A time of grace

A time of grace

Just thinking out aloud: something has shifted, I think, in the past few weeks. At a purely anecdotal level, I have encountered hostility where before there was indifference.

But I have also encountered a deeper yearning for Christ, sometimes from unexpected quarters. This is a time of grace.

The gospel reading in today’s Mass is fast becoming a critical gospel for our time.

Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death.

The idea that Jesus and his teachings are divisive is surprisingly remote from the popular view. Surprising to me, anyway.

Call me naive — I guess I am — but I have in the last few weeks been astonished by the number of Mass-going Catholics who have told me, in good faith, that the hierarchy is out of step with Christian teaching.

‘What would Jesus do?’, they ask. In answer to their own question, they sincerely reply that Jesus would celebrate gay marriage and congratulate Caitlyn Jenner. He may not agree with them, but still he would support and affirm them.

What on earth is going on here? In the first place, I’m guessing (?) that many Catholics, still, after all those Vatican II reforms, don’t read the Scriptures much, which means they don’t have a fully-fleshed view of Jesus. The Gospels present him as someone who is in fact quite provocative.

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What wisdom isn’t reducible to memes?

In the second place, I’m guessing that in the absence of personal scriptural reading, the vacuum is filled by decades of Sunday Mass homilies which focus on niceness and tolerance while avoiding controversy and division. If I’m honest, I must confess I have contributed to this. It’s easy to affirm and comfort. It’s much harder to challenge in a way that is serene and encouraging. But that’s what the times call for.

Even more important, though, is that every disciple fosters their personal relationship with Jesus, nourished by frequent reading of the Gospels. As St Jerome so famously remarked, “ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.”

  • Cathy

    Totally nailed it FrJohn! I find We do not read scripture as much as what we should. Christ took St Mary Magdalene by the hand and told her ” go and sin no more”.

    4 they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery,

    5 and in the Law Moses has ordered us to stone women of this kind. What have you got to say?’

    6 They asked him this as a test, looking for an accusation to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger.

    7 As they persisted with their question, he straightened up and said, ‘Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her.’

    8 Then he bent down and continued writing on the ground.

    9 When they heard this they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until the last one had gone and Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained in the middle.

    10 Jesus again straightened up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’

    11 ‘No one, sir,’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus. ‘Go away, and from this moment sin no more.’

    12 When Jesus spoke to the people again, he said: I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark, but will have the light of life.
    John chapter 8 4:12

    You see so merciful is Jesus that not even He condems one who lives a life of sin, in living a life of sin you condemn yourself.
    But Jesus says go and sin no more, and follow Him who is the light of the world, and have eternal life.

  • Jack

    Really producing some good stuff lately Father.
    Anecdotally I’d have to agree that the recent paradigm shift in the West has unleashed powerful forces moving against the Church culturally, and seems to have confirmed in a lot of Catholics error which has lain dormant (or at least silent) for a long time. A quick glance at the July edition of The Southern Cross, the rag for the Archdiocese of Adelaide, will confirm ones worst fears about what many on the receiving end of generous pay packages in Diocese around Australia think about the issue of gay marriage. Or rather, what they feel about it.
    Speaking to a priest friend recently he remarked at a noticeable increase in Confessions coinciding with that. I’ve also become aware of a number of Catholics who struggle with SSA, and with gender identity issues, who have been more willing to speak (courageously) about the importance of their faith, informed by the Magesterium, in their life.
    Has made me think that the prayer “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” has a rather universal quality to it which I hadn’t considered before.

    • Interesting stuff. Thanks for the suggestion too. I think I’ll make it my aspiration of the week.

  • Jake

    A good post, Father. I too sense heightened sensibilities and hostility the last few weeks from both sides to be honest. I think those on one side are sick of having to fight for something that is now becoming standard in the Western world and feel that their cause is being held back by a vocal minority, and the other side feel that they’re coming increasingly under attack as they lose the battle in Ireland and America. Those for SSM seem to be increasingly intolerant of its opponents, and those against seem to be becoming increasingly shrill in their opposition.

