The story of any paralytic is a sad one. We can think of people who have been paralysed through age, infirmity or through a car accident. Listening to a radio show during the week it was sad to hear of a stroke victim in the Rehab Centre in Dun Laoghaire - where one of the Masterchef Ireland finalists works - who was featured making dinner for the patients there. He expressed his loneliness and his hope to be better for Christmas – which, if we need any reminding, is 8 weeks away. We tend to forget that people are suffering and they need our prayers as well as our overdue visits.
In the case of the paralysed man in the Gospel account today, curiously Jesus does not cure the obvious physical ailment first. He forgives the man’s sins. This takes priority. Why? Because the presence of sin hampers us, stifles us, and weighs us down like so much excess baggage hindering us in our attempts to grow closer towards God and to be the best type of persons God wants us to be. In other words sin is a much more insidious form of paralysis hidden from sight.
I am going to use an acronym now. The word FIGS could be used to describe the four states of mind we find ourselves in, paralysed, hindering our spiritual lives, and preventing us from receiving the healing help God offers us in the Sacrament of Confession or reconciliation.
F is for Fear. This is much more common and prevalent than we might think. Fear prevents someone like you and me to truly open ourselves to proper necessary scrutiny or evaluation. What might be obvious areas of change – or repentance - in the lives of others, are not so easy for us to own up to in ourselves. Fear of what others might think of us – especially the priest to who w confess our sins. but it may even be an unhealthy fear of God stemming from false images of God as a distant exacting accountant, rather than one of God as unconditionally loving us despite all our fears and failings. What am I afraid of? Am I paralysed with fear?
I is for Indifference. This is an offshoot of pride that causes us to question ‘what does it matter anyway?’ There is no identified urgency in you or me to name and shame our sinful attitudes and ways of behaving. This indifference betrays a DIY approach to our own salvation rather than opening ourselves to the continuous necessary outpouring of God’s grace in our lives. There may be even a sense of denial of the presence of sin at all. As a result, the letter ‘I’ therefore could also stand for Inertia.
G is for Guilt. This is where we recognise our guilt for sins committed against God, others and ourselves. We are paralysed by fear to act to repent, by the awfulness of what we have done. Scruples and hand-wringing, neurosis and sleeplessness are expressions of guilt that weighs heavily on people for a long time. Their lives come to a standstill and things are done in ‘going through the motions’ way. On occasion as a priest I have been witness in the sacrament to people shedding tears of relief and joy as they finally confess a guilty secret that has haunted them for many years. They truly undergo a resurrection experience.
S is for shame. It is embarrassing to confess something private and deeply personal and confidential. To admit failure is humbling, that I could be wrong – in something I thought, thinking badly of another and quick to condemn their motives or actions, to bring to the surface and out into the open. Shame was the reaction of Adam and Eve - they no longer wanted to expose themselves; they could not look at God face to face. Shame is particularly hard to bear when we have to repeatedly confess sins of ingrained habit. We want to run away. God can’t possibly forgive me this embarrassing personal failure and I can’t bring it out into the open. It is too much for me to expect to be forgiven.
While guilt and shame are healthy signs of a sensitive and active conscience, we learn as children through failings not to repeat them and we are prevented from being worse than we are. But dealt with badly, we become sick in mind and body even to the point of paralysis.
So where am I? Am I too afraid to admit sin, or too indifferent to care about it, or too guilty to face it, too ashamed to confess it? If any of these apply I am truly paralysed in sin and in need of help .To repeat, the paralysis due to sin is more damaging to one’s integrity than physical paralysis, as tragic and awful as it is.
Curiously then, the Gospel reading at first sight has nothing obvious to do with Mission Sunday. But Jesus is sent to bring the Good News to all. “To prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins” – he said to the paralytic – “get up and pick your bed and go off home”.
Jesus confirms the words of God in the First Reading, that God is consistently merciful, ‘If the (poor man) cries to me I will listen for I am full of pity’.
The Mission of evangelisation therefore is a call to us to follow in Jesus’ mission of mercy. But we cannot give what we do not have, so we need to hear the Good News too and experience the awe of the crowd in the Gospel – to hear and experience the Good News of repentance, and the joy it brings to us, and others, whom he wants to free from our paralysis.