For I was in prison, and you visited me.
Pope Francis will wash the feet of incarcerated young people tonight. Some of them have no faith. Others are Muslim. Many of them did not even know who the Pope was when they first heard he was coming.
Many Catholics, particularly those in prison ministry, are overjoyed by this act. But there are others who find it off-putting, even a bit scandalous. They expect the Pope to wash the feet of other priests, or at least other men, who are Catholic, Christian and probably important.I’ve read comments emphasizing that the young people whose feet the Holy Father will wash are nondescript boys and girls, many of whom are of no faith or Muslim. They are people who won’t even appreciate the honor they are receiving.
But the Pope is only doing what Jesus did. He is seeking out those who are lost. It appears that this deep equality of all humanity that Our Lord lived and taught is as scandalous to some of us today as it was 2,000 years ago. But a failure to live this will kill the Church. We are not meant to be a closed-off, self-congratulatory faith that despises rather than serves those Jesus died to save.
People didn’t “appreciate” the honor of having God made flesh walking among them 2,000 years ago. The drama of Holy Week is a re-enactement of just how profoundly they didn’t appreciate it. Not even His own disciples really appreciated the honor they were receiving. No one, except His mother, understood what was happening.
Holy Thursday drives us back to the night when He was taken, to the moment when He gave us the Eucharist and instituted the priesthood. But He did not give us a priesthood created for palaces and fine things. It was and is and will always be a servant priesthood. It is priesthood of the kind that goes to prisons and washes the feet of young people who do not understand the meaning of what is happening any more than Peter did on that night in the Upper Room. When it ceases to be that, it ceases to be a priesthood of Christ and becomes a priesthood for itself.
The foot washing is a sign signifying that these young people — and all of us along with them — are children of the living God. It is a living memorial of the servant priesthood Jesus instituted in the upper room 2,000 years ago. If Christ The Lord could go down on his knees before a group of itinerant fishermen and tax collectors and wash their feet, why shouldn’t the Pope do the same for a group of incarcerated young people?
If the Son of God can submit to betrayal, false arrest, verbal abuse, beating, mockery, and a hideously painful, lingering death, then what makes us think that we’re so special?
When Jesus was asked questions similar to the ones that have been raised by those who oppose the Holy Father’s plans to go to the prison tonight, He answered them with a simple statement. The Son of Man came to save and seek the lost. I think He’s saying the same thing to us today and that Pope Francis is His voice.
At last, I get to meet someone who says he is my father!
One of the young people said that when they heard of the Pope’s plans. That statement, speaking as it does of a young person who has most likely led an unloved life, breaks my heart. It also fills me with gratitude that he or she can feel that way about our Holy Father. I am in awe of a Church whose leader can wield the power of a Pope yet move to touch and heal ones such as these. Only a Church whose true head is Christ Jesus could do that.
Two thousand years and counting, and the Gospel message of love, forgiveness and hope marches on to the ends of the earth.
Pope Francis is the Pope. If he decides to go for all the pomp his office allows ….
That’s fine with me.
Because he’s the Pope.
If on the other hand, he decides to wear sandals and walk rather than ride – or some black-shoed something in between the two extremes — that, too, would be ok with me.
Because he’s the pope.
It appears that most Catholics are like me: Over the moon about our new papa. But, you can’t please everyone. Human beings are too contrary for that to ever happen in this world. In their displeasure with our Holy Father, some of these displeased ones have fixated on one thing: The color of his shoes.
The red of the red shoes refers to the blood of the martyrs they tell us.
I’ve been thinking about this for days, largely because I don’t understand why we need to see red shoes to think about the blood of the martyrs. The blood of people dying for Christ is not an ancient artifact from a long ago history that has passed. The blood of the martyrs is soaking into the ground in a hundred places around the world as I type this.
This is the blood of the marytrs:
I have interviewed survivors of Christian persecution in Uganda and Nigeria. They are different from us. Their faith has been through the fire and this fire burned away the impurities of trivial concerns.
One of the many things about these people that impressed me is their gentleness; that, and their absolute faith in heaven. I never heard anything from them about the people who persecuted them being damned to hell. The harshest thing I heard was from an Anglican bishop who called them “ignorant.” Their focus is on Jesus. It is not on the ones who attacked them. They see past the persecution to heaven and the gift of eternal life.
