By: Archbishop Fulton Sheen
We are living in about the only period in the world’s history that there is a universal denial of guilt. This was foretold by Dostoevsky who wrote; “The time is coming where men will say that there is no sin, there is no guilt, only hunger. And they will come crying and fonning to our feet saying, “Give us bread.”
It used to be that we Catholics were the only ones who believed in the Immaculate Conception. Now everybody believes that he is immaculately conceived. We have even had in the Church in the last few years, the idea that children should not be taught about sin and that Confession would not be required before Communion because it would give the a wrong sense of guilt. Now every child, despite the insufficient statistics of “pi age”, every single child three years of age and upwards understands a broken relationship, which is the essence of sin. Just let a mother tell a child of that age, “Mommy no longer loves you”, and you see the disturbance caused by a broken relationship.
And so general has this denial of sin been, that it has not been theologians who have resurrected the idea, it is the psychiatrist. Karl Menninger of the Menninger Psychiatric Institute of Kansas has just published a book entitled “What Has Happened To Sin?” He shows how there has been a slow devolution of the concept. He said that moralists stopped preaching about sin because everything was love. And then the jurists picked it up and sin, under law, became a crime. Then the psychiatrist took it up from the legalist and sin then became a symptom or a complex.
There have been some rather tragic effects of this denial of sin. First of all we have many complexes that are produced by sin without ever tracing the true cause, which is guilt. Take for example Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Shakespeare was born in 1554 as I recall, and died in 1616, long before there was any such thing as psychiatry; and yet in this tragedy Macbeth has a psychosis and Lady Macbeth has a neurosis. Both of them contrived to murder the King in order to seize the throne. Macbeth thinks that he sees the dagger before him, the instrument of murder, with the handle toward his hand.
Lady Macbeth had the neurosis; she thought that she saw blood on her hands, spots. At last, all the water of the seven seas were not enough to wash that blood from her hands. There was no blood, there was no dagger but these were the psychological manifestations of guilt. Because there is an abnormal show of guilt, it does not prove that there is no normal guilt at the basis and foundation.
A woman once came to see me about her brother. She said he had been under psychiatric help for three years and had wasted away to about a hundred pounds. I said, “I can not do anything with him if his problem is in the realm of psychiatry, but if it is moral I can help him.” He looked almost like a ghost he was so thin. I said, “Talk to me for about forty five minutes, I will not interrupt you.” At the end of forty-five minutes I said to him, “How much did you steal?” He said, “I didn’t steal anything.” I said, “How much did you steal?” He said, “I didn’t tell you I stole!” “How much was it?” He said, “Three thousand dollars. How did you know I stole?” I said, “I didn’t know you stole but one of the things you told me was that whenever you put money in the collection box you always wiped it off first so I thought maybe you were involved with dirty money.”
And so beneath these two or three years of psychiatric treatment was a real guilt, which was thievery. So we have become today, patients instead of penitents and then we have rationalized guilt. It hardly pays anymore to ask anyone, “Why did you do this? Why did you do that”, because the rationalization would be almost as stupid as that of Aaron. Remember the story of David? David was out on his sundeck one day and he saw in the opposite apartment, Bathsheba. He invited her over to see his etchings, loved her not wisely but too well and she was found with child. The husband is at war, David sends for him, tells Uriah to go home to his wife so he could blame paternity unto the husband. He said, “I can’t go home to my wife, we are at war.” David got him drunk and still he did not go home; he slept in David’s front yard.
Then David sent Uriah back to battle and he said to the general, “Some are killed in battle, maybe Uriah will be killed.” Uriah was and David had no sense whatever of guilt until the day that Nathan came with a social problem. He said there was a poor man who had one ewe lamb and a rich neighbor killed that ewe lamb to serve his friends. David said, “That man shall restore fourfold and shall pay with his life.” Nathan said, “Thou art the man! You stole a ewe lamb of Uriah.” Then he wrote “Sol Miserere Mei” and the guilt came out.
Here incidentally is a warning to us about social justice; social justice is one of the most difficult of all issues to practice, the easiest to talk about because sometimes social justice is just a cover-up for individual justice, as it was in the case of David; and thus sin and guilt are denied. Now, as ambassadors of the Lord we have to deal with this subject of guilt. We have now to rediscover it in souls; and our problem is so related to reconciling sinners to God. Our problem is, how is sin forgiven? What is the ultimate basis of the remission of sin? This is a question that we have to answer if we are to understand our priesthood. The answer is given in the 22nd verse of chapter nine of the Epistle to the Hebrews. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.”
. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.” This is an absolute. Why is that necessary? Well, because sin is in the blood! It is in the blood of the degenerate, in the blood of the alcoholic, in the blood of the addict; sin is in the blood of the diseased and is running through every gateway and alley of the body. And it would almost seem therefore if we were ever to expunge sin, we would have to get rid of blood. That might be one reason. Another reason we read in the Book of Leviticus; “The life of man is in the blood”, therefore the higher the life, the more precious the blood. When therefore you come to the Life of Christ Who sheds His blood you get the total remission of sin. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.
When Caleb and Joshua went in to Jericho they met the prostitute Rahab, who asked to be saved because she believed in the God of Israel. Caleb and Joshua told her to let a scarlet cord down from the window and when they crossed the Jordan they would save her and her family. Now, let's study that scarlet cord of blood. As it runs through the Scriptures, for blood is mentioned over four hundred seventy times in Scripture. First Adam and Eve; they found themselves naked and were ashamed. Shame is exposure so they made an apron of fig leaves and the fig leaves dried and they were ashamed.
Incidentally, the fig leaf that was once put over the secret parts of man and woman in Genesis, in Greek sculptures, are today put over the face. The person does not matter; in our eroticism it is only the pleasure; you drink the water, you forget the glass. How was the shame of Adam and Eve covered? You have to know your Scripture well to answer that question. Just one single line in Genesis, either chapter two or three, how was the shame covered? God made for them, clothing from the skins of animals. Notice three things,
1. God did something
2. It involved the shedding of blood because you never get a skin unless there had been a shedding of blood.
3. Adam and Eve were not killed; it was an animal that was killed.
So, God does something, it involves the shedding of blood and it is done vicariously; a substitute is used.
Following the scarlet cord we come to Cain and Abel. Cain is fearful after he has killed his brother Abel, that he himself might be killed. God said He would put a mark; a brand upon Cain and no one would kill him. Why this quarrel between the two? Because of the nature of sacrifices. Cain offered technological sacrifice, he offered the produce of the earth; the earth was cursed for one thing and the fruits of the earth cost him nothing. Abel remembered the tradition, the clothing of his father and mother; for the tradition of blood had already crept into the human race and he offered a blood sacrifice, the firstlings of his flock. Cain’s sacrifice was not accepted, hence the murder. What was the brand that God put upon the forehead of Cain? It was probably the blood of his brother Abel. For we are saved only by blood.
In comes Abraham, called out of the land of Ur not knowing where he is going. What a man of faith; he is praised eleven times for his faith in the Epistle of the Hebrews. And Abraham, when he is eighty and Sarah is seventy, has no heir. And God had told Abraham when He called him; “Your progeny will be as numerous as the stars of the Heaven and the sands of the sea.” And at eighty, no son. Where is the promise of God? Sarah suggested that he consort with the Egyptian maid, Agar, from which came Ishmael, “The “wild ass” of the desert”, says Scriptures, “from whom will come many nations and many kings.” But that was not the heir that was promised, it was to be through Sarah.
When Abraham is almost a hundred and his wife is almost ninety, when they both, according to the New Testament had dried up and passed the age of bearing, God said to them, “Now you will have a son.” Sarah laughed. God said, “You laughed!” Sarah said, “I did not laugh.” So the child was called “Laughter”, which is the meaning of Isaac. Now after all this waiting, Abraham and Sarah are rejuvenated. When he is a grown man, God says to Abraham “testing him”, says Scripture, “ Take your son to the Mount and offer him in sacrifice.” Imagine, the only son in whom there was to be this tremendous progeny. And Abraham puts wood on the back of his son, Isaac. And for three days for all intents and purposes Isaac is dead. Up the mountain he goes and finally they are at the top of the mountain, Isaac says to his father, Abraham, “Where is the lamb?” And those words were caught up in the breeze of Mount Mariah and wafted through the centuries. “Where is the lamb? Where is the lamb?” Abraham said, “God will provide.” And as he raised the knife to kill his son in obedience, it is stayed by the angel and a ram is found near by in the bushes and that is offered in sacrifice. God did something; it involved the shedding of blood and it was vicarious, a ram was offered rather than Isaac; a perfect picture of a father offering his son.
