My latest column in the Scottish Catholic Observer was published last week. The full text is below. It’s on the theme of the Jubilee Year of Mercy and looks at the Holy Father, Pope Francis’ thoughtd on marriage.
My wife recently insisted I install the Pope App on my tablet. She has been using it for a while now. I was a bit sceptical at first but soon realised this was a direct line to the Holy Father’s thoughts. I thought I’d find out a bit more about his thinking on mercy. This morning I opened the app and there was a record of his comments in the general audience this week.
Pope Francis was talking about sinners. “Ah, what will he say about them?”, I thought. His message was that we are all sinners. There is no ‘them’. It is all about ‘us’. He spoke about Jesus’ attitude to sinners. In short Jesus is all about sinners, all about ‘us’. That made me have a closer look at how Jesus treated sinners he met. The incident that came to mind was the story about the woman taken in adultery.
The religious leaders came to Jesus who was teaching in the temple. The brought along a woman they said had been caught in the act of committing adultery. They quoted the Law of Moses which said she should be stoned to death and asked Jesus his opinion. This was not the first time they had tried to trap Jesus. They obviously didn’t understand who they were up against.
Jesus started writing on the ground with his finger. They persisted with their question and Jesus replied that the man who has not sinned should throw the first stone and continued to write. They began to walk away, starting with the eldest, till they were all gone.
Now I can see the wisdom of his answer, but I am puzzled about what he was writing on the ground and why. I did some research on this. One commentator drew a distinction between writing in a book and writing in the dust. He suggested that if your name was written in the book it meant salvation but writing the name in the dust meant quite the opposite. Could it be that Jesus was writing the names of the accusers in the dust to warn them about their own fate?
I’m not sure that theory is right. Given that they saw Jesus as an imposter and a fraud, his writing their names wouldn’t have much effect. I think that his writing had such an effect because Jesus wrote things that nobody else knew. I think that Jesus exposed all of them as sinners and that came as a shock. They were the authorities, the people who thought of themselves as holy, not sinners. Jesus was showing them that they were not better than the woman, just sinners.
We can be very illogical when we make judgements. The Jews brought the woman caught in adultery but did not bring the man. Adultery is something that takes two people to commit. They saw the woman as the sinner but not the man. How often do we see sin in others but not in ourselves? Some sins are more visible than others. The big issue in the Church at the moment is that of divorced and remarried Catholics. Divorce and remarriage is very public. Catholics in that situation are often made to feel excluded from the Church while the rest of us can continue to sin and still be accepted.
Now this is a very strange coincidence. Just as I’ve written this a message has popped up on my screen telling me that His Holiness has just published his thoughts on marriage. His document, ‘Amoris Laetitia’ (The Joy of Love) was dated 19th March, Saint Joseph’s day, but has only just been published because of the time taken to translate it into different languages. Isn’t it strange that it was dated on the feast of the saint faced with a marriage difficulty but carried on, in love to take Mary as his wife? I need to stop and have a read at what Pope Francis has to say.
There were many voices predicting that Pope Francis would announce a change in Catholic teaching on marriage, recognising divorce and remarriage. They have been proven wrong. His Holiness has not proposed any change in the laws of the Church. What he has proposed is a change in us. It’s not the Church’s teaching that’s the problem, it’s how we see those teachings. Pope Francis points out that none of us knows what problems others face in their private lives. The Church holds up the ideal for us to aspire to. How many of us really understand what the sacrament of matrimony is really about?
Many people think the sacrament is the wedding. Nothing could be further from the truth. The sacrament is the married life the couple live. That should help us to understand why the Church takes marriage so seriously; it’s not just an agreement between two people it is a sacrament and that involves God. If the couple do not understand that when they get married then they are not properly prepared. Rather than just quoting ‘Till death do us part’ and expecting people to get on with it we should be more understanding and supportive of those in difficult situations.
I think it is important to remember that the laws of the Church are intended to help us and never to put us in harm. We are presented with an ideal to work towards. We ourselves are not ideal creatures. We have a nature that is not easy to understand. I saw a quote from C.S. Lewis the other day that stopped me in my tracks. It is this;
You do not have a soul.
You are a soul. You have a body.
The first sentence stopped me. I have always been taught that I had an immortal soul. The next part clarifies it. We are essentially spirit. That’s the real us. We have a body to enable us to live on this earth and that body has its needs and desires that can be different from our spirit self. The body’s needs can take control. You can’t kill yourself by holding your breath. Your body will switch you off, you faint and the body starts you breathing again.
These conflicts in our natures can cause people to do things they would never plan to do. How many mild women have murdered their abusing husband when driven over the edge? That’s an extreme example. The Holy Father is encouraging us to stop judging people. We have to remember that the Church’s role is to bring people to Christ, not exclude them.
I have not read the whole of ‘Amoris Laetitia’ it is 264 pages long, but I did read the summary. Both of these documents are available online. I have made a link to them in my webpage and I would encourage you to have a read at the summary if not the full document. The link to my page is at the end of this article. Have a read; you will be uplifted and encouraged. There is hope for us all in Francis’ words.