More than once when I asked them how they got through it, they said two words: The cross.
They are different from you and me, these people who have been purified by the fires of persecution for the name of Jesus. I never asked any of them about red shoes. But if I had, I imagine that the response would have been incomprehension.
What Jesus Told Us
It’s still Lent.
We’ve got a week and a half of the deepest, darkest passage in human history to relive. Jesus arrested, betrayed, beaten, tortured, shamed and murdered; that’s what lies ahead of us in these next days.
We are approaching the depths of Lent; the remembrance of humanity’s greatest crime against innocence in the flesh. And we are almost there.
But how do you do lent in a time of feasting?
Last week, the Papal Conclave elected the first non-European pope in 1200 years, the first American pope and the first Jesuit pope in history. That conclave turned the Catholic world upside down … and left it unchanged.
Pope Francis is the continuation of an unbroken line of popes going back to the moment when Jesus said “I will call you Peter.” The Church as a conduit of grace, a connection to the divine and a highway to heaven is untouched, unchanged and unchangeable. Despite the rancorous demands from some quarters that the Church re-write 2,000 years of Christian teaching to excuse the fashionable sins of our day, it will never do that. It has never done that; not for kings and princes, not for tanks and guns.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. His Church, despite its human failings, is like Him in that. Nothing that matters, nothing that’s central to what the Church is, changes, has changed, or will change.
Last week, we elected a pope. Yesterday, he celebrated his inaugural mass. It has been a week of spiritual feasting, a time to get drunk on the Spirit and wave flags, cheer and experience the jubilation of this proof of His continued presence in our lives.
How do we come down from that to Passion Week and the awful reality of the crucifixion?
Perhaps, we do it the same way Peter, James and John did when they came down from the mount of Transfiguration. They saw something that no one had ever seen before or since, at least not in this life. They saw the transfigured Christ in His glory, conversing with Moses and Elijah — the law and the prophets. They saw the promise of what is to come, of the meaning on the other side of the cross that they were to preach for the rest of their days.
We saw a glimpse of that same promise in this election and inauguration. Not the transfiguration, of course, but the promise of what it meant when Jesus told us “I am with you until the end of the world.” He was promising us that when we are lost, He will call us without ceasing. When we are found, He will walk with us through whatever we must face. He will speak to us through the Holy Spirit in our deepest hearts. He will come to us in the Eucharist and forgive us in confession. In all the years of our lives, he will never leave us without a shepherd to guide us and teach us and show us the way to Him.
This past week of two living popes and one unchanging church has not been the same mountain-top view of the Transfiguration that the three chosen Apostles experienced. But it has been the Transfiguration that the whole wide world needed at this time in history.
Now, we must, as the Apostles had to, come down from the mountaintop and turn our faces toward Jerusalem. It is Lent, and the way we do Lent in a time of feasting is to face the magnitude of our sins and the unbelievable mercy that God has shown us.
This year, like no other, we have been given our own view of Transfiguration.
My husband and I go to the Vigil Mass at our parish. Our pastor delivered a fine homily yesterday. It was based on the Gospel story of the woman taken in adultery.
He made a point that I’ve often thought myself, that the woman in this story was set up. You catch someone in “the very act” of adultery by being there. This outrage of the scribes and pharisees, which included demands that a woman be stoned to death, was fake outrage.
The pharisees were so zealous to entrap Our Lord that they were willing to entrap and murder this poor woman along the way. I’ve always thought that the man with whom she had been caught in “the very act” of adultery was probably standing there with them, stones in his hand, ready to throw.
Such is the “mercy” of legal beagle clerics who care more for the trappings of religion than they do for the call to holiness that applies to every single person on this planet. They are so intent on following “the rules,” so focused on, as Jesus said, “cleaning the outside of the cup” that they leave the inside, which is their own souls, “filthy — full of greed and self-indulgence.”
I know because I’ve done it that human beings are capable of convincing themselves of anything. We can convince ourselves that we are holy. We can convince ourselves that our “personal morality” is, in fact, actual morality. We can make ourselves believe that our obsessions and fixations on the appearance of things truly are more important than their substance. We can, as these teachers of religious law did, forget our own sins and focus on the sins of others to the point of stoning them to death.
