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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

My parish priest, in addition to being a truly joyful servant, has a wealth of pithy sayings that cut right to the heart of the matter.  Here is what he said to me tonight during Reconciliation:

The Chinese have a saying – ‘There are two good times to plant a tree.  Twenty years ago, and today.’  ….Go, and plant a tree.”

Please pray for my tree!

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The Gospel for today is another unique story, the story of the adulterous woman found only in John.  Scholars speculate that this story was a later edition to the text as it does not seem very Johannine, and may have been written by same author of Luke – Acts.  The Church believes it to be inspired scripture and it remains one of the most popular stories in all the Bible.

while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.  But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them. Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.  They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.  Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.  So what do you say?”  They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.   But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.  And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.  Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin any more.”   John 8:1-11

Our friend Fr. Jon at Redemptorist Preacher takes an in-depth look at the underlying drama to the story; after all, this was a trap being laid for Jesus, one of several instances in the Gospel in which he is challenged by Jewish leaders with a seemingly no-win situation (e.g. the question of paying Roman taxes).  Here the trap is that while Mosaic law (religious) required adulterers to be stoned to death, Roman law (civil) forbade any private capital punishment.  Should Jesus heed the Hebrew law of his ancestors or obey the might of the Roman authorities?   Either way he answers could lead to his own death.  The scribes and Pharisees chose a very visible, crowded venue to challenge him.  How fraught the situation, and how humiliating for this woman, who likely may have been dragged there immediately after being found in flagrante delicto. 

My Sunday to Sunday nonsensical weekly just wanted to discuss the inherent sexual bias of the story and bemoan that women are still being kept down by The Man.  You know, the Church and the Pope and mean guys everywhere.  Blessedly, our Bible study leader decided to scrap the Gospel reflections from the Sunday to Sunday and instead spend the entire time leading our own discussion, which was enlightening and uplifting.  I confess that I disliked this story for a long time.  In my opinion, it was used in an anti-Christian way for far too long, and is the go-to verse for moral relativists everywhere.  But I am so glad that I had this week to study and reflect on it.  I have a whole new appreciation for the complexity of this Gospel.  

Our Bible study was wonderful, too.  We dwelt on Jesus’ silence, his remarkable silence.  In reflecting on our discussion, it occurs to me that this possibly throwaway story shows us the way to be Christians, as Jesus role models the virtues we should aspire to: 

  • Justice
  • Temperance
  • Prudence
  • Courage
  • Faith
  • Hope
  • Love

Everyone discussing this Gospel account sooner or later uses it to point to Jesus’ non-judgment and that oftentimes becomes the sole takeaway from it.  “Jesus said he didn’t judge the woman and neither should we.”  This (I think) is an incorrect lesson for us, or at least not the sole lesson.  Jesus does not condemn the adulteress, but I think he does judge the woman.  In so doing, he actually shows us how to judge.  Never does Jesus tell her she is not a sinner and not guilty of her crime.  In fact, he forgives her and instructs her to turn from her path of sin – “go and sin no more.”   See that?  He did not simply say, “Go on, beat it!”  He did not say, “well then, clearly you are not guilty.” 

Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, (and) from now on do not sin any more.”  

The condemnation of the crowd would have been her stoning, her loss of earthly life.  Jesus does not condemn her and in so doing, he presages our Reconciliation sacrament.  Jesus’ pardon refers to her eternal condemnation.  Jesus frees her; he is her savior just as we know he is ours.  He came to free us from our sins.  But inherent in this act of compassion, and mercy is his act of divine justice.  The woman must not sin anymore. 

And what does that mean, “sin no more”?  We know by the Catechism that we are all sinners and fall short of the grace of God.  Is the woman, and are we, required to “sin no more”?  How can we take on such a burden?  What is Jesus telling us?

In order to be absolved of our sins, in order for God’s merciful forgiveness to be ours, we must convert our hearts.  We must renounce the sin in which we find ourselves and we must earnestly intend to not persist in it.  How many of us understand that?  We ask for God’s forgiveness but have we truly renounced our sin within our heart of hearts?  Do we walk into our confession hardened to Jesus’ words?  We know from Revelation and from Pauline letters that we may not persist in our sins, and that Jesus WILL come again to judge the living and the dead.  Our acts on earth will be weighed in the balance.  So we must repent now, and that means to renounce our sins and promise to do better.

So how are we to judge if we should not condemn?  We know that only God knows the secrets of our hearts, and only He has perfect justice and mercy.  We must trust to His justice.  But as Christians, we are called upon to lead our fallen brothers and sisters back to the path, and correct one another in a spirit of love and gentleness.  In good faith, can we allow those entrusted to our care to persist in their sin?  I think we cannot.  Adultery, premarital sex, gossiping, sloth, illegal business practices, addictions, whatever the moral failing, this Gospel is not telling us it is none of our business.  It is showing us the way to intervene as a Christ follower should:  take time to reflect in silence and humility, maybe get down in the dirt a bit to fully understand the situation, see all sides, when finally necessary to speak, do so calmly, temperately and fairly, do not offer condemnation but rather love, forgiveness and a hope for reconciliation, make it clear to the sinner that Christ expects their metanoia.

