“What is theology saying?”7. 24/11: What about Original Sin?8. 01/12: What morality did Jesus teach?9. 08/12: Should we renounce the world or change it?10. 15/12: Is there salvation in other religions?
Tag Archives: sinner
Statue of the Visitation at Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Israel by Deror avi see: Visitation Church
On the opposite end of the scale to the angry psalms perhaps, are psalms which may express states which we feel unworthy of calling our own: states of innocence, maybe. Or holiness. The New Testament Canticle, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), might fall into this category. It’s not actually a psalm, strictly speaking – but we pray it every night at Vespers, so I think it deserves a mention.
We might think, ‘How can I, a twit and sinner, pray the Magnificat. How can I say, “henceforth all ages will call me blessed”, for example. But, once again, the Divine Office is not just about me. St. Augustine says about psalmody that sometimes we pray in the voice of Christ our head, sometimes we pray in the voice of his members. Here, we pray in Our Lady’s voice, and in our way, we allow her words to continue to resound in the Church. Imagine the impoverishment to the Church if, out of a misguided humility, the Church had no tradition of praying the Magnificat! In the Magnificat, we are recalling – re-presenting – the astounding fact of Our Lady’s immaculate heart. She knew that it was all God’s gift – and says so in the canticle. When we pray it, we pray in hope that we might receive a like gift of purity of heart.
Admittedly, the Magnificat is one of those prayers that are too big for us, and maybe we feel like the child trying to walk about in its parent’s shoes when we pray it. We need to “grow into” it. But, people, by God’s grace, do grow into it. It’s not a futile hope. He does give the gift of holiness. Saints are real people. I was just reading about the recent martyrdom of a group of Missionaries of Charity and their volunteer helpers in Yemen. I suspect they felt themselves to be pretty ordinary people. Yet, the gift of holiness was given, and they gave the ultimate gift of their lives to murderers who shot them because they were Christians. Now all ages will call them blessed.
Follow this link to read about the martyred sisters: Missionary Sistersof Charity in Yemen
St Stephen the Deacon, appointed to deliver Christian Mercy, carries a basket of bread. Church of St Stephen, Hackington, Canterbury.
All the major religions – enjoying many differences – come together in accepting the Golden Rule: do not do to another what you would not want done to you. Expressed positively – do everything to others that we would relish being done to us [find the negative formulation in the Old Testament and the positive in the New]. Augustine maintains that God wrote this rule on human hearts – it is the embodiment of the Natural Law.
However, in everyday expression religions are not only ambivalent, they are also contradictory; yet do possess things in common. According to the basic tenets of religions the connection of religion with violence represents a misunderstanding of real religion. Kant calls the Golden Rule trivial because it does not specify obligation. George Bernard Shaw observed: do not treat others as you would want them to treat you. Their taste may not be the same!
How does Jesus adopt the Golden Rule? See the Sermon on the Mount and its essential link with the love commandment – including love of enemies. Christian ethics links with a religious tradition that is open and common to all religions – yet cannot be reduced to a universal humanism, as if it were an acquired value. The fact is that compassion and mercy are inbuilt universal human values. Where compassion and mutual forgiveness are lost in favour of egoism and apathy towards fellow human beings gives rise to personal relations are confined to economic exchange. Whereas Christian mercy has shaped Western culture in a decisive way.
It is a common opinion that God in the Old Testament is a vengeful and angry God, while the God of the New Testament is gracious and merciful. There are Old Testament texts that support this – which speak of killing and expulsion of paganism, including some imprecations in the Psalms. However, this does not do justice to the gradual process by which the Old Testament view of God is transformed – ultimately both testaments witness to the same God.
In the Old Testament God’s mercy serves justice – mercy is God’s justice. In Scripture, the heart is not simply a human organ; it describes the core of the person, the seat of feelings as well as power and judgement.
Compassion is not regarded as weakness or as unworthy of a true hero. We are encouraged to show feelings and sadness, joy and grief – nor be ashamed of tears. Scripture speaks of God’s heart – God chooses according to his heart; his heart is said to be deeply troubled by the impact of sin on sinners. God leads with an upright heart. Hosea speaks of God’s heart recoiling, and God’s compassion grows warm and tender.
Rood: Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge. MMB.
We need to be moved to look into the depths of conscience and listen to that word which says: Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation. Look upon your brother’s sorrow and do not add to it, stay your hand, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this achieved not by conflict but by encounter!
War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: “No more one against the other, no more, never! … War never again, never again war!” (Address to the United Nations, 1965). Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation – these are the words of peace for Syria, the Middle East, and the whole world!