Today’s Gospel story has often been used against Christians by people who do not believe in Jesus and who do not follow Him. They confuse its meaning to say that we should go along with them in claiming that their sins are not sins and that, in fact, there is no sin. They want to twist the story to mean that their “personal morality” is, in fact, actual morality.
I don’t think that is what Jesus meant when He said, “Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” The scriptures record the tantalizing but unexplained fact that Jesus knelt and wrote in the dust while He was speaking.
What was He writing? Was He perhaps writing the name of the man who had been with the woman when she was taken “in the very act?” Perhaps this man was the one making the demand that she be stoned. We don’t know. All we do know is that something happened that doesn’t often happen and these men became convicted of their own sins instead of the woman’s.
They dropped their stones and walked away.
This was not mercy on Our Lord’s part. It was the act that precedes mercy, which is to convict of us our own sins. We can not receive mercy for sins that we do not admit. We can not be forgiven without an understanding on our part that we need forgiveness.
The pitiful scribes and pharisees did not stay around to get the mercy they needed. They did not say, as Peter did, “have mercy on me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” They dropped their stones and went away to plot other evils for other days. They were temporarily foiled in their evil, not converted to the light.
But the woman, the sinful, terrified woman whose death would have been nothing more than a means to an end for these sin-sick priests, what became of her? Again, we don’t know for sure. Was she the Mary Magdalene who stood at the foot of the cross and who was the first one to see the risen Christ? Many people think so. Was she the woman who kissed Jesus’ feet and washed them with her tears while he was at dinner with a Pharisee? Maybe.
All we know for sure is what Jesus said to her. I do not condemn you, he said. Now go, and sin no more.
He didn’t tell her that what she’d been doing, how she’d been living, was right. He didn’t tell her that she was without sin. He told her, “sin no more.”
That is God’s mercy. It is the mercy that does not lie to us by letting us slide past the reality of our sins. But it is a mercy that also doesn’t equate us with our sins. We are more than the evil we do. We are the errant children of the living God Who will always forgive us when we go to Him in humility and remorse for what we have done, but who will never do us the great disservice of telling us that what we’ve done is ok.
God tells us, like I told my own children, “Don’t do it again.” Don’t run in the house and break the lamp. Don’t hit your brother with a stick. Don’t commit adultery, lie, cheat, steal, rape or kill. Don’t do it again.
That is the mercy of God. It is not the namby-pamby self-referencing whatever-is-popular-is-not-a-sin mercy our culture teaches us to demand of Him.
To obtain God’s mercy, we have to do more than put down our stones and go away to plot more evil. We have to want to change. Because, when it comes to our sins, He will always tell us, “I forgive you. Now don’t do it again.”
- We can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ.
- When one does not profess Jesus Christ – I recall the phrase of Leon Bloy – “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil.” When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the worldliness of the devil.
- When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.
- I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage – the courage – to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.
- My hope for all of us is that the Holy Spirit, that the prayer of Our Lady, our Mother, might grant us this grace: to walk, to build, to profess Jesus Christ Crucified.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5
I wrote Is Legalizing Pedophilia the Next Amoral Social Movement? a couple of weeks ago.
The response to this post (along with another post about a transsexual teacher in a Catholic school) was one of the more sobering experiences I’ve had in a while.
Comments supporting pedophilia and basically saying that concerns for children in our schools was unimportant compared to the “rights” of transsexuals rolled in like a wave of sludge. They had a crazy-queezy quality that stayed with me, even after I deleted them.
I felt like needed to take a long shower, vacuum out my brain, and have my computer de-slimed.
I always intended to write another post about this, but I didn’t know at the beginning that I was going to include the self-serving excuses of a prince of the Church in my analysis.
Those pedophilia-supporting, child-trashing comments came from the pit. They are what people devolve down to when they lean on their own understanding. There is no bottom to human behavior once we stop feeling we have to answer to God.
If you doubt this, think back. Sixty years ago, even Planned Parenthood said that abortion was wrong because it took the life of a child.
