Saturday, October 14, 2006

Ad Limina Comments - Western Edition
Jumping Off the Rooftop

On Oct. 9, the bishops from Western Canada met with Pope Benedict XVI for their Ad Limina visit. I've been publishing my thoughts on the Pope's words to the bishops from other parts of Canada (see these links), and I have been eagerly anticipating this meeting with my own region's shepherds for some time.

The Pope addresses three themes:

1. Confession:

The Bishop's responsibility to indicate the destructive presence of sin is readily understood as a service of hope: it strengthens believers to avoid evil and to embrace the perfection of love and the plenitude of Christian life. I wish therefore to commend your promotion of the Sacrament of Penance. While this Sacrament is often considered with indifference, what it effects is precisely the fullness of healing for which we long. A new-found appreciation of this Sacrament will confirm that time spent in the confessional draws good from evil, restores life from death, and reveals anew the merciful face of the Father.

2. The loss of a sense of sin:

Where God is excluded from the public forum the sense of offence against God - the true sense of sin - dissipates, just as when the absolute value of moral norms is relativized the categories of good or evil vanish, along with individual responsibility. Yet, the human need to acknowledge and confront sin in fact never goes away, no matter how much an individual may, like the elder brother [in the parable of the prodigal son], rationalize to the contrary.

3. The plight of aboriginal communities. He encourages the bishops to:

address with compassion and determination the underlying causes of the difficulties surrounding the social and spiritual needs of the Aboriginal faithful.

The three are tied somewhat together, as the Pope strings a common thread through all of them: Forgiveness.

There were times when I felt that God couldn't forgive me – when I believed forgiveness was a thing I didn't deserve. I believed the lie that I had sinned too much and that God was tired of forgiving me. If I was truly repenting, why was the repetitive staccato of habitual sin coming back again and again in my life? How many times must I do a 180-degree turn on my journey to heaven? In a sense I was getting spiritually dizzy: I would sin, repent, draw close to God, and before I knew it I was stuck in sin again and need to repent once more. It felt like all I was doing was repenting.

I'm still stuck on C. S. Lewis these days. Here's one of his thoughts from Mere Christianity on imperfect repentance:

Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person - and he would not need it.

One day God showed me a truth regarding his forgiveness – in the story of the prodigal son. The Pope uses this parable in his discussion with the bishops, and I'm sure we've all heard it over and over again. Benedict XVI says it is "one of the most appreciated passages of sacred Scripture," and this I believe is because it contains a million truths.

Look at the father in the story. His son has left home and has wasted his life on reckless living. The father, however, never gives up hope, and keenly watches from his rooftop every day for his son to return. When the prodigal son has had enough of the sinful life, he comes home and his father espies him while he is still a far way off and practically jumps off the rooftop to run and welcome him home.

The son has prepared a fine speech but the father won't listen to it; for him it is enough that he has come back.

Now imagine God in heaven, longing with that same heart for all of humanity. We are all his children, the work of his own creative hand, and he is watching the metaphorical road, hoping to see us come back to him. Also consider that there are really very few people, proportionally speaking, who know of the Father's love and strive to be his true disciples.

So imagine one of his precious ones, having gone astray, sullenly coming back home: will not the Father leap down from his rooftop and come running to us? Will he not say to us, "Yes, yes! Come back! I want you by my side! I want to shower you with my blessings and fill you with my love!" There are so few of us who strive to know God – of course he will forgive us when we fall; we're all he's got!

But then… ­forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Do I forgive as readily and as joyfully as the Father does? Now, as a married man I'll quickly admit that my wife needs to forgive me more frequently than I need to forgive her. But on those rare occasions when I'm the one who is hurt, I hardly find that I'm “jumping off the rooftop” to run and embrace her. It's usually a long, stolid affair where I have to muster up the willpower to suppress the hurt so I can tolerate her tender caresses.

Which brings me full circle to what the Pope said to the Western Bishops:

Commitment to truth opens the way to lasting reconciliation through the healing process of asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness -- two indispensable elements for peace.

I'm delighted that our Holy Father is emphasizing the importance of this. I hope & pray our bishops will recognize the value of his words, and that we'll see more emphasis on the Sacrament of Penance in the coming months.

Lord, help me learn to forgive as you do.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome, but must be on topic. Spam, hateful/obscene remarks, and shameless self-promotion will be unceremoniously deleted. Well, OK, I might put on a little ceremony when I delete them.