    Do you think that this increased hostility is perhaps a sign that the Church needs to heed Pope Francis’ advice and focus less on these controversial hot button issues? Certainly in conversation with students the two big things that turn them off the Church are the sexual abuse crisis and opposition to gay marriage. I’m afraid we haven’t done a very good case putting our argument forward, the vast majority of people still think Catholic opposition to SSM is based on a dislike towards gay people. It seems to be getting in the way of our ability to evangelise.

    Maybe it’s a sign we should leave the conversation behind? Or at least have these conversations about sexual ethics behind closed doors rather than in the public sphere. Perhaps questions such as this are best dealt with one on one, in the privacy of the confessional or with a spiritual director.


    • Right! In fairness, I should have stressed that point in the original point. Hostility can be observed on all ‘sides’ of the cultural battles. There is an increased temptation for the faithful to become shrill and defensive, and I’ve seen that too. I’ve resolved to limit my “controversial” posts on Facebook to my own blog posts, since when I post other items the discussion thread often goes to place I would not follow myself. People — with the best intentions of course — will post thoughtless comments which can only harden the hearts of others. Of course my own contributions might do that too, but not always and everywhere, in and of themselves, I think. (I hope!)

      You’ve raised a good question Jake. Do we ease off controversial issues, as the pope once advised? Bearing in mind that he has not in fact done this himself — indicative, perhaps, that the conditions won’t allow for it.

      I’ll think about this much more. My first instinct, though, is that too many in the mainstream/institutional Church have in fact avoided “hot button” issues for two generations or more, which is why so many good Catholics are now unable to reconcile the Lord’s “hard teachings” with his infinite divine mercy.

      I think the answer is apologetics. An attractive and evangelical apologetics, not a polemical one, which is serene and patient and always, always more interested in winning people than in winning arguments. I like the approach of Catholic Voices. Deliberately focusing on hot button issues with the express purpose of “shedding light, not heat.”

  • Maureen Healey

    It is a really dufficult subject SSM but I feel it needs to be talked about from the pulpit (after praying to the Hily Spirit for guidance). We Catholics who believe in the sanctity of marriage are feeling as if we are the ones out of step. Even with conversations with family I am made to feel uncharitable, Right-wing etc. we need some encouragement from our Church. What would Hesus do? He would show love, compassion and mercy to the sinner but would also say “come follow me, I will show how to live your life in grace, peace and love. I will help you live in the light not the dark. Sin no more.” Jesus would bring healing. It has all become a social justice issue. How is this possible when it goes against the natural order God made . It is not what the Bible says. We must love the sinner but we do not have to accept the life style. What absolute confusion for our young people. I hope you are keeping well Fr. John still in my prayers. It is a difficult world we live in but we still have to be people of love, hope and joy who believe God can bring good out of all situations. Blessings and peace for you.xxx

    • Thank you Maureen. I know you as someone who speaks from wisdom and experience, so I’m especially grateful for your encouragement.

  • Les Jones

    Thank you Father. It is easier to say what people want to hear than to say what people need to hear.

    Jesus was not always nice. Neither was John the Baptist. It cost them their lives.

    • Ha. That’s something else we tend to forget, isn’t it? It’s easier to cast the Lord’s persecutors as monstrous villains who are offended by tolerance and openness. ?

  • Gregory Kingman

    What would Jesus do? This hypothetical question is quite revealing really. It is a reference to Jesus in the abstract and in his absence. It is the sort of question asked by some one who believe they know Jesus, and have acquired information and knowledge about Him through books or the Scriptures alone, usually without the Church, like they can get to know and understand any other reality – scientifically. However, to truly get to know the mystery of Jesus Christ and get a fully-fleshed view so to speak, and understand his Personal Presence in the Present you have to be a practicing Catholic whose life is anchored in the sacraments of the Church, and of which the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the source, centre and summit. When you regularly participate and share intimately in His Prayer by worthily communicating, then instead of asking general hypothetical questions of the Church, her teaching and her hierarchy, you will ask real ones about your yourself and the world.

    • How true. What a glorious gift we have in the Holy Eucharist.

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