Life & Soul

What true contrition really means

The Worship of the Golden Calf, by a follower of Filippino Lippi

The 24th Sunday of the Year
Ex 32:7-11 & 13-14; 1 Tim 1:12-17; Lk 15:1-32 (Year C)

“The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down now because your people have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice.’”

The narrative of the golden calf cannot be dismissed as the aberration of a primitive people. It was remembered down the generations precisely because it challenged a frailty shared by all.

Worship, while expressed in liturgical celebration, embraces a great deal more. It expresses our deepest longings and, as such, underpins all that we do or say. Love and worship cannot be divided, because the object of our love becomes the focus of our worship. The children of Israel worshipped the work of their own hands. Sinful human nature all too readily fashions idols of its own making: achievement, stubborn pride and popularity are but a few. We might not name them as idols, but we can invest them with the power to dominate our lives, to become an unconscious love that supplants the worship that belongs to God alone.

Humility acknowledges its misplaced love and, with the psalmist, entrusts itself to the mercy of a loving God: “Have mercy on me, God; in your kindness blot out my offence.”

Contrition is more than a desire to be freed from past transgression. It longs to be created anew, a gift of pure grace. “A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, nor deprive me of your holy spirit.”

Mercy welcomes the repentant sinner – a quality frequently condemned in Jesus. “The Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man,’ they said, ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ ”

Jesus responded with the familiar parables of the shepherd who rejoiced in finding the sheep that was lost, the woman who could not rest until she had found the lost drachma; and the father whose son, once lost, had been found. The common thread that links these stories lies not so much in what was lost as in the unrestrained joy of its restoration.

Love begets love, and mercy begets mercy. May we never cease to rejoice in the Father whose mercy has created us anew. May we be slow to judge and eager to forgive.