Summary: By the grace of Christ won on the cross, we are sinners on our way to becoming saints.
Monday of Pentecost Week 2019
Feast of Mary, Mother of the Church
Whatever utopian vision human beings must embrace–whether fascism, Marxism, socialism or any other “ism”–that vision and every other one collapses when faced with the reality of sin. Today, on the feast of Mary, Mother of the Church, which is a partial restoration of the Pentecost octave, our first reading slaps us in the face with the first sin. Like all sin, it is a crime of disobedience and idolatry. Eve and Adam, given by God the path to holiness and divine adoption, instead adopted a short cut, rebelled against God’s plan at the suggestion of the serpent-Satan, and lost their original innocence. But the Lord didn’t toss them in the trash like some well-meaning, failed experiment. No, in His mercy He promised at that very moment another man and woman who would successfully implement plan “B.” He promised Mary, mother of the Redeemer, and Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary who would live, die and rise again in order to save us from sin and give us a new life of faith and good works and ultimate union with the Blessed Trinity. Together they crushed the head of Satan even in the very moment Satan thought himself victorious as he engineered Christ’s death.
The moment of Christ’s death, also the moment of Christ’s triumph, is best remembered in the words of St. John the Evangelist. He identifies himself throughout his Gospel as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” So very much is communicated in those words. Yes, John was specially loved by Our Lord, chosen to witness the Transfiguration with the prime Church leaders Peter and James, reclining on Our Lord’s breast at the Last Supper. The words tell us that John understands that the relationship anyone has with Jesus is due to Our Lord’s choice, his and our election by the Son of God to be in His company. And the words tell us that in a very real way, anyone who follows Christ is loved by Christ, and stands with John, Mary and the other women at the foot of the cross. Thus Mary, the mother of the whole Christ, is made our mother in Christ’s last testament, and we are her sons and daughters, brought together in one Church as the Church is born in blood and water from the Sacred Heart of the Savior. That Church is a sinless creation comprised of sinful human beings–Mary being the sole exception–who are striving to be the presence of the Savior in a world so hungry for His Divine Presence. By the grace of Christ won on the cross, we are sinners on our way to becoming saints.
And the Church is the sacrament of Christ’s presence in the world–a visible sign of an invisible grace and blessing. The Church is not some first-century equivalent of the Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity, a human institution for human physical health and welfare, although she does as she always has done those good works. The Church is the visible sign of the kingdom of God on earth. And, I think, that will help us understand Pope Francis a little bit better. His words attempt to bridge the gap between the kingdom of heaven and the secular world. The Church must stand on the way of sinful humans moving toward redemption, but she must not stand in the way of that process.
So if the Pope says “who am I to judge” people with unnatural sexual habits, for example, he is not thereby saying those sinful habits are good. He is, I believe, reminding all of us of Christ’s admonition about playing God. God will judge, but God’s grace is always available to those who are open to repentance and forgiveness and healing.
When the Pope changes number 2267 of the Catechism to state: “Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide” he is speaking in the same spirit. In other words, the kingdom of God is a place where the dignity of all human life is respected, where there is no death, where all have freely accepted God’s will, so the Church must work to make that a reality on earth. But it must also in the spirit of the Gospel so change the human heart and will that those crimes that carry the death penalty are also abolished. Both of these must be desired by every Christian, right? But I would also suggest that before we engineer clemency for all murderers, rapists, traitors and genocidal maniacs, we work really diligently to stop the murder of innocent children before they are born.