people helping their companions, and faithfully remaining at their side until the sick ones are cured, or until death comes; parents and relatives will willingly yield their places to them, for they know how affectionate young people can be to one another. But you ought to help particularly, when you find that your friend is sick unto death in sin; then you ought not delay trying to revive him. Go out and find those who do not hear Mass, who will not go to confession, and talk to them, that you may gain them. This is an acceptable gift to God, and He will reward you accordingly. Our Lord did not cure the poor man that was brought to Him at once. God has His time for everything. When we pray we often think that our prayer is not heard because we do not see a miracle wrought at once, but God's time is according to God's wisdom for our own good.
Our Lord said to the sick man, "Have confidence: thy sins are forgiven thee." Why did He wish first to forgive his sins and then to cure him of his bodily ills? Because sin is the great evil, in fact, is the only evil in the world, and sickness is only a consequence. If we say all miseries, sickness, death, and starvation are nothing, who will believe us? In fact most people in this world will not understand this; they take no account of sin; these people do not want to know that their own poverty and wickedness and that of millions of others are the result of sin. In Deuteronomy the Scripture says that " The Lord will strike thee with want, fever, and cold, on account of thy infidelity." You see that God deals out punishment and reward, even here on this earth, though we do not see it. Let us look at the happenings of the world not like an atheist, but like one who believes that God holds the world in His hands, and regulates its events according to His supreme will. Here is a young man who has fallen into a very serious sickness. His friends say he caught cold, or did not take care of himself that he was careless or neglectful; often, were they to look below the surface, they would find more than carelessness or neglect they would find that his illness was but the consequence of his sins. Much of the poverty and evil on this earth could be avoided did people lead better lives, and try to conform themselves to the teachings of Our Lord and Saviour; to avoid temptations, or to have recourse to fervent prayer when temptations do come. We know, of course, that God often afflicts those He loves best with many physical ills ^but if He does He gives reward a hundredfold in the end; and gives them, too, a patient endurance and resignation under all their sufferings. However, the fact remains that most of the troubles in this world come from sin, and since this is a fact we ought to learn to avoid sin, fear it, abhor it, and let it never become our master.
The Scribes who heard Jesus say "Son, thy sins are forgiven thee," immediately cried out, "He blasphemeth; who can forgive sin but God only?" Jesus was God, and to prove it He said, "Which is easier to say to the sick of the palsy, thy sins are forgiven thee, or say. Arise, take up thy bed and walk?" You will say, that to man both are equally impossible, that God alone can do this. To prove to them, then, that He was God and could forgive sins. He commanded the sick man to arise and walk. No sooner had Our Lord pronounced these words than the man not only arose and left the bed he had not stirred from in a long time, but was able to remove the bed from the house to which he had been carried. The people who had witnessed this miracle praised God for the power He possessed of forgiving sins and of healing so hopeless a case. The Pharisees looked on in stupid wonder, but did not accept the grace of conversion. Here we have a picture of many Christians and of many young men who hear of the wonders of God, but continue in their wicked lives, and remain obstinate unbelievers.
Nothing that God may do seems to move them. My good young friends, you certainly know from your early education that God has given you the great Sacrament of Penance, for the forgiveness of sins, to help you to get to heaven. Baptism is great indeed, because it makes us children of God; but it is also necessary that there should be another sacrament which, when Baptism has been once received will again cleanse us and supply again and again the necessary grace to become friends of God. Great indeed was the mercy of God when He instituted the Sacrament of Penance. But does the sinner avail himself of this means of grace? Many abuse it, and use it rather as an encouragement to crime. "I will go on in my manner of life" says the sinner, "and when I have a great deal to confess, I will unburden myself." He will wait until a large mimber is preparing for the sacrament and then he hopes to get through easily; he thinks that this sacrament can be received at any time; "when the opportunity presents itself I will go." he says. Will you,my dear young man, take poison because you have at hand an antidote for it? Will you carelessly inflict a deadly wound on your body because a doctor can be procured at any time? How insane would such an act be! Still there are many of this foolish class. Not only are there many who abuse the graces of this sacrament by an unworthy reception of it, but a number have not the proper disposition for receiving it. You ought to examine your conscience before going to confession. Do you review your life since your last confession so as to place your duties before you? And if you have your sins ready in your mind, do you accuse yourself with real sorrow, or do you only say an act of contrition by word of mouth? You surely know that it is not the mere recital of your sins which is the great requirement in the sacrament of confession; you know that without sorrow there is no forgiveness. It includes also a resolution of future amendment. You go to confession not only to receive the forgiveness of past sins, but you must see to it that you lead a better life in the future. I will say nothing of those who avoid the confessional as they would a pest. These are like people in a shipwreck, who would not grasp at a plank by which they might keep afloat and be saved. They evidently wish to be damned and to go to hell. Take this lesson on confession to heart; use it for your salvation and if you should fall into sin, you can turn to God again. He will receive you with open arms, as He received the prodigal son: "The son that was lost is found again." Go to the minister of God's justice, the priest, with sorrow; tell him your frailties, bewail them with bitterness, resolve that in the future you will avoid all occasions of sin, and watch over your passions carefully in order that you may not fall. And these consoling words will sink deep into your soul, "Have confidence, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee; go in peace."
Source: Sermons for Children's Masses, Imprimatur 1900