ColumnsDisciple’s Corner

Our ‘hidden sins’ and the God of countless second chances

I was in a meeting the other day where the task seemed to be to figure out how we could say something without saying too much of anything.

It made me think this must be a daily dilemma for many politicians.  But, more seriously, it made me realize that too often this is how I manage my life.

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I’m hoping I’m not the only person like this, but I know I sometimes consciously or subconsciously decide how much to tell or show someone about myself.  I want them to know something, but not too much — and certainly not everything.

In some cases, there are things about ourselves that even the people who know us best don’t know.

These may be our hidden sins, as Edward Sri says, but they may also be things we don’t even share with a confessor, because strictly speaking they are not sinful.  They may be, instead, things which arise out of the fact that we are all, to one degree or another, imperfect, unfinished — and in some cases, deeply flawed — human beings.

In his chapter titled “Forgiven,” Sri asks readers to recall the story of the woman charged with adultery who is on the verge of being stoned to death: alone, ashamed, afraid.  Just at the final moment of self-condemnation and despair Jesus intervenes.

“[He] comes not to issue a legal sentence … not to condemn her or punish her,” Sri writes.  “Instead he comes to forgive her and offers her a second chance, a whole new start in life.”

Sri reminds us that Jesus wants to do the same thing for us:

We all have our own tragic stories of sin and failure, the burden of guilt, shame, fear, and hurt, but Jesus wants to lift those burdens, “to shower his mercy upon us, forgive our sins, and give us a new start.  He is the God of countless second chances.”

The God of countless second chances.  We have been told from little on that our God is a God of unconditional love and unlimited forgiveness, but it is hard to be­lieve because it is something we can hardly imagine.

Personally, I think some of us won’t fully grasp God’s unconditional love until the very end, in what Pope Benedict called the decisive moment of judgment — our final encounter with Jesus.

“Before his gaze, all falsehood melts away [and] the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us,” the pope wrote.  Therein lies our salvation.

“His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us. … [T]he holy power of his loves sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God.”

In the meantime, I think we struggle to imagine this final healing.

What do you think?

Pray and Reflect

Use one or more of the following questions for personal reflection, group discussion or private journaling:

  • On a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high) rate how aware you are of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. How would you have rated yourself five years ago?
  • Can you think of moments when you, or someone you know, experienced unconditional love or forgiveness? What was unconditional about Jesus’ treatment of the woman accused of adultery? Why do you think it is hard for us to give or receive unconditional forgiveness? What are we doing to help our children, grandchildren and students understand God’s love and forgiveness?
  • I think we learn to appreciate God’s unconditional forgiveness by … .

Learn More

Read paragraphs 46, 47 and 48 from Pope Benedict’s encyclical “Spe salvi” at:

Join the Conversation

Add your comments to this week’s discussion at

Dave Cushing is director of adult faith formation for the Catholic parishes in Waterloo. The Disciple’s Corner is sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque’s Faith Formation Division and The Witness. It is funded through the Archdiocesan Educational Development Board. It is designed to help catechists, teachers, parents, grandparents, guardians and other adults grow in their appreciation of their role as disciples of Jesus Christ.