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Posts Tagged ‘reconciliation’

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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I heard this prayer this morning on the Sonrise Morning show and resolved to post it here.  It’s the Lenten Prayer of St. Augustine.

O Lord,
The house of my soul is narrow;
enlarge it that you may enter in.
It is ruinous, O repair it!
It displeases Your sight.
I confess it, I know.
But who shall cleanse it,
to whom shall I cry but to you?
Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord,
and spare Your servant from strange sins.
St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430)

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Wisdom from G.K. Chesterton:

For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.

I quoted this in Bible study the other day as it seemed appropriate. The innocent have nothing to fear from a just God, while the guilty shrink from such justice. As we age, we hopefully gain self-awareness, insight and humility. We throw ourselves into the arms of our merciful Lord, knowing that a fully just God would condemn us for our faithlessness. But we can trust to God’s justice AND his mercy. We only have to ask for it with fully contrite hearts.

But watch out that you do not fall into the habit of wanting mercy for yourself, and justice for everyone else!

A great prayer of contrition is found in Psalms:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy. And according to the multitude of your tender mercies blot out my iniquity. Wash me yet more from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my iniquity, and my sin is always before me….Turn away your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create a clean heart in me, O God: and renew a right spirit within my bowels. Cast me not away from your face; and take not your holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and strengthen me with a perfect spirit. I will teach the unjust your ways: and the wicked shall be converted to you. Deliver me from blood, O God, you God of my salvation: and my tongue shall extol your justice. O Lord, you will open my lips: and my mouth shall declare your praise. For if you had desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it: with burnt offerings you will not be delighted. A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, you will not despise. — Psalm 51

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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 know I’ve been posting alot of news stories as of late.  I’m sorry about that.  But here is another gem that you may have missed, and is a good Year of the Priest story.  It’s a tale of a false accusation, leading to a conviction for rape, four years of prison for an innocent man, and finally, the truth emerges when the accuser admits that she made the whole thing up to stop her friends from beating her.  After reading the story, it sounds to me like this woman was in some sort of woman’s gang because they were slapping her around.  Years later she does the right thing, with the help of a good confessor and the prodding of DNA evidence.  The truth will set you free, and though this woman will be spending time in prison, I can’t help thinking that she feels somewhat liberated after carrying the knowledge of her guilt.  I’m praying that this goes a long way toward the salvation of this woman.

Again, keep all of those involved in your prayers, especially the unnamed priest who is the real hero of the story.  (note to self: I really need to finish my post on Reconciliation.)

From the New York Post:

A young mother who falsely cried rape, sending an innocent man to prison for nearly four years, will experience firsthand what he suffered — she’ll spend one to three years behind bars for perjury.

“I wish her the best of luck,” said William McCaffrey last night of Biurny Peguero Gonzalez.

“Jail isn’t easy.”

McCaffrey, 33, of The Bronx, was locked up after Gonzalez accused him of raping her at knifepoint on a Bronx street back in 2005.

It was a lie she repeated to doctors, cops, prosecutors, a grand jury and the jury that convicted McCaffrey.

***

Gonzalez was taken away after making a tearful apology to McCaffrey, who was not in court.

She also begged for mercy on behalf of her two sons, ages 3 months and 7 years.

“To Mr. McCaffrey, I am aware that nothing I do or say to him can bring back the years he spent in jail,” she said. “I want him to know I will carry this guilt for the rest of my life.”

Gonzalez, 27, had recanted her story last year after new DNA evidence proved she’d been lying and a priest to whom she’d confessed urged her to come clean.

God, bless your servant in the Bronx.

full story here.

UPDATE

I found another article on this story from WPIX which names the priest, the parish and specifically mentions that the accuser had returned to her faith.  The reporter, Stephanie Barash does a good job of covering this.

A woman – who accused a man of sexually attacking her more than four years ago – has confessed to her priest, that the attack never happened, police said.

Biurny Peguero Gonzalez, 26, who recently tied the knot and has a baby on the way, said she found renewed faith in the Catholic Church and couldn’t go on living with the burden of the lie.

She admitted to her priest, Rev. Zelijko Guverovic of St. Anthony’s in Union City, that she had not been raped by William McCafferey, despite what she told her friends, law enforcement officials, and even a jury.

McCafferey, who was later convicted of the crime, is currently in prison and has already completed 4 years of a 20-year sentence.Guberovic urged Gonzalez to speak with her lawyer, Paul Callen, who then brought her to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, where she reportedly recanted her testimony.

During the trial, Gonzalez told jurors she had met McCaffrey after a night of heavy drinking in September 2005. She said she had been in a car parked in front of an upper Manhattan eatery on Dyckman Street when he picked her up to go to a party. Some of her friends remained inside the restaurant when she left.

Realizing they were both too intoxicated to get behind the wheel, Gonzalez said they parked in a garage and got a ride with his friends to the party. When they realized the party was over, McCaffrey took her back to the garage. When he left, she told her friends – who were still inside the restaurant – that she had been raped.

Gonzalez said she went to Christ Hospital in Jersey City the following morning and showed nurses bite marks on her shoulder and arm, apparently from McCaffrey. The nurses, however, found no physical evidence that showed that she had been raped.

Gonzalez said she concocted the outrageous story because her friend became infuriated with her after she abandoned them without a ride from the restaurant – and said they even began physically abusing her.

According to the New York Post, the District Attorney’s office is now considering charging Gonzalez with perjury.

An attorney for McCafferey asked a judge Wednesday to vacate his conviction and to release his client.

Pray for Mr. McCaffery as he rebuilds his life, Mrs. Gonzalez who is taking the fearful road of following the Lord despite personal suffering, and the faithful servant Fr. Zelijko Guberovic.  This story highlights the importance of Reconciliation, and how God acts through his priest to enact His will. 

It’s Lent.  Go to confession.  Go tomorrow.  (for more reasons to go Confession)

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