Our sins are so hard to renounce, our hearts slow to convert.  Speaking the truth in charity and gentleness must be matched by our own humility, our understanding of our own failures.  We have a faith that goes beyond following an established set of rules.  Our faith requires us to devote our time, energy, intellect and spirit in a constant conversion away from ourselves and over to God.

Our God is so awesome!

Pray with me: 

O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended thee and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend thee, my God, who are all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.

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Today we read the story of the Prodigal son, a parable which is only found in Luke.  I love this parable.  We discussed it this week in my Lenten Bible study, and of course, we discussed the points of view of the main characters and how each of us can – at some point in our lives – identify with all of them : the lost son, the dutiful son and the forgiving father.  Most around the table seem to be identifying with the dutiful son, at this point in their lives.  I thought that was interesting.  I almost always identify with the wayward son, myself but as of late, I had to admit that the parable character I most identify with is the Fatted Calf.  This garnered some chuckles around the table.  Unfortunately, I was only semi-joking…

I did observe that while I don’t frequently relate to the dutiful but resentful older son, if I were present for Jesus ministry, I might find myself in the role of the critical and doubting scribes and Pharisees.  I would probably see Jesus standing with sinners and become judgmental and discount his holiness.  I might gossip about him, or speculate on what shenanigans he is up to.  :-(   This got alot of agreement from our group.

Anyway, for reflection on the the gospel reading, I am sending you to two great sources for further enlightenment.  First, a video by Fr. John Riccardo of Our Lady of Good Counsel here in SE Michigan (which I have posted before).

Second,  biblical scholar Michael Barber‘s treatise on the Prodigal Son which he posted over on The Sacred Page yesterday.  (I wish he had posted it before Thursday, I would have looked very smart “coming up” with these brilliant ideas!)  (totally kidding, I would have given him credit.)

You Can Always Come Home

The Prodigal Son, New Life and Sacramental Imagery  by Michael Barber

*

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 In today’s liturgy we read Paul in 1 Corinthians.

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea,  

and all of them were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  
All ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink,
for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them,  and the rock was the Christ.  
Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.  
 These things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil things, as they did.  
 
Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by the destroyer.  
These things happened to them as an example, and they have been written down as a warning to us, upon whom the end of the ages has come. 
Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall. 1 cor 10:1-6, 10-12

Paul draws the comparison between the disobediant Israelites under Moses to those present Christians in Corinth.  God sent the Israelites a savior from their bondage in Egypt (Moses) as He would send the “new Moses” Christ Jesus to lead mankind from its bondage in sin.  The Israelites passed through cloud (Spirit) and sea (water) just as we are now baptized.  God provided real and spiritual food and drink for their sustenance, just as Jesus now provides His real body and blood which we eat and drink for our spiritual wellness.  As the Israelites participated as a community, so do we. 

Yet, with all that God had done for the Israelites, most fell into grumbling, idol-worshipping, and disobedience and were “struck down in the desert.”  They did not complete the forty years wanderings to make it to the promised land.

Paul warns us that just like them, we may suffer (eternal) death, though we too have been chosen by God, saved through baptism of water and spirit, and have eaten and drunk from the communal cup.  At any time, we may fall back into idolatrous behavior, in other words, Sin! 

The doctrine of Once Saved, Always Saved is a false assurance.  Though God fills our lives with blessings and provides the grace necessary to sustain and save us, at any time any of us might fall into temptation, a fall that may take us away from salvation, just as the Israelites – for whom God sent Moses, performed miraculous deeds and parted the sea – were eventually struck down in the desert.

In today’s Gospel (Luke 13:1-9) , we see that the owner of the fig tree is disgusted that so much time has passed, yet his tree has not born fruit.  Why should he not cut it down?  But the vine dresser offers to provide a year’s worth of extra nurturing.  One more chance for the fig tree to show its worth and do credit to the owner. 

God is patient with us as we find our way to Him…and back to Him.  But remember that despite His infinite patience, a time will come when we will be called to account and on that day, we will pass the test, or we will be cut down.  Some people might think this is unfair.  Why?  hasn’t God provided Jesus Christ for our salvation?  the words of life in the Gospels and in the other books of the Scripture?  the apostolic priesthood to be reconciled to Him and from which to receive the sacraments?  the holy Church to teach and guide us?  grace to sustain us?  the Holy Spirit to lead us?  Some say a loving God would not abandon us because of our sinful ways, because we are doomed to fall to temptation.  I say, our God loves us as any good father does, and therefore, expects us to do our best.

If today you observe yourself and you are doing the modern equivalent of dancing around a golden calf, then today is the day to repent.

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I recently read an article on First Things in which The Anchoress advised those of a political-leaning nature to guard against

the shutting out or discouraging of a believer (or wannabeliever) because of our passionate ideologies. When we reach that point, we really need to examine whether our ideologies have become our idols, or our patriotism is sometimes serving as a sacramental.

