Tag Archives: Year of Mercy

Amoris laetitia: Prodigal son’s father

PRODIGAL SON

I admit it. Early on in life I was a self-absorbed Promethian neo-Pelagian idiot living a life without salvation (ζῶν ἀσώτως) as Luke 15:13 has it, taking advantage of the gifts given to us by our Heavenly Father and going off with to party with, well, you know, those living a life without salvation just like me. I’ve crucified the Son of the Living God with my sins. That’s what I’ve done. One might fill in the blanks with what that means in all the particularities, but probably, in that case, with all one’s own sins projected onto me, kind of like the elder brother’s mentions of prostitutes – πορνῶν. And, by the way, I don’t care who we are – pope, bishop, priest or laity – we’ve all crucified the Son of the Living God with our sins, original sin and whatever other kind of living life without salvation that we’ve all accomplished. Among other things, I’ve been known to confess impatience, pride, arrogance, being judgmental of others in the sense of putting them down only so as stand on top of them… Not good, that.

In more recent decades of my life, I’ve been coming to know Jesus’ great love, even if just the tiniest smidgen of what His wounds mean, His love for me. And that’s everything. The Promethean neo-Pelagian self-absorbed mind games come to an end with Jesus’ love cutting through those mind games of self-referential, self-congratulation, He grabbing me by both shoulders and shaking me gently, getting me to look up into His eyes, thankful, awestruck that He takes me seriously. I mean, how could He? I’ve sent Him in my callous aloofness to His death. And yet, there He is. Here He is, with me. Now. Strongly. I have nothing to brag about. It’s all Him. It’s all about Him.

PRODIGAL SONI have greatly appreciated the priests who have taken me by the hand with great patience and brought me to Jesus, not condemning me, though judging in confession that what I did was in fact in need of absolution. That’s not the judgement of condemnation; that’s the judgement of salvation. I must say that they (1) accepted my repentance, (2) received my confession of sin, (3) judged my contrition to be appropriate, (4) judged my firm purpose of amendment to be adequate, (5) gave me a penance to do so as to put into action in whatever way the humble thanksgiving into which the grace of the sacrament brings us, (6) pronounced the absolution and (7) sent me off to receive Holy Communion. Did they know that they might see me again with similar sins, despite all my protestations of repentance, contrition and firm purpose of amendment? Yes. That’s still true today. It doesn’t mean that my protestations of repentance, contrition and firm purpose of amendment were insincere. No, not that. But we can sin again. But we trust that Jesus will grab our hearts and souls and minds in such a way that the strength of our own inadequacy will fade into insignificance before the strength of His love for us: just look at those wounds of His… for me… for you… This is an event of love, not a process of a mind-game, that is, even if there is a fall. But, let’s see how this works with the prodigal son. There are two ways of looking at this the conversion of the prodigal.

(1) Repentance minus atrition, contrition, amendment

The prodigal comes back with repentance without out any atrition, contrition, or even purpose of amendment. This comes from copyists’ error in a wide variety of otherwise even very excellent manuscripts throughout the early centuries in which the planed confession of the prodigal while out with the pigs is the confession he gives verbatim before his father. When he “comes to himself”, he does precisely that, for he himself has no wherewithal for conversion, just more selfishness. His plan is to get the bread of his father’s servants by admitting that he sinned before heaven and his father and no longer deserves to be called the father’s son. Even though he is taken in by his father as a son, this doesn’t change the attitude of the prodigal, who is simply happy to have the bread. He has worked his way into his own salvation, worked his own way into heaven, disregarding the love of his father for himself. He doesn’t care. He is utterly unimpressed with the love of his father. It has no effect on him whatsoever. “Just go ahead and treat me like the servants,” he says. This, it seems to me, is what Pope Francis wants to promote among confessors, having them be like the father in this scenario, providing absolution for someone who is repentant without any atrition, contrition or any kind of purpose of amendment. Indeed, in this scenario, the prodigal could easily take off again. See: Torture chamber confessionals nixed. Pope Francis: contrition, amendment? Instead: I think, therefore I am saved. As an example, see: Amoris laetitia 351 Unrepentant, active prostitutes, absolution,Communion?

