I received a question yesterday regarding someone (a Catholic) who felt he was such a terrible sinner that he could not be forgiven by God. He felt abandoned by God. . .. The person who sent me this email had suggested the person offer up his sufferings and this person replied that they were the result of his sin; he could not offer them to God. He is entirely correct in this --- at least if this offering was meant to make the situation better in some propitiatory way. Such an offering could only make things worse. The ONLY solution to such a situation, and indeed to any of our situations of sinfulness is the mercy of God freely given and humbly received as wholly undeserved. I had already been writing a reflection on the first reading from Friday (Paul's letter to the Romans) so I decided to combine the two here. Bearing in mind Paul's anguished and jubilant cry from [this Friday's readings]: "Who can save me from this body of death? Praise be to Jesus Christ!" my own response was as follows:
It is prideful [or arrogant] to believe the sins we commit are too big for God to forgive or the state of sin from which these come is too great for God to reconcile and heal. The only thing more dangerous is to refuse that forgiveness when it is offered; THAT is the sin against the Holy Spirit, the sin against the power of the Spirit working in us that says, "Let me forgive you and change your life." Your correspondent has not committed that sin, nor does he need to. The Holy Spirit will continue to prompt him to repent and to allow God to heal him. Even at the moment of death he will be asked to make a decision for or against God. In part this is what death is, the moment when we make a final choice which ratifies or denies the choices of our life.
A note on translations. Some versions of [this] Friday's first lection read "Who will save me from this mortal body?" I prefer, "Who will save me from this body of death?" because it more clearly connotes a self enslaved by the powers of sin and death. "Mortal body" is too easy to hear as simply referring to a material body which is finite and will die. Body of death refers more powerfully to a self in whom death is actively at work, not only in ourselves but in the world around us, a body (self) which makes death present as a sort of awful and active "contagion". In Paul's theology human beings find themselves to be either a whole self under the sway (enslavement) of sin (for which Paul uses the terms, "flesh body", "flesh" or "body of death") or under the sway (enslavement) of grace (for which he uses the term "Spiritual body", etc.).