At the Easter Vigil, we will sing the Gloria once more. This great prayer of praise is suppressed during the Lenten season, but finally, on Holy Saturday, we will join our voices with the angels and saints in expressing our thanks to our heavenly Father.
And what a litany that prayer is! “We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father.”
This is no quick gesture of gratitude. No, it is a symphony of praise to the One who has rescued us from death and brought us everlasting life. The Gloria is our joy-filled response to the redemption we received when Jesus died on the cross. It is also a hymn of gratitude for the forgiveness we just received when we publicly confessed our sinfulness during the Penitential Rite.
In this article we want to take a look at a woman who sang her own “Gloria” to Jesus after she received his forgiveness (Luke 7:36-50). We want to look at this woman’s witness, because she shows us what we can experience when we come to Jesus in repentance and receive his mercy and forgiveness.
Dinner, Interrupted. The event takes place in the home of a Pharisee named Simon, where Jesus is a dinner guest. The dinner appears to be going just fine until this woman enters the room and begins weeping uncontrollably at Jesus’ feet. She wipes his feet with her hair, kisses them, and then anoints them with oil from an alabaster flask.
Simon is taken aback at such an emotional display. Evidently, this woman was known in the town as a “sinful woman,” a way of implying she was either a prostitute or someone with very loose sexual morals (Luke 7:37). But it’s not just the woman whom Simon dismisses in his mind. He also diminishes Jesus’ status. If Jesus really were a prophet or a holy man, Simon thought, he would never allow such a person to touch him.
Jesus, however, is deeply moved by the woman’s gesture of love. He also knows what Simon is thinking and tells him a parable about forgiveness and love. This woman, he says, has shown him such love because she knows that “her many sins have been forgiven” (Luke 7:47). Simon, on the other hand, “loved little” because as far as he was concerned, he was a good man. His sins were few, and he didn’t think he needed much help from God.
A Story of Grateful Love. Jesus’ encounter with this woman is a story of grateful love. Not just a tale from the ancient past, this story asks each of us, “How grateful are you for what Jesus did for you?” If you think that his death on the cross was a good and noble deed, but not essential to your life, you will respond one way. But if you think that it was a life-saving event, you will respond in a completely different manner. This woman saw Jesus’ mercy for what it was: nothing less than her salvation. That’s why she “loved much.”
We are all sinners. We have all turned away (Romans 3:12). Whether our sins are few and minor or many and mortal, we have all violated God’s commandments. And yet, in the midst of our sinful condition, God sent his only Son to rescue us (5:8).
In her own way, this woman understood Jesus and his mission of salvation. In her heart, she knew that Jesus had set her free from all her guilt and sins. Scripture doesn’t tell us how she knew. Did Jesus speak to her prophetically as he did with the woman at the well (John 4:17-18)? Did he speak words of mercy and then perform a miracle for her, as he did when he healed the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof (Mark 2:1-12)? Or maybe the woman heard from a neighbor about Jesus, and she sought him out. We don’t know how it happened. But we do know that it did happen!
A Spiritual Rebirth. God wants to open our eyes. He wants to show us that what happened to this woman happens to us every time we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. St. Teresa of Ávila once said that our sins act like a coat of tar that covers the pure crystal of our soul and prevents the light of Christ from shining out. This woman was so grateful to Jesus because she knew that he had removed the “tar” of sin from her soul.
The amazing news is that what this woman experienced so long ago, we can experience in confession. In a 2007 address on the nature of this sacrament, Pope Benedict XVI said, “The Sacrament becomes a spiritual rebirth, which transforms the penitent into a new creature.” We all know that confession removes our sins. But as the Holy Father said, Jesus wants us to experience a true spiritual rebirth every time we receive absolution. He wants us to have the experience of our hearts being made clean and our consciences being set free. And he wants this experience to move us to bow down in worship and adoration, just as the sinful woman did.
If you want to have a deeper experience of this spiritual rebirth at confession, one of the best things you can do is spend a few minutes each day contemplating Jesus in prayer. Think about how “all things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (John 1:3). Think about all the limitations Jesus accepted when he became man. Think about how demanding it was to accept the confines of a human body and the fact that he could become tired and weak and hungry and thirsty. Think about how Jesus allowed himself to be crucified—because of his love for you. Finally, think about how the One who laid down his life comes to you personally in confession. Imagine him telling you, “I forgive you. I love you. I am so pleased that you are coming to me.”
Meditating on Jesus like this can be a very powerful way for us to sense Jesus’ presence in confession and get a glimpse of his glory when we receive absolution. It can also inspire us to spend our lives in service of him and his Church.
Passion for Jesus. The Scriptures are filled with stories of people who saw God in visions. More often than not, these stories revealed God’s greatness alongside the shortcomings of the one who saw him. But rather than feel ashamed or guilty, these people were moved to worship the Lord in a whole new way, much the same way that the sinful woman did.
The prophet Isaiah had one such vision. He saw the Lord enthroned in all his glory, and at the same time he saw his own sin. At first, he cried out, “Woe is me! I am doomed. I am a man of unclean lips . . . and my eyes have seen the King” (Isaiah 6:5). But God cleansed Isaiah of his sins, and the prophet was so moved that he immediately offered to serve the Lord. “Here I am” he said. “Send me” to do your work (6:1-8).
The sinful woman did not have a vision, but she did see Jesus in person. In this way, her experience was similar to Isaiah’s. When she met Jesus, all she wanted was to worship him and thank him for his mercy. This was her sole preoccupation, and she pursued it with her whole being. Nothing was going to keep her from Jesus, not even the disapproval of Simon, whose home she burst into.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus wants to show himself to us, just as he did to Isaiah and the sinful woman and so many others, so that we will have the same passion for him that they had. If you don’t think this is possible, then think about the passion that Jesus has for you. Think about how much he loves you. Recall all the times he has been by your side, comforting and encouraging you. Think about the passion that led him to the cross—and the passion that raised him from the dead three days later. He did it for you! So let this passion sink into your heart, and your passion and love for him will grow brighter and stronger.
Give Glory to God! God wants to give all of us moments when we experience his awesome presence. He wants us to see our sins in comparison to his perfection—but not so that we will feel guilty, discouraged, or ashamed. No, he wants to draw us to himself. Sinners run to Jesus. Sinners seek his mercy. Sinners are set free. Sinners respond with passionate and heartfelt worship.
So as you go through this season of Lent, make it a point every day to look closely at a crucifix and pray your own “Gloria.” Bless and adore and glorify Jesus. Express your joy to the Lord by telling him, “I love you. I thank you for dying on the cross. Lord, I give you everything, all of my heart and my will.” You have been forgiven much. Now come and love much!