(2) Repentance with atrition turned contrition & amendment

PRODIGAL SONI have demonstrated at great length elsewhere, that is, with a quite exhaustive treatment of copyists’ behavior with all known manuscripts reporting this section of Luke, that is, also in view of the actual physical copying and location of the words and letters of the planned and then (partially) given confessions in the papyri and codices (a tell-all sine qua non for this exercise)… demonstrated that the confession given before the father does NOT entirely repeat the planned confession of the prodigal when he was out with the pigs: he does NOT say, “Treat me like one of your hired servants.” His attrition when out with the pigs amounts to an analogy to fearing the loss of heaven and gaining the pains of hell when he realizes that he is starving to death but could be eating from the good will of his father. He is not sorry for having hurt his father. He is merely stating the facts of the sin and its consequences. This is good enough for him to go back. It is the judgement of the Church that this is enough for a sinner to go to confession in expectation of receiving an absolution. There is a true respect for the goodness of the father, even if this not up to level of being sorry for having offended the father’s love. The purpose of amendment is evident at least in his wanting to stay with the servants in the desire to eat the bread of his father. That this is different from the scenario above (1), is seen with the fact that he does not have an attitude that will resist the actions of his father which will bring him to full contrition. Unbeknownst to himself, he is open to having a sorrow for having hurt his father such that he will be happy to be once again the son of his father. In this scenario (2), when he goes back, his father demonstrates the love of a father for a son such that the prodigal cannot go on with the coldest part of his planned confession, that is, regarding the request to be treated like the servants. He realizes he is a son and does not want to re-offend against the love of his father. This is where the father finds him, as the father says. The son is overwhelmed with the love of his father. This is consonant with the other two parables in chapter 15 of Luke: the coin and the sheep did nothing to be found. Neither did the prodigal. The love of the father is everything in bringing the son to contrition and purpose of amendment. This is an event, not a mind-game, a provision of grace, not a mind-game, a finding of the son, not a mind game, a drawing one into the love of God, not a mind game.

PRODIGAL SONHere’s the deal. The Holy Father has all along been condemning Promethean neo-Pelagian self-absorbed, self-referential, self-congratulations. All of that came from some copyists’ errors in manuscripts as outlined in (1) above, commentary about which gave rise to Pelagianism. In the wake of all that, Saint Augustine developed a theology of grace taken up by Saint Thomas Aquinas. After Aquinas developed Augustine’s theology of grace, it was in turn taken up in the Council of Trent. The work of the saints and the councils is consonant with the proper transcription of the prodigal son parable (2). Pope Francis has somehow analogously followed the work-your-own-way-into-an-absolution-and-Communion interpretation. The ironies and the epic sweep of history in all this is mind-boggling.

All the same, the Lord Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Amen. Or are we so hateful of the prodigal’s true conversion that we condemn the father as does the elder brother?

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Torture chamber confessionals nixed. Pope Francis: contrition, amendment? Instead: I think, therefore I am saved.

torture chamber

Torture chambers…

For the umpteenth time, on 30 April in Saint Peter’s Square, the Holy Father has again commanded priests in no uncertain terms not to make their confessionals into torture chambers and interrogation rooms. This was the lead story on 1 May 2016 in l’Osservatore Romano.

interrogation room

Interrogation rooms…

Since this has become one of the most frequent themes of the pontificate of Pope Francis, one would think that he actually thinks that all priests do make their confessionals into torture rooms and interrogation rooms. Since priests who make their confessionals into torture chambers and interrogation rooms belong immediately in the lowest reaches of hell, perhaps one might think in an unthinking way that the Holy Father ought to have mercy before that judgment is brought down upon them, to the effect that a new Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition be set up to discover which priests are so very lacking in mercy (all of them), so they might be brought by means of whatever it takes to understand what mercy is all about, with whatever it takes including torture and vicious interrogation. I mean, heaven and hell are for eternity, right? Whatever it takes is O.K., right? Remember, this bit about torture and interrogation really is a constant theme of Pope Francis. Is his constant attack on the priesthood, his constantly kicking priests in the face justified? Perhaps. In thinking about this not in an unthinking way, I think I’ve figured out what the Holy Father is thinking about this, whether he is doing that in a thinking or unthinking way I do not know. But, let’s think about this…