The boundary set for evil is divine mercy – Jesus is mercy in person. To meet Christ is to meet mercy – who sees me sees the Father. Justice is never the foundation for mercy – simply love. Sadly, in the theological manuals mercy was relegated to a footnote – mercy is concerned with the justification of the sinner not the sin! Divine Mercy, of course, is the unconditional love of God seen from the point of view of the sinner. It is the fidelity of the love of God. This is the Good News of the Gospel.
First of all there is the Incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas. Though he was God he emptied himself, becoming like unto us in all things but sin. He became obedient to death on the cross as we see during Holy Week. John said, “Greater love than this no one has that he lay down his life for his friend.” Paul said that there is an even greater love and that is when we lay down our life not for our friend but for our enemy. And he reminds us that we were sinners when Jesus died for us. And there is an even greater love than this and that is that after having given his life for his enemy he offers it again in the Eucharist to be rejected and crucified again.
Jesus said that he came not for the just but for the sinner. He ate and drank with sinners. He forgave sins and delegated that same power to his apostles. He taught the parables of the lost coin, the Good Shepherd, and the prodigal son, all of which tell us that the Divine Mercy is not “the pardon of a judge, but the embrace of a lover.”
Adam and Eve at Dryburgh Abbey ruins, Scotland. MMB.
For Pope John XXIII Christian meant the most beautiful way to own God as mercy. Opening Vatican II he said what our world needs is the medicine of mercy. John Paul II, who knew innocent suffering from personal experience in his homeland under Nazi Germany – living close-by Auschwitz – and through the assassination attempt on his life said, Justice alone is not sufficient.
The tragedy of World War II helped highlight mercy as the source of hope.
The Church must spread the fire of mercy to the whole world. Benedict XVI quoting his predecessor said: Easter’s secret is God’s mercy.
Is the world that we want really a world of harmony and peace, in ourselves, in our relations with others, in families, in cities, in and between nations? And does not true freedom mean choosing ways in this world that lead to the good of all and are guided by love?
But then we wonder: Is this the world in which we are living? Creation retains its beauty which fills us with awe and it remains a good work. But there is also “violence, division, disagreement, war”. This occurs when we, the summit of creation, stop contemplating beauty and goodness, and withdraw into selfishness. When we think only of ourselves, of our own interests and place ourselves in the centre, when we let ourselves be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when we put ourselves in God’s place, and all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict.
This is precisely what the passage in the Book of Genesis seeks to teach us in the story of the Fall: we enter into conflict with ourselves, realising we are naked and we hide because we are afraid (cf. Genesis 3: 10), afraid of God’s glance. The man accuses the woman, she who is flesh of his flesh (cf. v. 12); he breaks harmony with creation, he begins to raise his hand against his brother to kill him. Can we say that from harmony he passes to “disharmony”? No, there is no such thing as “disharmony”; there is either harmony or we fall into chaos, where there is violence, argument, conflict, fear…
It is exactly in this chaos that God asks: where is your brother? (Genesis 4:9). Am I really my brother’s keeper? Yes, we are our brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another! But when harmony is broken, a change occurs: the brother who is to be cared for and loved becomes an adversary to fight, to kill. What violence occurs at that moment, how many conflicts, how many wars have marked our history! We need only look at the suffering of so many brothers and sisters.
I wrote disparagingly of commuters the other day; at least those who deplored being on the train to work. Today, I was in that number, when the saints go snoozing in; even sitting on the floor I snoozed. But the train got me to the end of the line: ‘our last and final destination’ as a guard on the Manchester to London run likes to announce.
I was now awake enough to start composing this mea culpa in my head!
To paraphrase John Betjeman, the saviour of St Pancras station:
The old South-Eastern Railway shakes,
The old South-Eastern Railway spins –
The old South- Eastern Railway makes
Me very sorry for my sins.
(See his ‘Distant View of a Provincial Town’).
Sometimes in life we are carried along, all but willy-nilly, all but unaware of who is next to us, where we are going, of anything but our own fatigue, depression or pain. Though we may not acknowledge it, at such times other people make life possible: our families, the shop workers who are the last link in the food chain that begins in farms across the world; the driver and guard on the train.
Just as the Mancunian guard’s announcement can elicit a prayer that we will reach a last and final destination more humane and divine than London Euston, so we can give thanks for the food we eat and the many people who make that meal possible. Such prayers hardly need words or thought. I suggest that if we dig out a smile and a friendly word for the train guard or the checkout worker, we can hope that at journey’s end the Lord will not have to dig too deep for a smile and friendly word, even if we have snoozed half way to heaven, missing many delights and many opportunities as we go.
