Outrage and Outrageous Mercy

Good and evil do exist side by side in every man, so even if the circumstances of my life prohibit me from committing the exact sin that Father Thomas, or even Maciel committed—sins of public duplicity, of taking advantage of people's trust and good intention, of abuse—it is equally outrageous that I betray my own vocation in the ways that are particular to my own life.

Saint Paul says that if we must boast, we should boast of our own weakness, not of our astute ability to identify other people's sins. We could spend our whole lives cataloguing their sins, and never run out of things with which to be outraged (they use NFP selfishly; they have disordered sexual desires . . .). It's exhausting to think about.

When I consider my own weakness, the truth is that I don't feel outrage about my sin. If I'm able to silence the justifying reasons why I behaved the way I did for long enough to make a good confession, underneath I feel sadness and disappointment at my own Judas-y behavior, followed by tearful relief at God's mercy.

Poor Jesus gives his life for all of humanity, but can't even find twelve good men to eat at his table for his last meal. Judas betrays him. Peter denies him, and thousands of years in the future, priests continue to behave badly, and people keep ignoring their own sins, saying, Thank God I am not like them.

I no longer think that charity entails pretending that other people's faults don't exist, but it does seem to involve extending the same gentleness to others that I extend to myself.

I don't think that what Father Thomas did is excusable, but it is forgivable, and when I imagine that God has already forgiven him, which is most likely the case, maintaining any kind of personal outrage becomes too much labor. Rather, tears seem more appropriate.

It's no wonder the old priest in my town cries at the Word of God. Maybe tears are the only thing that make sense in response to the tragedy of human failing, and Christ's outrageous mercy.

5/30/2012 4:00:00 AM