Funny how the world seems to divide itself into two camps: those who are open to repentance and those who are closed. Pope Francis talks about this in his new book, The Name of God is Mercy, which he has published to coincide with the Jubilee Year of Mercy. In our Gospel Reading today, Jesus is also proclaiming a Jubilee Year: “He has sent me … to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.”
On the one hand we have Jeffrey Tayler in Salon Magazine excoriating the Pope for – oh no! – having the audacity to write a book. I add my comments in red:
Not two weeks into the new year, the frocked and beanied capo dei capi of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, chose to impose upon humanity this a book of his own authorship, “The Name of God Is Mercy.” [That’s just stupid. You might as well say that anyone who writes anything is imposing it on humanity. The Pope isn’t forcing anyone to read it. Are you suggesting that anything the Pope writes should be put on the List of Forbidden Books?] The title alone should have given reviewers cause to dispatch the tome, unopened, straight into the waste bin. “Mercy?” From a purportedly omnipotent Lord who chose to sire a kid whom He subjected to ghastly tortures culminating in execution? [1. God didn’t “choose to sire a kid” as if God (the Father) preceded Jesus. Jesus co-exists eternally as the ‘Son’ of God. Son just happens to be the best word we have to describe the relationship between the First and Second Persons of the Trinity. If you’re going to criticise the Bible, at least criticise an intelligent interpretation of it. 2. God the Father did not subject the Son to anything. Read the Gospels and you will see that it was humans who killed Jesus. And it was out of love for us that Jesus paid the debt that we owed God for our sins.] Who battered and abused poor Job on a whim? [Hello-o, read the text! It was Satan who abused Job, not God.] Who ordered a patriarch to knife his own long-awaited son? [You’re missing the point. The story of Abraham and Isaac is about Trust and Obedience. If you bothered to read the whole story, God actually tells Abraham not to sacrifice his son.] The name of God, were God to exist, would be anything but mercy. [Sigh. Can this writer not hear his own vitriolic tone? He could be describing himself when he talks about ‘lack of mercy.’ But then that’s hypocrisy for you.]
On the other hand, what does Pope Francis actually say?
The Church condemns sin because it has to relay the truth: ‘this is a sin’. But at the same time, it embraces the sinner who recognises himself as such, it welcomes him, it speaks to him of the infinite mercy of God. Jesus forgave even those who crucified and scorned him. To follow the way of the Lord, the Church is called on to dispense its mercy over all those who recognise themselves as sinners, who assume responsibility for the evil they have committed, and who feel in need of forgiveness. The Church does not exist to condemn people, but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy. I often say that in order for this to happen, it is necessary to go out: to go out from the churches and the parishes, to go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope. I like to use the image of a field hospital to describe this “Church that goes forth”. It exists where there is combat. It is not a solid structure with all the equipment where people go to receive treatment for both small and large infirmities. It is a mobile structure that offers first aid and immediate care, so that its soldiers do not die. It is a place for urgent care, not a place to see a specialist. I hope that the Jubilee [The Holy Year of Mercy] will serve to reveal the Church’s deeply maternal and merciful side, a Church that goes forth toward those who are “wounded,” who are in need of an attentive ear, understanding, forgiveness, and love.
But to receive mercy, one has to realise that one is a sinner in the first place. Pope Francis continues:
Corruption is the sin which, rather than being recognised as such and rendering us humble, is elevated to a system; it becomes a mental habit, a way of living. We no longer feel the need for forgiveness and mercy, but we justify ourselves and our behaviours. Jesus says to his disciples: even if your brother offends you seven times a day, and seven times a day he returns to you to ask for forgiveness, forgive him. The repentant sinner, who sins again and again because of his weakness, will find forgiveness if he acknowledges his need for mercy. The corrupt man is the one who sins but does not repent, who sins and pretends to be Christian, and it is this double life that is scandalous. The corrupt man does not know humility, he does not consider himself in need of help, he leads a double life. We must not accept the state of corruption as if it were just another sin. Even though corruption is often identified with sin, in fact they are two distinct realities, albeit interconnected. Sin, especially if repeated, can lead to corruption, not quantitatively — in the sense that a certain number of sins makes a person corrupt — but rather qualitatively: habits are formed that limit one’s capacity for love and create a false sense of self-sufficiency. The corrupt man tires of asking for forgiveness and ends up believing that he doesn’t need to ask for it any more. We don’t become corrupt people overnight. It is a long, slippery slope that cannot be identified simply as a series of sins. One may be a great sinner and never fall into corruption if hearts feel their own weakness. That small opening allows the strength of God to enter. When a sinner recognises himself as such, he admits in some way that what he was attached to, or clings to, is false. The corrupt man hides what he considers his true treasure, but which really makes him a slave and masks his vice with good manners, always managing to keep up appearances.
In the reading for today from Nehemiah, the people of Israel are overcome with repentance.
For the people were all in tears as they listened to the words of the Law.
They realise how far from the Lord they have been, and are overwhelmed with sorrow when this knowledge comes upon them. But Ezra tells them, “Do not be sad: the joy of the Lord is your stronghold.” It is only after we experience that metanoia, that we can participate in the Jubilee that flows out of it.
Prayer: Father God, help us to avoid the pride that makes us justify our self-sufficiency. Help us to develop habits of humility and self-examination. Help us to turn towards you daily and find peace and communion with you.
For a scripture study on today’s readings – including the historical background – read Dr John Bergsma’s commentary at The Sacred Page.
Bishop Barron takes this from a different angle – the importance of building our religious identity – in Walls and Bridges.
Also watch scripture scholar, Dr Brant Pitre’s Youtube video on this Sunday’s readings:
Word format: Year C 3rd Sunday 2016
Pdf format: Year C 3rd Sunday 2016