The Right Attitude

During his first three years as pope Francis has repeatedly used a few reflections, over and over again; and he should, they are important and people should hear them. One of these is ‘God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.[1]

The gospel we have just heard brings to light two completely different attitudes in regards to Pope Francis’ teaching on asking for forgiveness and it goes right to the heart of how we view our faith.

We see in the Pharisee a very jaded, comfortable view of faith.  This Pharisee, an elder religious figure in Judah invites this new and exciting prophet to his house.  On the surface this seems very good; but his actions speak otherwise. In this Pharisee we see a man who seems to be watching Jesus, scoping Him out, trying to judge whether He is worthy of his attention. At a great moment of mercy and love, Christ’s interaction with the sinful woman, the Pharisee passes judgement on Christ. , ‘”If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”[2] Then when Christ relates a parable to the Pharisee and asks him a question, the Pharisee’s response belies an almost uninterested attitude.  ‘The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.[3] This Pharisee is comfortable with his station in life, with his understanding of God, with his faith.  All events must fit within his self-structured reality of faith; Christ doesn’t fit in it, so he dismisses Him.

In the woman we see someone who is an undesirable in her community; ‘sinful woman’ is what the gospel calls her. She is a moral outcast. People look down on her, with derision and contempt. She is all too aware of not only the attitude of the people, but the reason for this judgement – she knows she is a sinful woman. She needs help, and she knows it. So much so that she crashes the Pharisee’s dinner looking for the one who can heal her. Her actions of basically throwing herself at the feet of Jesus shows us that she is desperate to be cleaned, healed, and Christ is the one who can help her – she throws herself at his mercy. But in addition we see someone who actively participates in her healing as she offers Christ the homage that she feels he is due.  She grovels as she opens herself up to show Him her sinfulness and pleads for his healing.

What about us? Do we see ourselves for who we truly are and Christ for who He truly is? Is our interaction with our savior like the Pharisee, where we allow Christ to enter our faith when it fits within our self-constructed reality; or is our interaction like this beautiful sinful woman, where we open the depths of our hearts, admit that we are far from perfect and allow Christ in to heal us. To put it another way: Do we view our faith as an acceptable self-help philosophy where we pick and choose; or is our faith an ongoing intimate relationship with our creator, healer, savior?

At least for me the choice is clear. I am far short of the kind of relationship I want with God – my pride and ego envelope me in a comfortable bubble of denial; if not always, then some of the time. How about you? Brothers and sisters, let’s break from this false security – let’s live our lives in constant pursuit of a healing relationship with our loving savior. Let’s follow the sinful woman’s example, and her desire for healing, not the Pharisee’s self-contented fantasy.

If King David, the most powerful ruler in Judah, can come before God and throw himself at His mercy then we should be able to do so as well.    Let’s desire what St. Paul writes so beautifully about in today second reading: ‘I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.[4]

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[1] Evangelii Gaudium
[2] LK 7:39
[3] LK 7:43
[4] GAL 2:20

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More Than Just Us

In his April 19th homily at Domus Santa Marta Pope Francis talked about our paternity in relation to God. He said that no one is an orphan, but we risk becoming one by closing our hearts and not letting ourselves be drawn by the love of God.[1]

God is always here, always urging us forward on the path to home; always showing us the way; but we need to allow His help to guide us.  It takes two to bring us to heaven; He is doing His part, how about us? And this has more impact than on just us.  Our response to our Father does more than just help us home; it helps others as well.

In the readings today we see that Elijah implores God to bring life back to a young man.  Elijah’s persona, known to the young man’s mother, was one of holiness; but at a moment of crises she doubts and blames Elijah. Elijah reaction is one of calmness, patience, acceptance of his situation, and total submission to the will of God. The outcome was an amazing witness of the love of the Lord – the boy was brought back to life. “Now indeed I know that you are a man of God. The word of the Lord comes truly from your mouth.” [2] the mother exclaims to Elijah. God didn’t favor Elijah for his own sake, didn’t even favor the dead boy for his own sake – no, God worked through Elijah and the boy to bring His Gospel of Love to more people, to the multitudes.

Saul of Tarsis, the vicious pursuer of Christians was shown a great act by God, and he was converted. But this act was more than just God working on one man to change him. Through this great miracle of blinding and curing the whole Mediterranean region is awakened to the Gospel. St. Paul tells the Corinthians about this miracle: ‘For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.’[3] He told them, not to brag about his gift from God, but spread the gift to those he met. God didn’t work on Saul for his own sake – no – God changed Saul to Paul so others would be made aware of the Gospel of love.

Christ, also, went about performing signs and wonders; not so much to heal and cure those He helped, but more so to announce with these signs the wonderful news that lay behind His actions.  God brought the young man back to life; and the crowd – well: ‘they glorified God, crying out “A great prophet has arisen in our midst, “and “God has visited his people.”’[4]  And their surprise and wonder and joy didn’t end in the city of Nain; ‘This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and in all the surrounding region.’[5]

Elijah and St. Paul both could have gone another way. They could have hedged their bets with this unseen God and not thrown their whole beings into serving Him; but they didn’t, they let themselves be drawn by the love of God[6]. Brothers and sisters, their part of this ongoing story has ended here on earth; it is now our part in the story.  Do we sit back deaf and blind to the actions of God around us so that we aren’t responsible for our part in His family; or do we follow the examples of Elijah and St. Paul and the countless other saints throughout history and allow God to work through us to bring the saving news of His love to those around? Orphans don’t have familial responsibility – but we do.

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[1] April 19th Homily at Domus Santa Marthae by Pope Francis – as reported in L’Osservatore Romano pg. 14 English edition.
[2] 1 KGS 17:24
[3] GAL 1:12
[4] LK 7:16
[5] LK 7:17
[6] See footnote 1