Then Moses is called. And when Moses is called out of Egypt, forty years he had been a servant of Pharaoh. Forty years he was in the desert and only when he is eighty he is called to be the leader of the Israelites, to take them into the desert and then into the Promised Land. He had already killed a man and that was the reason he had to go into the desert. Now at eighty he goes to Pharaoh and after many wonders and miracles, Pharaoh promises and then negates his promise. Moses pleads, “Let my people go!” And finally the patience of God is at and end and God said to Moses, “This very night and angel will destroy the first born of man and beast in all Egypt. You kill a lamb, one year old, unspotted, no bones broken and take the blood of that lamb and sprinkle it over the doorposts. Not on the floor, blood is sacred. And when that destroying angel sees the blood on the door of your house, the angel will pass over that house.” The Israelites were saved and all the first born of man and beast of the Egyptians were slain. God did something! It involved the shedding of blood; it was vicarious. The Israelites were not killed; it was the lamb that was killed. And as they wander through the desert, a journey incidentally, which would have only taken three weeks, takes them forty years because of disobediences.
On one occasion, the Israelites because of their disobedience had been bitten by poisonous serpents; Moses interceded and God said, “Make a serpent of brass that looks like the serpent that stung the people. Hang that brass serpent up on the crotch of a tree and everyone who looks upon that serpent of brass will be healed of the poisonous bite.” Now there is absolutely nothing in looking at a brass serpent that will cure snakebite. But, we are living in days of symbolism. And when the good Lord came and was talking to the night man, Nicodemus, for he only appeared in Scripture at night, never in the day; our Lord said to him, “As Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so shall the Son of Man be lifted up.” Our Lord is here implying; that serpent of brass looked just exactly like the serpent that stung the Israelites but there was no poison in that brass serpent.
“And all who looked upon it in obedience to My word were healed. So I shall be lifted up on the crotch of a tree; I shall look as if I am full of sin, for I am numbered among the transgressors bearing the sins of the world. And as there was no poison in that serpent, so there is no sin in Me and all who look upon Me shall be healed of the bite of the serpent, which is Satan.”
That was the foretelling and symbol. And another; the scapegoat. On the Day of Atonement, every year the priest would bring before him, two goats. One would be chosen by lot to be killed. “Which of the two will you, that I release under you?” (Christ or Barrabas) One goat would be killed and the blood of that goat would then be sprinkled upon the other goat but only after the high priest had laid his hands in a kind of “hanc igitur, over that goat; laid upon that goat all the sins of Israel. Then after the sprinkling of the blood the goat was led…Scripture does not tell us but an old Jewish tradition…was led by a Gentile, delivered over to the Gentiles, taken over to a precipice fifty or sixty miles away and thrown over the precipice, all the sins of Israel were forgotten and forgiven. God did something; it involved the shedding of blood and it was done vicariously.
The same ceremony took place with the two birds. One was killed and the blood sprinkled on the other. Then there came and incident where there was a shortage of water; two incidents, at Raphidim and at Kadesh, about thirty-eight years apart. At Raphidim, God said to Moses when there was a shortage of water, “Strike the rock.” St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Corinthians that the rock was Christ. And water came out. Years later, once again a shortage of water and God said to Moses, “Speak to the rock.” Moses turned to the people and he said , “You stiff necked people! Don’t you think I can draw water from the rock?” And he struck it twice and water came forth and God said, “For that, you do not enter the Promised Land.” Three times Moses begged, “Let me!” God said, “Ask me no more!” Why? The rock is Christ; that rock is struck once in death on Calvary, there is no other name under Heaven by which we can be saved. The rock is not struck twice.
The same kind of sin is committed by the two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, when they lit strange fires in the temple but we will not have time to go into that. They were struck dead on the day of their ordination. For all the incense fires had to be lighted from the Altar of Sacrifice; they skipped sacrifice, they skipped the shedding of blood, redemption, and they went right to intercession as if Heaven could be opened without the shedding of blood.
Now we come to the first Passover of our Blessed Lord’s public life. John the Baptist is preaching along the Jordan and in that spot, which was so close to Jericho and from which there led that road all the way up from Jerusalem, John the Baptist could see all the pilgrims on their way up to the Temple fulfilling the Law of the Atonement. Every family had to sacrifice a lamb, one year old and unspotted with no bone broken. Children had tied purple and red scarlet ribbons about the neck of the Paschal Lamb. If a family was poor, twenty people could join together to offer the lamb. And as John was preaching his hard message of penance and laying the axe to the roof of the tree, he sees all of these lambs.
