Friday, May 27, 2016
The Surest Road to Damnation
Seem strong? Absolutely! Notice in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) that it ends open; will the older son forgive his younger brother? The older brother, not the younger brother, is now on the outside looking in. It is by his own hand that he is there. Multiple times we are told that to love God is to love our neighbor as well. The two are intimately bound. Love is a theological virtue in which we grow through the intentional cooperation with God's grace to love as God loves. We are told that God is rich in mercy; that His divine wrath is reserved for those who refuse His mercy. To forgive, especially those who do not merit it, is to act in cooperation with the love of God.
When we pray the Our Father, we pray that we be forgiven in the same measure with which we forgive. For us to do this is to recognize that we do not deserve nor merit the forgiveness of God for our own ongoing sins; yet, He is disposed to forgive us over and over again because He loves us. Recall in John 13:34, taken from the Farewell Discourse, Jesus commands us to love one another. What does this mean? To have the same disposition to others as God has towards us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that if we love only our friends, there is no merit in that. No, it is in the love or our enemies and persecutors that we show ourselves the adopted sons and daughter of God. Where there is love, there is forgiveness. Where there is no forgiveness, there is no love. The one without mercy is like the child that rebels against his parents...I want all the benefits of being your child (food, shelter, love) without actually being your child (showing obedience, love, deference to the parent). We can't want heaven while consigning others to hell. To withhold forgiveness attempts such a despicable desire. However, it will be our own hand that we consign ourselves to hell!
No true Catholic can engage in the revenge business; whether it be passive aggressive or aggressive. Revenge is only capable of begetting revenge. Jesus on the cross intercedes for his executioners, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." St Stephen asked God not to hold his death against those stoning him. This is the call to excellence to which we are called through baptism.
We must be cautious. How do we withhold forgiveness and mercy? There are the obvious examples when we withhold forgiveness against those who have directly harmed us. There are the less obvious examples when we show disdain for those who, even though they have not directly harmed us, have made foolish and destructive decision and find themselves in need. At no time are we to condone sin or these poor choices, but neither are we to go to the other side and let them swelter in their own foolishness and misery. No Catholic can meld social Darwinism and the Catholic faith together. Sins of omission will just as assuredly damn us as sins of commission.
I know I am in constant need of God's mercy and forgiveness. That is why I try to be generous with mercy and forgiveness. I do believe that the person who withholds forgiveness will more likely than not forego seeking forgiveness for their own sins. I do believe that frequent confession so disposes us to being quick to forgive as well. This isn't about falling into scrupulosity. It is about growing in relationship with God; the more we model our lives on His , the more we orient our lives to heaven. The more fruit of faith, hope, and love are present in our lives. Whether it be Jesus cursing the fig tree for its lack of fruit (today's Gospel) or telling us that branches who produce no fruit will be cut from the vine, Jesus demands fruit...the fruit of love and mercy, and will excise those who do not bear said fruit.
I end with this to my brother priest: When we limit to a very short time at the most inconvenient time access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, what are we saying to our flock about the importance of mercy and forgiveness? We hide behind 'or by appointment' as a way of actually having little confession time and then blaming the people of God for their lack of presence in confession. We can't have it both ways. We cannot on the one hand demand they forgive and then make being forgiven a near impossibility. I know we are busy, but priorities are to be modeled on the life of Christ. Jesus came so that we might be reconciled to the Father through being forgiven in the name of Christ. To us alone, by virtue of our faculties given by our bishops who also possess this duty, has been given the ability to be the Persona Christi in the role of forgiving sin. The person who sees little need for mercy in their own life, will see little need to extend mercy to others.