March 22, 2013
A reflection for Holy Week—Christian faith, the Law, and Peter
We are about to enter Holy Week as we finish Passion Week. Why do Christians—including those at the Mirror of Justice—celebrate this time? Because we are sinners and know that we are in need of reformation in this life because we are destined for another one. As we are reminded on Ash Wednesday, we must repent and believe in the Gospel because we are dust and to dust we shall inevitably return. I was reminded of this yesterday as I had a radical chemotherapy procedure done through the insertion of cytotoxins via several lumbar punctures. Even though doctors are trying to help prolong my life, I realize that this corporeal existence does not and cannot last forever. This is not the destiny of any of us; the destiny we share and must all face individually is judgment before God who will forgive us of our sins if we consciously seek the conversion taught by Christ. This is a life-long struggle, but it is the enterprise of the person of faith. During yesterday’s procedure, I was also reminded of the passion of Christ who died not because he was a nice guy who simply cared for others but because, as God incarnate, He died for the remission of our sins. God incarnate shows us what we must do in this life to prepare for the next. The prayers used at the administration of ashes came to mind once again. We are all that woman in Saint’s Gospel who had sinned; Jesus encourages her and us that He does not condemn us, yet He also directs us to sin no more.
In this regard, I should like to call attention to the allocution delivered by our Holy Father Francis to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See earlier today. [HERE: scroll down for official text in English] In his address, Pope Francis recalled once again why he chose the name of Francis in order to honor the one of Assisi whose love for the poor who suffer the indignities of this corporeal existence. His exhortation urged the representatives of the nations of the world to help “the sick, orphans, the homeless and all the marginalized, thus striving to make society more humane and more just.” But Pope Francis properly noted that another Francis might be at work in his Petrine ministry, and that is the one of Xavier who went forth into the world seeking the conversion of souls, or as Father Ignatius argued, for the defense and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life. The Holy Father thus spoke of another kind of poverty that devastates the world today.
That is the poverty which is spiritual and afflicts, in particular, the developed countries of the world such as our own. He specifically noted and appropriated Pope Benedict’s phrase of the “tyranny of relativism” that afflicts those in the world who have no need for faith in God in their lives. Faith is essential to a just, peaceful, and secure world. And, the peace of Christ is essential to all this, but as Pope Francis continued, “there can be no true peace without truth” which Saint John’s Gospel (which we’ll hear next week) reminds us, is Christ who is the Truth in spite of what Pilate thought.
By the use of our God-given intelligence which capacitates us to comprehend the intelligible reality of ourselves, our human nature, and the world that surrounds us, we can live lives that place ourselves on the straight path to God and away from the crooked path to sin. We have the intelligence to formulate norms (including human law) that will facilitate this for Christians, other believers in God, and for all people of good will. This why Pope Francis reminded the members of the diplomatic corps that it “is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God” for He is what it’s all about. But by the same token, our path to God must also not forget our brothers and sisters everywhere regardless of who they are.
Somehow, some commentators who are superficially embracing Pope Francis are concentrating on his personal humility and his work with the marginalized—or those marginalized who are at the center of the causes that these advocates endorse. However, the selectivity in endorsing Pope Francis’s work must be carefully evaluated and critiqued. It is not only good to love those with whom you identify, but it is expected of Christians and certainly those of Loyola’s company to help all people understand and address the Original Sin that permeates the human condition. Humility and good works are wonderful and essential elements of Christian existence but they are empty if they are not directed to the conversion necessary for the salvation of souls. That is something that many in our developed world today forget, including the most prominent members of our society who think that embracing the ways of the world are a permissible means of seeking God. If these ways forget our sinfulness, then they become empty gestures that defy rather than accept what Francis lays before us. I say again to us all: repent and believe in the Gospel. Francis is helping us along the way by his own example.
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