You may have read the comment made by "Ricardo" on my last blog post. When I read it, I pretty much felt like Hester Prynn. Into my mind came all the images of women -- misunderstood, abused, ostracized, shunned, shut down -- because they were/are sinners. I especially felt that way because I am a Catholic and Ricardo is a Catholic deacon. Thankfully, not at my parish. Although, he does live a few doors down from me. And I admit that every time I walk down the street since reading that comment, I hyperventilate and feel rather faint (which I do twice a day, when I walk my dogs).
Now, as a Catholic, I do not deny that I am a sinner. I know that I am. I am also grateful that I was not brought up in a Catholic environment inhabited by people like Ricardo. I was brought up in an environment inhabited by people like Pope Francis.
I read today some words that Francis spoke in Cuba, addressing priests and bishops (members of the clergy who hear Confessions). Deacons do not hear Confessions, thanks be to God. And these words reminded me why I have faith in Jesus. Because Jesus EMBRACES the sinner. He has MERCY and COMPASSION on the sinner. He does not smack the sinner to the ground as she makes herself vulnerable and tries to get up from a fall. Rather, He gives her His hand.
I would like now to share these words of our wonderful Pope Francis with you, so that you may understand why I am still Catholic, in spite of what people like Ricardo might say to me:
"....there is a privileged place for the priest where this last one, this least one, this smallest one is found -- and it is the confessional. And there, when this man or this woman shows you his misery -- careful because it's the same misery that you have and from which God saved you, eh? from getting to that point. When he or she shows you his misery, please, don't scold him. Don't scold him, don't punish him. If you don't have sin, throw the first stone. But only under that condition. If not, think of your sins and think that you could be that person and think that you could potentially fall even lower, and think that you in this moment have in your hands a treasure, which is the mercy of the Father. Please, priests, don't get tired of forgiving, like Jesus did. Don't hide in fears or in rigidities. Just like this nun (a sister from the Congregation of the Missionaries of Charity who had spoken before the Pope) and all of those who are in the same ministry as she is, they don't get furious when they find a sick person who is dirty, but instead serve him, clean him, take care of him. Just like this, you, when a penitent comes, don't react badly, don't get neurotic, don't cast him out of the confessional, don't scold him. Jesus embraced them. Jesus loved them. Tomorrow, we celebrate St. Matthew. He was a thief and beyond that, betrayed his people. And the Gospel says that at night, Jesus went to dine with him and others like him. St. Ambrose has a phrase that moves me a lot: 'where there is mercy, the Spirit of Jesus is there; where there is rigidity, merely his ministers are there.'
"Brother priest, brother bishop, do not be afraid of mercy, allow it to flow out of your hands and through your embrace of forgiveness. Because this person or that person who is there are the least ones, and therefore it is Jesus. ....Poverty and mercy....that is where Jesus is."
And isn't that how we come to conversion -- a turning away from the bad and toward the good? Isn't it through being shown love? Isn't it through being shown mercy? Not from having your lack of logic pounced upon. Not from being compared to "pagans" who practiced child sacrifice. But from being embraced by love, by compassion -- by Christ. And he isn't walking down the streets of our cities right now -- but, we are. And we who call ourselves Christians have a very serious obligation not to push people away in His name.
There are people who believe in God and people who don't. There are Jews and Hindus and Muslims and Pagans and Buddhists. Among all of these, there are people of goodwill. All deserve to have their faith -- or lack, thereof -- respected. All deserve love and mercy and compassion. Because we are all kind of a mess, when you think about it. Nobody -- really -- is in a position to cast that first stone. I mean, look at Jesus. Christians believe He is God and -- thus -- perfect. And even He does not cast stones. Rather, He holds us close and wipes our tears.
P.S. -- Please pray for me to forgive Ricardo. I admit that it isn't easy. I want to be able to walk by his house and offer him a kind hello, instead of fainting in his driveway. ;-)