She goes on to remind us that our guide should be St. Paul to the Colossians:

Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. Over all these virtues put on love, which binds the rest together and makes them perfect. Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body you have been called to that peace. Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Let the word of Christ, rich as it is, dwell in you. In wisdom made perfect, instruct and admonish one another. Sing gratefully to God from your hearts in psalms, hymns, and inspired songs.

Wisdom, made perfect, would likely include the open door, always. We all make mistakes; we all try, we fail; sometimes we really blow it and disgrace ourselves and our creed and thereby give scandal to the Body of Christ. I know more than a little about that. But we must get up and keep trying – keep trying to see each other within that Body, first and foremost – with ideologies shoved somewhere behind us. There will always be time to argue about politics and laws.

Good advice from the Anchoress.

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Wisdom from my blogging friend Ryan at Without Having Seen.  This is his comment in reply to Patrick Madrid‘s post on what to do with a Facebook friend who may or may not have been out of line in a discussion.  I think that Ryan has again charitably and faithfully stated catholic (universal) truths, and I’m reprinting it here to benefit my readers, too.

Thy Handmaid’s son said…The issue isn’t whether abortion is murder or not. That’s a given: yes.

The issue is whether, in the context of a discussion, this truth is the paramount one in the hierarchy of truths. The Code of Canon Law, which is an invaluable resource for instruction about the heart and mind of the Church, gives us an interesting clue on this point. The very last canon, which deals with the transfer of pastors, says this:

“In cases of transfer, the prescripts of can. 1747 are to be applied, canonical equity is to be observed, and the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law of the Church, is to be kept before one’s eyes,” (CIC 1752).

The salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church, and if I might add, its primary mission. In fact, I need not, because the Catechism says it better (CCC 849-51). Salvation, and thus missionary work, must be grounded in truth. The fundamental truth of all human affairs is that God’s great love for us wills to save all men, and we must order our presentation of subordinate truths in a manner that will make them most credible. Missionary work, our proactive, evangelical share in this saving plan, requires patience, the Catechism tells us (CCC 854). That is because people are all coming from different places and experiences and will respond to different individual true statements in different ways; this also largely depends upon the person by whom they hear the truth proclaimed.

When dealing with someone on an issue, particularly a thorny one, I ask myself a few questions, since the salvation of souls – and not the simple proclamation of truth – is the highest law of the Church. The questions include: “Will this person listen to me? I am a 32 year old man with such-and-such a personality, this sort of relationship to the person, and this sort of reasons and experience to fall back on. Will he listen to me? Can I express the truth clearly and charitably? Are my motivations pure – that is, about my love for this person – or are my motivations tainted by anger, spiritual ambition, or what have you? Is it a truth that I need to proclaim? Can the person wait to hear it, or must it be spoken now, with dire consequences otherwise? Am I well disposed to help the person cope with any emotional fallout that might arise, to really care about the PERSON and not just the argument?”

If it sounds like I am making a very complicated issue of a simple debate, that’s because it’s not about an issue, but about souls. The salvation of souls is the supreme law of the Church. For my part, I try to make the supreme law of my conduct to be faith, hope, and charity. These three alleviate the burden of having to win debates, do it myself, and cater to my own interior motivations. I am free – when tuned into these divinely given virtues – to say, “Hey, maybe I don’t win this today, but Jesus wins in the end, so I am free just to pray for the person and trust God, if that’s all I can do now.” BAM! Pressure gone.

It is no lie, if a post-abortive woman asks, “Am I a murderer?” to respond, “You are a beloved daughter of God, who wants you only to know his love, to repent of the sins of your past, and live new life with him – just like everybody else.” It is no lie, nor is it an evasion. It is defering one truth in favor of a much more important one.

December 28, 2009 11:55 PM

That is awesome, Ryan.  You gave me something to ponder, a better way of thinking of evangelization.  Ya just taught me a lesson!  thanks!  <3

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A few years ago, when our nation was still bruised and our hearts raw, the 9/11 anniversary fell on a Sunday.  In the liturgy that weekend, completely coincidentally, we shared as our gospel reading Matthew 18.   If you are not familiar with this passage, the relevant text from this gospel reading is

Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?”  22  19 Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.

Now, remember this reading had nothing to do with 9/11.  All Roman Catholic churches participate in the same liturgy every Sunday.  In masses in Italy, Nigeria and South Korea Catholics are also reading this gospel passage (part of the wonderful nature of the catholic–universal–liturgy).   So here we are, hurting and reading about forgiving over and over and over. 

On that 9/11 Sunday moring, our parish priest Fr. Tom started the homily by reminding us that today was 9/11, and that a few short years earlier, men took over airplanes full of innocent citizens and in the name of God, destroyed themselves, the planes of people and the Twin Towers.  He said, we might ask how we could ever forgive such a thing?  Can we?  What is it that Jesus is instructing us?  How can we forgive when such a thing seems so beyond our capacity? (more…)

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