Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mercy is meaningless without conversion

This past week Pope Francis made some news. 
He announced that 2016 will be a special year of Jubilee, 
focused on mercy.

This Holy Year of Mercy will begin December 8,
the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 
and conclude November 20, the Feast of Christ the King.

The idea of the Jubilee 
comes from the covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai. 
Every 50 years debts would be cleared and slaves set free. 

Pope Boniface VIII began the practice of a Catholic year of Jubilee 
in AD 1300; he proposed one every 100 years. 
Later, someone had the idea of doing it every 25 years.

What Pope Francis has in mind is a special year of Jubilee,
focused on mercy.

Notice something in the first reading. 
It’s a line that might be the saddest passage in Scripture:

“But they mocked the messengers of God, despised his warnings, 
and scoffed at his prophets, 
until the anger of the LORD against his people was so inflamed 
that there was no remedy.”

There was no remedy. What does that mean? 
Does that contradict what I just said about God’s ever-ready mercy?

Not at all. God’s mercy is always a remedy – except when it’s refused.

What do you think the “messengers of God” were telling his people? 
What were the “warnings” about? 
What was the task of the prophets he sent, one after the other?

Doing exactly what Pope Francis is doing: 
inviting, begging people to seek his mercy.

Many people misunderstand this whole subject. 
No doubt you are aware of the discussion going on among the bishops 
about whether the Church should change her teaching and practice 
regarding who can receive holy communion; 
in particular, when folks are in second marriages 
after having been married and divorced.

And many folks say, just let everyone come to communion. 
Isn’t that merciful?

Here’s the problem. 
Mercy has no meaning when it is disconnected from the truth. 
It has no meaning when it isn’t connected to conversion – 
which simply means, turning back to the truth.

So on this question of receiving communion. The problem is delicate. 
People make decisions, they make mistakes, 
and they don’t have an easy way to undo that. 
People have unhappy experiences in marriage, things come apart, 
and they wonder, why can’t I marry a second time? 
Am I being punished?

This is a good time to point out 
that many people have that reaction 
when they look at what the Christian Faith asks of us. 
What Jesus asks of us. 
If someone has a same-sex attraction, he or she asks, 
am I being punished? 
There are times when being honest in business, 
or being truthful with one another, is costly. 

Jesus told us to count the cost. 
We don’t follow Jesus because it’s easy, but because he’s worth it! 
And almost every day, in this new age of martyrdom, 
we read or see images of fellow Christians, 
who pay the full price with their very lives.

Why should it be costly to follow the Lord? 
Because being faithful to the truth can be costly. 

Right now, more and more Christians are losing their businesses, 
losing their livelihood, 
because they won’t agree with the government redefining marriage. 

The founder of a large company, Mozilla, 
was forced out of his own business 
because he believes marriage is a man and a woman. 
If it happens to someone rich and powerful, 
what can the rest of us expect?

The truth at stake in the question of divorce and remarriage is this: 
is marriage for a lifetime, as Jesus himself said 
to the shock of his listeners, or not? 
And another truth is at stake: 
is sharing the Eucharist a real communion with the Lord Jesus – 
again, that is what he taught. 

Because if so, then how can it not matter if we’re living the truth –
his truth – or not, when we receive the Eucharist?

That’s also the reason, by the way, 
that we must actually be Catholic to receive communion. 
Not because folks who aren’t Catholic or Christian are bad people. 
But because to take holy communion is to say –
in this solemn ritual – I am right now a Catholic; 
and I am, right now, living my life according to the teaching of Jesus. 

That’s why we must bring mortal sins to confession 
before coming to communion. 
And if someone is not Catholic, the first step, 
before receiving communion, is to decide: 
do I believe what the Catholic Church believes? 
Do I want to be a Catholic? If so, welcome! Become Catholic! 
But first, count the cost. Learn the Faith. I’ll help you.
Then come to communion.

There are those who will say that my message isn’t merciful. 
I talk about laws and rules and truth, 
and if we were really merciful we’d just get rid of all that. 
But again: mercy makes no sense without reference to the truth – 
and conversion to the truth.

What is mercy? It is compassion, yes; it is generosity; 
it is God saying to us – and us to each other – “I forgive you.”

Forgive me? Forgive me of what?
Of sin.
What is sin?

We often say, sin is what offends God. 
Yes, but why? Why does sin offend God?

When we talk about God being hurt, or angry, or sad, 
realize we’re ascribing human emotions to God. 
We do it because it’s hard to talk about God any other way.

Nevertheless, realize that we do not have the power to injure God. 
Recall what Jesus said to Pilate: you would have no power over me, 
except that it was given to you from above. 
No one could lay a hand on Jesus, unless he allowed it.

Sin “offends” God precisely because of the harm is causes us; 
either in how my sins harm myself, or they harm others. 
Every single thing God tells us is a sin, is a sin for that reason. 
Sin isn’t just something that “bugs” God – 
like playing the radio too loud. 
Sin distorts us; and without repentance and conversion, it will ruin us.

That’s what hell is. Hell isn’t God’s penalty box. 
Hell is the end destination of drinking the poison of sin 
and refusing all the remedies. 
And to stop warning people about that poison 
is the polar opposite of mercy! 

I’ve talked too long, and yet there’s so much more to say about mercy. 
Which is why the Holy Father’s idea sounds like a good one. 
As he himself said, mercy “is the best thing we can feel: 
It changes the world…
A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. 
We need to understand properly this mercy of God, 
this merciful Father, who is so patient.”

1 comment:

Bob said...

Thank you for posting this, Father Fox. As always you provide much for people to think and pray about.

On the way to work today, I was thinking about a similar thing. When I was in seminary, the word "pastoral" became a mantra of sorts, a large patchwork quilt to cover lots of things. "Pastorally sensitive" was another blanket term.

It occurred to me that people tend to equate "pastoral" with not offending people, being tolerant, and worse, tossing tough things aside.

It also occurred to me that people seem to forget that "pastoral" sometimes means the shepherd takes the business end of his staff and taps the flock in the butt and tells them to get their act together.