March 14, 2017
Tuesday, Lent Week Two
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The Responsorial (Psalm 50) promises: “To the upright I will show the saving power of God.” Isaiah encourages us to add: “And also to those not upright.”
Isaiah 1: 10-20 offers forgiveness and purification to the “princes of Sodom.” When we read in Genesis 19 the sin that brought destruction on Sodom, we wonder that Isaiah can promise what he does. In the eyes of Lot, in whose culture protecting guests was sacrosanct, to have allowed the rape that the men of Sodom intended would have been worse than turning his own daughters over to them for child abuse! (19:8). But even to these rapists God says, “Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow…. If you are willing and obey, you shall eat the good things of the land.” Let’s be honest. Would we say that to a child abuser?
To priests guilty of that sin, the Church offers forgiveness; but with no possibility of ever being admitted to full priestly ministry again. That is because we learned — late, after 1980 — that no matter how much therapy is given, recidivism can never be discounted. This alerted us to another aspect of sin: one obvious but overlooked.
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, after nine years on the Australian child-abuse commission, gives this overlooked aspect of sin as a possible reason why so many bishops re-assigned offenders after they repented. We were so focused on seeing sin, including child abuse, as a “direct offense against God,” that the bishops treated it as any other sexual sin: Confession and absolution marks “end of story.” But sin always also does damage to people. If we forget this, we might act as if forgiveness precludes forestalling. With our eyes only on repentance we can be blind to risk. The truth is, to forgive fully does not entail the folly of gambling on reform. If we do, it is the psychological and spiritual well-being of children that we wager. No matter what the odds, that is too much to gamble. (Robinson, op. cit. p. 203).
In Matthew 23: 1-12 Jesus tells us why we include the Liturgy of the Word in every Mass. It is to make sure we have direct exposure to the word of God.
We can never rely entirely on the second-hand exposure we get through teachers, priests and bishops. In his time Jesus said, “The scribes and Pharisees have succeeded Moses as teachers.” That is a possibility in every time. We need to obey every legitimate authority, but as disciples, not dumbbells. We should view all opinions and optional customs in the light of the word of God.
Jesus mentions some: blind applications of the law that lay “heavy burdens’ on people; ways of dressing that suggest some are more religious than others; preferential treatment and signs of special respect in gatherings; honorific titles. He alone is the teacher; the rest of us, clergy and laity alike, are all fellow-students verifying by his words what anyone claims to have heard. No one is “higher” than another. Those who want status should seek it through serving others. That is the word of God.
Initiative: Assume that there are errors in “ordinary” teaching and practice. Try to fix them.