Well, Are You a Saint or A Sinner?

The Jubilee Year of Mercy comes to an end this month. We have been given the opportunity to consider how we benefit from Christ’s Mercy and were encouraged to step through the Holy Door to begin our journey back to Christ.
At this point it is worth looking back to assess what the Jubilee Year meant for us. The Holy Father instituted this Holy Year as a means of taking the Church forward. How far have I come? It is easy to fall back into the “Done that – move on” mind set. That would be a big mistake in the case of the Year of Mercy.

I’ve learned that Jesus knows me better than I know myself and despite of those aspects of me that I try to hide He loves me. His mercy is limitless and we are encouraged to imitate Him in this. When I’ve considered being merciful to others I’ve really only thought about people I know. The things I might be called to be merciful about are trivial. I haven’t thought about being merciful to really horrible people.

Like most people I don’t come into contact with horrible people. Recently, though, I was made to consider those we might regard as horrible. I was attending the Conference of the Church’s Safeguarding service. Those charged with putting the Church’s Safeguarding policies into practice in our parishes gathered at The Scottish Police College in Tulliallan.

The Safeguarding policies are designed to protect vulnerable adults and children from abuse and are a response to the scandals that have rocked the Church in recent years. The main speaker at the conference was Martin Henry from “Stop it Now”, a body whose purpose is to deal with sex abusers at an early stage.

Now don’t turn the page now. This is not a pleasant subject and many of you might be revolted by the very mention of it. I know how you feel. Bear with me. Martin’s major point was that society is intent in finding and punishing sex offenders. Nobody would argue with that. Martin, however, pointed out that the damage has been done by that time. A more sensible approach would be to intervene at an earlier point to stop the abuse happening.

One tactic of his group is to work with offenders who have been caught downloading nasty images of children. The aim is to work with the offender to help them avoid progressing to abusing children. They work with the offender to change how they think and to help them deal with these problem urges.

It struck me that this view of the offender as a person who needs to be helped rather than a monster who should be punished is a prime example of mercy at work. It is worth remembering that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners. The greater the sinner the greater the mercy. If Jesus regards even those who would harm a child as redeemable who am I to think of them as monsters?

There are people who should be locked up. Incarceration can serve as a punishment and can remove a threat from our midst. However, the “Lock them up and throw away the key” attitude is not an acceptable course of action. It is usually expressed in anger and we don’t always make good decisions in anger. Despite their crimes, or because of their crimes, we should be trying to redeem them. That’s the role of the Church; bring sinners to Christ.

I need to examine my motives for regarding these offenders as monsters. Perhaps it’s a case of their great sins putting my sins in the shade. I might not always live up to the Christian principles I profess, but, hey, these people are much worse. That might salve my conscience but it doesn’t help to make me a better person. Could I see that I have something in common with the monster? We are both sinners and I am not the judge of either of us. It is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to punish rather than save.

I feel that I’ve come to the end of the Year of Mercy and I still have not grasped its full meaning. The message is change. I need to change my outlook. Rather than needing to condemn those who are caught in crime I should be looking to ways of reforming them. But how can I do that?

Surely, though, I will not be judged on whether I can succeed in turning people away from crime, turning them away from sin? I may be judged on whether I can change my attitude. The Holy Father, addressing the Wednesday audience the other week said that we will be judged on how merciful we are. That rang a bell with me. When we say the Our Father we ask God to forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. The part in italics is the important part. We are asking God to treat us as we treat others. We expect infinite mercy from God but in this prayer we are asking for much less.

We all hope to get to Heaven, not immediately but all in good time. Have you ever thought what Heaven might be like? I have no idea what Heaven is like. I did think about what I would expect. I hope that if I get to Heaven my friends and family will be there too. Would Heaven be Heaven if someone I love is missing? None of my friends and family is perfect (except my wife, of course). I hope that God will overlook any faults in His mercy.

It does seem to me that I have a lot of work to do on being merciful. Finally at the end of the Year of Mercy I can now see the way ahead. As I watch the news I see people being bombed without mercy. I see people being subjected to violence without mercy and refugees being rejected without mercy. Even political debate has lost any sense of mercy. I read that a councillor in England wanted those who oppose Brexit to be charged with treason.

Perhaps by example we could spread a more merciful attitude throughout our country and the world. It will not be easy. It is much easier to help old ladies across the road than to be merciful to those we dislike. Remembering the Holy Father’s words we must persevere to be merciful and not just for this Holy Year. A change is expected of us.

How am I going to keep this process of change going. It could be like a New Year’s resolution that we make and keep it for a week or so, then it is abandoned. I’ve thought about this and the only strategy I can think of is to remember every time I recite the Our Father that I am asking God to judge me by how merciful I am. I think that might just frighten me into constant alertness.

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