A God of second chances only for the repentant

Tom Bartolomeo
5th Sunday Lent C 2013
Isaiah 43, 16-21; Psalm 126;
Philippians 3, 8-14; John 8, 1-11
Reproduced with Permission

Last Sunday's gospel told the Parable of the Prodical Son and his forgiving father but left unfinished the fate of the angry son. This Sunday's gospel tells a similar story of a "woman caught in adultery" whom Jesus saved from her accusers' stoning her to death but, again, left unfinished the fate of the scribes and Pharisees who were themselves caught in the trap they had set for Jesus and left shame-faced for their own unrepentant sins.

The prodical son, his forgiving father and the "woman caught in adultery" may be the only people in both stories yesterday and today who save their souls. Some would say, "Father, you are being a little too harsh, aren't you? If we mean well that should count for something". And whose parts in these gospel dramas would we be playing today were we found in their circumstances? We would probably want to side with the father who forgave his prodical son and with Jesus who saved the adulterous woman from a certain death. Their salvation, however, depended first on their repentance, the prodical son who confessed, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers" (Luke 15: 18-19 ) and the woman caught in adultery whom Jesus admonished, "sin no more" as he dismissed her. (John 8, 11). But then who among us are so ready to find fault with the Church Jesus founded, a church of sinners like us who should seek forgiveness through repentance, or are we in the camp of those who would rather condemn Jesus' Church as much as the righteous Jews who ridiculed Christ hanging from the cross: "If you are the Son of God come down from the cross . . . 'He saved others; he cannot save himself'?" (Matthew 27, 40-42). Later the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees knew that Jesus rose from the dead after the soldiers they had sent to guard Jesus' tomb reported Jesus' resurrection, but they did not repent. How many self-righteous Catholics refuse to accept that Jesus suffers in his Church today and expect to rise into heaven someday while disavowing the teachings of Christ and his Church? Christ suffered for our sins then, and he suffers for our sins now in his Church.

After another momentous week in the life of the suffering Church with the election of Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the two hundred and sixty-six successor to Peter - even the secular media acknowledged Pope Francis as the Vicar of Christ who were among the 150,000 people standing in Saint Peter's Square in the rain and reported the cheering, "Viva il Papa", long live the Holy Father. The week before, however, anticipating the election of the Pope The New York Times polled Catholics in our country on their opinions about the Church, "a Church Out of Touch", they said, "that the next pope should lead the church in a more modern direction on issues like birth control and ordaining women and married men as priests" and same sex marriage.

We've heard that call before. It was the first shrill cry from Jesus' own people on the first Good Friday two millennia ago, "Crucify him! Crucify him." They just couldn't stand to bear the Christ among them who would forgive them their sins if they would only repent their sinfulness as the prodical son and the woman caught in adultery did.

Sin no longer exists in much of the world today. At best sins are 'mistakes' or worse 'personal' choices exempt from any moral consideration. There's a Latin saying, "tot homines quot sententiae", for every person there's an opinion, and how many opinions can we find among those who profess that they are Catholic while disallowing the teachings of Christ in his Church? The truth is the Church has no opinions about its tenets of faith and morals. The Church simply preserves and carries forward the deposit of Truth she has received from Christ, not opinions such as The New York Times and its respondents have. An opinion by definition admits possible error and has no relationship with the truth. The 'truth' is immutable as is Christ who said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." All we have to do is read Scripture and consult the tradition of the Church handed down from one generation to another to know that the Church's teachings on faith and morals have never deviated from the teachings of Christ from the first pope, Peter, to the 266th Pope Francis.

In matters of marriage and divorce, for instance, we read in the gospel:

Some Pharisees came, and to test him, they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." ( Matthew 10, 2-9 ).

Jesus' statement "from the beginning of creation",he recited from the Book of Genesis which he and his Father inspired, "God made them male and female . . . that a man shall . . . be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh", Genesis 1:27 & 2:24. Anyone who would argue for same-sex marriage in the Church should argue first with Christ -- if he or she dares to be called 'Catholic', one with the Church.

Who, too, would support The New York Times poll, that "the next pope should lead the church in a more modern direction"? Were that the case then we should wait until tomorrow for another more 'modern' opinion on the issues The Times raised "like birth control and ordaining women and married men as priests." Truth, we believe, is 'timeless' not affected by time past or present. There was a time when birth control and abortion, for instance, were illegal. Popular political decisions and statues are always changing. What is legal one day is illegal the next day and back to being legal later on like prohibition. Church law, however, remains the same as "Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever".

Many if not most respondents in The Times opined that birth control, abortion and same-sex marriage were 'personal' rights, 'civil rights' based on love, happiness or feelings with or without marriage for heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals. Several, too, said that marriage was not as important as love. One respondent said that she was bisexual and hadn't decided whether she would marry a woman or a man. Children were not mentioned by any of the respondents. The New York Times may possibly have selected only those respondents who favored their proposition that the "Church is out of touch". With whom I ask, 'out of touch' with the world or with God?