Josephus tells us that ten or fifteen years after the death of Christ that two hundred sixty thousand lambs were offered in the Temple of Jerusalem. The religion of Israel was a veritable hemorrhage of blood. And as John watches this procession of the Passover, there is still in the air the question of Isaac. Where is the lamb? Where is the lamb? Suddenly he stops and looks out at someone in the crowd, interrupts his discourse and says, “Look! Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Where is the Lamb? The Lamb had come and then came the last of Passover and our Blessed Lord is sentenced to His cross. It is a very important day for the Jews, this Passover because they had to offer this lamb and it was the one day of the year the high priest could go behind the veil.
This great temple, which was in the course of construction, the third temple in the history of the Israelites, was of course built upon the model of the Tabernacle in the desert, which was only about sixty feet long with badger skin on the outside; quite unattractive and no light in the Tabernacle except the candles, and that Tabernacle, which as I say was the prelude to this temple scene that we are about to describe. As you came in, there was at the end, a laver; the only piece of furniture in the temple for which God did not give a measurement. Twenty-two chapters there are in the Old Testament about the Tabernacle and every single detail is mentioned by God. Why our architects never read it I cannot understand. We allow them to build without going back to the planning of the Divine architect. There was the laver; no measurements. Why? Because not all of us need the same washing; some need more than others.
In front of that the Altar of Sacrifice, with the horns where the animal was tied. Over there, the candlestick, the brass candlestick made from the jewels of the Israelite women who took their jewels out of Egypt and some of the Egyptian jewels as well. Over here, the bread of presence, the bread of perpetual presence before which had to burn a light. Twelve loaves changed every week for the twelve tribes of Israel. Here, the Altar of Intercession, and here, the great veil. Now in this Temple at the time of our Blessed Lord, the veil was about sixty feet high, made of crimson, scarlet, red purple, with two great Seraphim wrought in gold because in the Old Testament when God ordered the tabernacle made, what would be our Tabernacle, there had to be two Seraphim with their wings touching. It should always be in our architecture. St. Peter, in his Epistle says that the Seraphim wonder at redemption; they wonder what God did for us.
So this great veil was now sprinkled with blood by the high priest; he alone could enter on this day and commune with Divinity. And when he sprinkled it gave him the right to go behind the veil. The old Holy of Holies, the original one contained the Rod of Aaron, a piece of the Manna and the Tablets of the Law. At this particular moment on Good Friday the priest is now about to take the blood of the lamb and sprinkle that great veil. On the hill of Calvary, other blood was being sprinkled. And at the moment that a lance was run into the side of our Blessed Lord, this veil in the Temple was rent, rent not from bottom to top, for a man could do that. But rent from top to bottom and the Holy of Holies, which the people were never allowed to see, but only the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. And this was merely the earthly counterpart of something else that was opened on the Hill of Calvary; a mystery beautifully described in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
So now my friends, the blood of Jesus makes us free to enter boldly into the Sanctuary by the new living way, which He has opened for us; through the curtain, the way of His Flesh. So there were two curtains, the curtain in the Temple of Jerusalem and the curtain of the Flesh on Mt. Calvary. The holy of Holies was opened, which was only a symbol, and revealed to human eyes the Holy of Holies, the Heart of Christ was opened on the hill of Calvary.
So the Blood of Christ makes us free to enter the Sanctuary by the new living Way, which He has opened through the curtain of His Flesh. Heaven was opened by that act. Every time any one of us priests raise our hands in absolution in that confessional, the blood of Christ is dropping from our fingers. That is how sins are forgiven. When we give Communion we are doing what Moses did, just in figure when he would sprinkle the congregation with blood. We are sprinkling the congregation; what a blessed privilege it is of ours to hold the cup of this Precious Blood.
When I receive the Precious Blood, I think of Rahab, I think of David and I think of the Blessed Mother and I think of the Blood of Christ. For I know that it is only by the shedding of blood that there is any remission of sin. This then is the reality in which we deal. So sin is real but sin is not the worse thing in the world. The worse thing in the world is the denial of sin. If I am blind and deny that there is any such thing as light, shall I ever see? If I am deaf and deny there is any such thing as harmony, will I ever hear? If I deny that there is any such thing as sin, how shall I ever be forgiven? The denial of sin is the unforgivable sin; for it makes redemption impossible.
So even our sins, when we bring them to the Blood of Christ, sometimes have a good side; we are washed in that Blood. And, we rejoice as priests and thank the Lord; for if we had never sinned, we never could call Jesus Savior.
Conference # 9 given by Archbishop Sheen for the Priests of the Archdiocese of Washington at Loyola on Potomac Retreat House during their annual Priest's Retreat.
Transcribed by: Denise Wood