*Betjeman was writing of a journey on the Great Western Railway, ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’ to Bristolians! The picture shows a GWR engine at work in the South East on the Kent & East Sussex Railway.
Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 33; 2Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15
Today’s Liturgy of the Word anticipates the Kingdom in the most immediate and embodied metaphor of all: that of eating. The Israelites eat their first meal of the produce of the Promised Land. And what a feast it is: unleavened bread and roasted corn; simple, flavoursome and nutritious (and as such, a rather apt metaphor for God). The psalm response calls us to Taste and see that the Lord is good! Paul speaks of our becoming the goodness of God. And Jesus responds to Pharisaic criticism of his eating with sinners by recounting the tale of the Prodigal Son, a ‘sinner’ whose conversion comes when in his hunger he envies the pigs the husks they eat, and whose homecoming is celebrated with a banquet. Just as spousal metaphors for union with God illuminate its interpersonal nature, so culinary metaphors illuminate its transfigurative dimension. We become what we eat. Sacramentally, we become the goodness of God by eating the goodness of God. But as the thirteenth century Dutch poet Hadewijch saw, where God is concerned, eating too is interpersonal: when we eat God, he eats us:
Each knows the other through and through
In the anguish or the repose or the madness of Love,
And eats his flesh and drinks his blood.
The heart of each devours the other’s heart,
One soul assaults the other and invades it completely,
As he who is Love itself showed us
When he gave us himself to eat,
Disconcerting all the thoughts of man.
(Image from www.slideserve.com )
In our house, we used to have a poster of different people doing different things. The caption read: “Thank you, Father, for making me”. I often thank God for making me the person I am, with my gifts, my way of life, and my relationships but I also thank Him for helping me as I try to overcome my faults. Today’s Gospel reminds me of this poster. It is a picture of two men praying, but their attitudes are very different. One, the Pharisee, is pleased with himself and just thanks God for making him who he is, while the other, the publican, is obviously not pleased with himself: he sees his faults and prays for mercy.
In praying, our relationship with God should be primary. We think of our relationships with people only when we intercede for them or think about how we can help them. The Pharisee – standing at the front – does not think of people in this way, but thanks God for his ability to keep the rules of the Law as to tithes and fasting, unlike others, namely, the publican. Meanwhile, the publican, who loves God, and knows himself to be a sinner, stands at the back and humbly pleads for mercy. This is a correct way to relate to God. The Pharisee does not seem to realise he needs mercy – he seems to think he has earned it by keeping the rules. He does not realise that the important thing is to love others, not despise them.
The Pharisee will feel nothing after praying, for he put nothing of his real self into his prayer, while the publican poured his repentance into his. This is why he goes home feeling “at rights” with God. Note that Jesus spends time with publicans and sinners, while he accuses the Pharisees of being hypocrites. As He says today through Hosea: “What I want is love, not sacrifice”. It is the inner attitude that is important, not the outward ritual.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this beautiful statement on freedom:
The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom that leads to ‘the slavery of sin’ [no. 1733].
Isaiah 59: 9b-14; Psalm 83; Luke 5: 27-32.
Today is the fourth day of our forty-day journey through the wilderness of Lent. Today, the prophet Isaiah tells us that God repays each one in kind. When we bless others, especially those who have spiritual, physical and material needs, God in turn blesses us.
When the Pharisees challenge Jesus’ behaviour in eating with public sinners, Jesus’ defence is very simple. A doctor doesn’t treat the healthy, but the sick. A true physician seeks the healing of the whole person- body, mind and spirit. Every one of us is sick in our own way, so Jesus is here for us. What are we waiting for? Let us go to Him as broken and fragile as we are for He will make us whole. Jesus came as a divine physician and as a good shepherd to care for us and restore us through Him to the Father.
St. Paul says all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). We need to thank the Lord for the great mercy that He has shown to us and endeavour to seek the good of all and show them mercy and kindness. If we give our bread to the hungry, and relief to the oppressed then our light will rise in the darkness. The Lord will always guide us and give us relief in desert places. We will be called ”breach-menders”. May we be ready, like Levi, to forsake all things to follow Christ, who calls us every day.
May we receive grace in this Year of Mercy so as to be merciful to ourselves and to our neighbours. May Our Lady Queen of Mercy pray for us. Amen.