Now, anyone who says this in public can be sure that the pro abortionists will settle on them like blow flies, declaiming that a “fetus” is not a human being, and those who say otherwise are not only religious fanatics but woman-hating moral ingrates, as well.
Thirty years ago euthanasia was considered anathema; the stuff of scare tactics by those who wanted to push women back to the back alleys. I was among those who sneered when pro life people warned that the disrespect for life that legal abortion created would lead inevitably to a push for mercy killing. I thought they were nuts when they said this. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
We are now at the pass where it is not possible to make a statement in opposition to legalized medical murder without being jumped out by the pro deathers.
Likewise with gay marriage. Fifteen years ago, the idea was bizarre to most people. It was laughable. Now, people who try to defend traditional marriage will find their conversations hijacked by those who tell them they are “haters” and “homophobes” for thinking this way.
There. Is. No. Bottom.
As soon as we accept one depravity, sometimes even before we accept it, the push is on to deepen the moral pit under our feet and push us down to the next new low. Whatever we accept, there is another step down where the purveyors of moral destruction want to take us.
This is where we go when we try to create a moral code out of our own thinking and debate. We simply can’t do it. What we construct is not a fixed mark. It moves as we move it like a ball in a soccer match. Inevitably, our morality becomes a matter of what we can wrest from political action and media public relations. It changes according to what the richest and most well-connected say it is.
When we try to create our morality according to the fashions of the times, we will find that it changes according to those fashions and is dictated to us by other people who have an agenda that does not often jibe with what is best of us, our children, our country or our world.
That is why I’ve become simple-minded about my morality. I tried mightily to follow the dictates of what I thought was right and wrong in my past and I reaped a whirlwind of remorse as a result. I no longer believe in my own moral superiority. I am not and never want to be a moral leader. I am a follower.
The One I follow is Jesus Christ. But I don’t rely on my own understanding, even in this.
Do you want to know how to discern God’s will?
I will tell you.
Read the Catechism and do what it tells you. Follow the 2,000 year old teachings of the Catholic Church.
When you fail in this, go to confession. Then begin again.
That is the only way I know to reliably discern God’s will. It is a reliable, simple and absolutely correct way to know if what you are doing is right or wrong. The trouble is, it often tells you to do things that will get you in bad with your buddies, cost you inconvenience or worse still, get you shunned and mocked for being a religious nut.
Which leads me to the Prince of the Church.
I wasn’t going to write about Cardinal Mahony. I don’t want to now.
But I think this needs to be said. The Cardinal has made excuses for himself. He claims that back when he was transferring priests who had molested children, he didn’t know how damaging this was to the children in question. He even published a letter yesterday in which he said that he’d never taken a course on this topic, as if that somehow or other excused his behavior.
The problem wasn’t a lack of proper coursework. It also wasn’t bad advice from “experts.” The problem was that the Cardinal was not following Jesus.
Even now that he’s been caught, humiliated and excoriated, he clings to secular excuses for what is, among other things, a grave moral wrong. Instead of relying on his education and failure-ridden secular “specialists” and “experts,” he should have paid attention to the Gospels he proclaimed and the teachings of the Church he represented.
The Cardinal, no less than the rest of us, appears to have been beguiled by the world. I repeat: When he did these things, he was not following Jesus. If he had been following Jesus, he would not have been able to continue on and on treating little children this way. He could not have done it. Even if he had ignored the Gospels and the Catechism, the Holy Spirit would have stopped him.
He was following the world, not Christ.
We need holy priests. We don’t necessarily need priests who are stars, or who are brilliant or who can raise a lot of money. We need priests who follow Christ, who preach Christ, who teach Christ and who believe in Jesus with their whole hearts. We need servant leaders who are not so much stellar leaders as faithful followers of the One they should be pointing to every day of their priesthood.
We — you, me, all of us — can not create or enforce a moral standard for ourselves. That’s like a book writing itself, a statue carving itself. We are too finite, too fallen, too selfish and caught in the narrowness of our own selves to even attempt such a thing. When we do, we always end in a moral train wreck, whether we have the humility to admit it or not.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding,” the Bible tells us.
Whether your are homeless and living under a bridge or a Prince of the Church, it’s good advice.