Today’s readings always cause me great angst because they are so easily misapplied and misunderstood. Take, for example, the psalm response. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger and rich in compassion. It is easy to take this line and envision a God who is too kind to hold us accountable for our sins and transgressions. It is too easy to hear these words and presume that my sins are automatically forgiven by a God who is too sweet and gentle to condemn. Is He so ready to forgive us our sins that repentance is unnecessary or will He hold us strictly accountable for them if we do not contritely seek His forgiveness?
In the first case, we call this presumption. It is taking something for granted with a certainty that lacks foundation but, in a good sense, can see the good in all. The second case is called scrupulous. In its good sense it refers to a diligence and attention to details but, taken to an extreme, it can be overly concerned about avoiding doing anything wrong. Both attitudes can be bad and both can be good.
There is much in our current culture that presumes that everything is OK, no one is bad, God doesn’t make junk and we should not worry about sin or God’s wrath. Those who think along this line could easily defend their position with the words from the psalm response. Our Catholic Teachings are contrary to this attitude and are often seen as being too scrupulous, leading us to be too concerned about avoiding what is wrong instead of doing good.
On the other hand, you can see the good in the Church’s teachings being lived by so many people and organizations who diligently—almost scrupulously—work to help and build up their brothers and sisters while others do nothing, presuming that they will be taken care of by someone else.
There is a very fine line between being scrupulous and being presumptive. Both are needed within the Catholic framework of living our Faith in the world and both are to be avoided at the extremes. A very thin line separates them.
What God wants from each of us is a movement of the heart that recognizes our weakness and contritely seeks His merciful love and forgiving heart.