There are many passages in the Bible that resonate within me, words that express the meaning of life as I experience it. One is the from chapter 3 of St. Paul's Letter to the Philippians in which he speaks of the "supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord"
I have known that supreme advantage in my own life. Knowing Jesus personally is a singular blessing; it is a relationship which gives meaning to everything, the relationship in which I am truly and most fully myself. It is He who makes the struggles of life bearable. It is in Him that my problems find resolution.
In particular I find the freedom to stand in His presence as a sinner in need of mercy; it is in Him that I experience the forgiveness that I need. To be in need of forgiveness is a holy and healthy position to be in.
The Pharisees in John chapter 8 reveal a common human tendency to focus on the sins or faults of another, to hide behind the sins of another, presenting ourselves as being without fault. It happens occasionally in preparing for a funeral that a family say they want no mention of sin. But if we have no sin then we have no need of Jesus and no need of heaven.
To be a christian is to be a sinner in need of mercy; the journey to heaven is the journey of a sinner in need of mercy, a sinner receiving mercy. Jesus and Mary are the only two sinless ones.
What the Pharisees do to the woman in John 8 is a far too common aspect of our modern culture - the humiliation and shaming of the one who has done wrong, getting satisfaction out of judging and condemning the other, consigning them to a perpetual state of unforgiveness, shame and guilt.
Jesus on the otherhand doesn't do shame, humiliation or condemnation. He forgives and sets free the one who comes to Him with the acknowledgement of their sin. He says two things to the woman and says them to us - "neither do I condemn you. God and don't sin any more."
His forgiveness is to free us from condemnation and it is also an invitation to move on from our sins, to give up our sins in so far as we can. He doesn't want us to remain in our sins but He is not crippling us with guilt or shame.
We, as people of conscience, often cripple ourselves with guilt and shame, especially guilt in relation to our past, a problem that besets us as we get older. Memories come back to haunt us and we can be paralyzed by them.
Both the Prophet Isaiah and St. Paul offer us the way out of this experience, a way forward. "No need to recall the past, no need to think about what was done before." (Isaiah 43) and "All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come; I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3)
Christian life is a forward moving pilgrimage that has learned the lessons of the past but is not held captive by past failures. When God forgives the sins that we have acknowledged or confess, they are forgiven and even forgotten by Him - "see I have cast all your sins behind my back" and "I no longer call your sins to mind"
It's important for older people when beset by guilt of the past to simply say, "I am forgiven" and let it go.
Thankfully, the young don't usually have this difficulty and hopefully they will be protected from making the same mistakes in life that we adults have. But if they do, then it's important that they come to experience the "supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus" and find in the Sacrament of Reconciliation the assurance of the forgiveness that He offers.
Finally, my prayer is that, in our personal relationship with Jeus, we will learn to seek the perfection that comes from Him rather than the perfection that comes from our own efforts. It is a simpler and more effective way of living.