My April Column – Mercy in Marriage? – Full Text

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.

Sinners

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.

STOP PRESS!

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.

Joseph McGrath

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The Private Sector Shows How it’s Done

The emerging scandal of Edinburgh schools built under a PPP contract shines a light on the workings of the private sector. For years we have been told about the inefficiency of the public sector and how the private sector can get things done. It was far better to have things like schools and hospitals built and managed by businesses rather than local authorities.

Now with 7000 pupils put out of schools for an ‘indefinite period’ we can see just how business works. The schools are fine until it gets really windy then all bets are off. The wall collapse at Oxgangs primary school not only opened the school to the elements but opened business practice to full public view.

Businesses are all about making money, as much as possible. If that means cutting corners and putting children’s education and future prospects at risk, well that’s a small price to pay, especially as it’s not the businesses that pay it.

I wonder if the contracts allow the local authority, the ones left with the mess to clear up, to sue the businesses involved. Who is going to pay for the remedial work required? Who is going to pay the costs of providing alternative arrangements for the seven thousand pupils displaced?

If it comes back to bite the business involved then I suppose they can always go bankrupt and leave the mess to someone else – the public sector.

They’ve replace the Sherbet Fountain

I remember one of our favourite sweets was the Sherbet Fountain. It was simply a paper tube containing sherbet. At one end was a tube of liquorice. You simply bit the end off the tube ans sucked up the sherbet. When you had emptied the paper you ate the liquorice.

Can you still buy these?

Can you still buy these?

You couldsee children wandering along the street puffing at their treat. The other day I was walking down Buchanan Street in Glasgow and I noticed what seemed to b adults sucking on sherbet fountains. A closer look showed thatt hey were, in fact, puffing at their e-cigarette. It was certainly a strange sight.

You can't eat the tube when you finish.

You can’t eat the tube when you finish.

I wondered why grown alults would want to emulate childrens sweets. Perhaps that’s the answer. Do ‘vappers’ really want to revert to their childhood? This developnemt is worth watching to see where it takes us.

My March Column – Full Text

Lord have mercy

Lord have mercy

In this jubilee Year of Mercy we are being encouraged to be merciful as God is merciful. This month I’d like to look more closely at that. How do we see God being merciful and is it possible for us to emulate Him? If you ask people how God is merciful you will get some surprising answers. Some people see God’s mercy in ways we didn’t imagine while others don’t think God is merciful at all.

Many people look at tragedies and decide that God is not being merciful. These might be personal tragedies such as sudden deaths or incurable illness. It is understandable that when we suffer the loss of a loved one we may feel that God is being unfair to us. “That’s not right” or “why should this happen to me” are typical responses in those situations. How can God be merciful when He allows someone to die young or to suffer a long illness?

Sometimes these things are taken a step further. If God is not merciful then He is not the God I believe  in, some will say. If that’s the case then I don’t believe in God anymore. You can see the train of thought but it’s not really logical. You can’t blame God for things and then not believe in Him because of what He does. If He does not exist then He can’t be blamed. Logically, then we can believe in a bad God who is not merciful. Does that make any sense?

I suppose it all boils down to people believing in a different God. We might like to believe in a God who will be looking out for us and making things work out the way we want. We can believe in a God who will always give us what we ask for. That is not the God of Abraham and Isaac. It’s not the one God. Perhaps we really believe in Santa Claus; a Santa Claus who doesn’t restrict his work to Christmas but is always on tap.

Sadly I don’t believe in Santa Clause. It’s true that God expects us to be childlike in many ways but He expects us to take an adult view of our faith. God gives us the gift of life. It is only a temporary gift in this world. It will be taken away and replaced with a better version. Is that cruel or merciful? Imagine you are driving a fifty year old Ferrari and God takes it away (sad) but replaces it with the latest model (delighted). Would you complain? That’s a silly question; some people would complain.

What I’m saying is that we have been given a life in this world and we are constricted by the physical laws of our universe. We can’t fly like superman and we don’t have X-Ray vision but we have been given much greater powers than the rest of creation. We are the only species that has the intelligence that enables to reshape our world. We have free will to choose how to behave. Sometimes we get it wrong. How does God behave when we get it wrong? He forgives us.

So, this year I’m going to try to be more like God. That might sound a bit pretentious. After all, God is the Supreme Being, all powerful and omnipresent. I’m not very powerful (not in our house anyway) and I’m only ever in one place at a time. How can I become more like God? How forgiving must I be?

Let’s see how forgiving Jesus was. When Peter asked him how many times he must forgive his brother Jesus’ answer must have surprised him.

Then Peter went up to him and said, “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me?”  As often as seven times? Jesus answered, “Not seven, I tell you but seventy seven times.”

Matthew 18:21,22

 

Seventy seven times is a great deal of forgiving but I don’t think it stops there. Jesus was not putting a limit of seventy seven times on forgiveness. It was His way of saying that we must just go on forgiving. I must say I can see Peter’s point. Having forgiven seven times I would expect the other person to get the message and stop whatever he was doing.

That’s where I’m falling down. How many times have I gone to confession and confessed the same sin? I can tell you it’s much more than seven times, probably more that seventy seven times. Each time Jesus gives His forgiveness.

How can we understand forgiveness like that? Jesus gives us the answer in the story of the prodigal son. The younger son is cheeky and feckless. He wants his inheritance while he is still young enough to enjoy spending it. That’s just what he does. He goes off and spends the lot on living the high life. When the money is gone he finds himself in a foreign country and is starving. He sees how wrong he was and returns to his father to ask to be a servant.

The father is watching out for him and goes to meet him. Everything is forgiven because he loves his son so much. The older brother who stayed and worked for the father gets annoyed because the son who returned is welcomed and he gets no recognition.

There are hard lessons here. Jesus is telling us that it is love that will enable us to forgive. It is in forgiving that we show our love for our neighbour. The younger brother does well in this story but the older brother feels hard done by. Where do you fit into this story? Are you the prodigal, happy to be forgiven or the older brother getting annoyed when sinners are forgiven? I think I’m the prodigal and if you are the older brother I ask your forgiveness also.

Long before this Jubilee Year of Mercy, forgiveness was a big issue for us. One of the first prayers we were taught was the Our Father. We say it at every mass, at the start of each decade of the rosary and it is often the prayer that unites Christians of different churches. However it must not be taken lightly. It is a dangerous prayer.

In the Our Father we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others. Do we really want God to treat us in the same way we treat people who have ‘trespassed against us?’  That’s what we are saying. Perhaps the Year of Mercy has come along at just the right time for me. I have to think about how I treat other people, especially the ones who annoy me or actually harm me in some way. I might feel righteously aggrieved and feel I have every right to make them pay. Be that as it may, I must learn to forgive, even if it’s only so that God will forgive me in turn.

It’s a few months since my last confession and I’m going before Easter. I’m not going because I can earn forgiveness by going (although I find it very hard as someone who is always right to go and admit I’m often wrong) but I’m going to experience that great Love that God has for me just like the father for the prodigal.

Happy Easter.