Habemus Papem was heard throughout the world this week. A Jesuit Cardinal, taking the name Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, became our Holy Father. With my unusual sense of historical humor I can’t help but notice, among my joys, that it was a Franciscan Pope, Clement XIV, who in 1773 suppressed the Jesuits. History has a way of bringing together events, and God has a way of showing us His hand in it.
But history is filled with many todays and today’s Gospel is filled with the kind of drama that makes good TV: scandal, challenge, intrigue, deceit. But in the midst of all of this we hear: ‘Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.’ This brings to my mind Exodus 31:18: ‘When the LORD had finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant, the stone tablets inscribed by God’s own finger.’
God himself came down to His chosen people, hidden in a cloud on top of Mt. Sinai and wrote the rules for a good and holy life. His sinful and wayward people, who were challenging Moses and therefore Himself throughout their exodus, were still precious. Though their hearts were hardened God still loved them all.
This is a love that continued, throughout the Old Testament history until that time when God came down even lower; came down to the dirt, our dirt and spoke to us in person. Christ our savior, God among us, came to finish what He had started with Abraham, what He strengthened with Moses and the ten commandments; what He continued with the prophets.
And now, in this Gospel passage; here is God, being challenged in devious ways by those He loves bending down, and once again with His finger He writes. He writes in the dirt and on our hearts. What He writes isn’t told to us; but by the reaction of those who were testing Him and by His absolving the adulterous woman I think we can get a good idea. Love is the greatest judgment, Love is the answer. We are given witness to God loving the condemned and the condemners; a lesson that will reach its ultimate expression on Calvary. We are shown that a life with our God who is among us is what stills our hearts (as St Augustine prays).
It a lesson that saved Saul and gave us Paul; who in today’s reading talks about this grace from God and what it did to him and for him. He tells the Philippians and us about the joy of having found Christ and how his priorities, his very life has changed: ‘I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.’ And how this has affected him: ‘I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.’
This lesson of who Christ is and the love He brings should drive each of us. It is the reason for the Church. It should be the reason for all of our actions. We are obligated, for love of God, to proclaim Him to those we meet. It is our mission as disciples to proclaim the Gospel, to tell the world of Christ’s love for each of us. Anything short of this is tantamount to failure: we fail in our ministry and we fail in building up the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church; we let God down! No amount of good work, without the proclamation of the Christ can reach the level of discipleship; can move us on our journey to God. Pope Francis in his first Mass as Pope says: “we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful non-governmental organization, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ.’
This isn’t an easy task, for to reach this level we need to share in the Cross. We need to accept the task of carrying this symbol of ultimate love. To proclaim Christ Jesus, in a true and meaningful way, we must embrace the Cross. Again Pope Francis:
“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, (and I would add our vocations to his list) 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.” and so will we.
But we are not alone in this mission to embrace the Cross and proclaim what isn’t generally popular. God is still among us, He continues to stoop down to us and write on our hearts with His finger, and lift us up. Holy Mother Church through Her ministry administers the sacraments of God’s Love; gives us Christ. Christ, through her, gives us the Sacraments: Baptism; Confirmation; Marriage; the Sacrament of the Sick; gives us the fount of all strength – His own body and blood in the Eucharist; and gives us the sacrament of Reconciliation when we fall from the path. Tonight is our Lenten Penance service, where through another sacrament (Holy Orders) Christ will convey to each of you who participate through his Priests what He said to the woman in today’s Gospel. “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
We all need Christ so let’s come and heal ourselves, strengthen ourselves, so that we can go out and build the Church, move the Church forward.