Methinks that this constant reference to the torture chambers and interrogation rooms of priests right around the world is meant to get priests to think about the quality of the conditions they lay on people prior to their reception of an absolution in confession. I think the Holy Father thinks that confessors right around the world think that any sign of repentance in and of itself brings in its wake also contrition and a purpose of amendment, and I think that that is what the Holy Father thinks is absolutely intolerable, as intolerable as any torture or vicious interrogation. I think that he’s not accusing anyone of wittingly going about torture and interrogation, only that he thinks that all priests have a totally insufficient theology regarding repentance, a theology which must be reformed, a theology which will not be reformed unless he makes all priests so angry that they will actually think about what he has to say. Clever. Again, let’s think about this.

The Holy Father does think, by the way, that a sign of repentance is a necessary condition for absolution in the confessional, enough to deny absolution if it is not there (as he told us Missionaries of Mercy on Shrove Tuesday 2016). This is from 30 May:

“Dio non si rassegna mai alla possibilità che una persona rimanga estranea al suo amore, a condizione però di trovare in lei qualche segno di pentimento per il male compiuto.” “God is never resigned to the possibility that a person remains foreign to His love, on the condition, however, to find in this person some sign of repentance for the evil done.”

I think the Holy Father thinks that this repentance does not at all necessarily have to bring in its wake contrition and a purpose of amendment, at least not right away, as repentance, for the Holy Father, is more about a process, a path, than an event. I think the Holy Father thinks that priests right around the world are oblivious to his understanding, blindly thinking, therefore, in his opinion, that repentance brings in its wake contrition and some purpose of amendment. This take on what Pope Francis thinks would be entirely consonant with Amoris laetitia in every way. Here’s my translation of more of that Saturday audience:

prodigal son

From l’Osservatore Romano

“May no one remain far from God because of obstacles put before them by men! And this goes also — and I say this underlining it — for confessors — it is valid for them –: please, do not put obstacles in front of people who want to reconcile themselves with God. The confessor must be a father! He takes the place of God the Father! The confessor must receive those who come to him to reconcile themselves with God and start them out on the path of this reconciliation that we are making [in other words a path of repentance merely in one’s mind but without the immediate contrition and purpose of amendment which would complete the path, those almost impossible conditions of the love which may perhaps come later (in Pope Francis’ mind)]. It is such a beautiful ministry: it is not a torture chamber nor an interrogation room. No. [Contrition? Amendment? Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Just be beautiful in your own mind, get absolution and to to Communion.]. He is the Father who receives and welcomes this person and pardons. Let us be reconciled with God! All of us! May this Holy Year be the favorable time to rediscover the need of tenderness and of the closeness of the Father [step one, which is what he thinks the prodigal son did when out with the pigs] so as to return to Him wholeheartedly [step two, the reversal of what actually happens in the parable of the prodigal son, who is instead found (but we will get to that in a future post, but note that this is the central mistake of Pope Francis)].” [In other words, this is all a repeat of footnote 351 in Amoris laetitia.]

True repentance without contrition and without some purpose of amendment is simply not possible. That would be a repentance which is not repentant at all. Or better, since repentance = rethinking (metanoia), such repentance without contrition and without some purpose of amendment would be no more than a mind game, that which is Promethean, neo-Pelagian, self-absorbed, self-referential, self-congratulatory. This is totally lacking in love, totally lacking in mercy. I think, therefore I am saved. It makes the sacraments a joke. It makes a joke of Christ’s faithful. It makes a joke of the priests who want to bring people into Christ’s love, not simply into some mind-game. Once entered into, how is it that one can extract someone out of such a mind-game? Is it not the same way that one might present at the very beginning of the “process”? Is it not all about Jesus and His love which is stronger than death? Yes. Repentance comes with contrition, an act of love, and purpose of amendment, an act of love. Repentance without contrition and purpose of amendment is not simply atrition, sorry for the loss of heaven and the pains of hell (which is good in and of itself and sufficient to bring one to confession and receive absolution if there is also a repentance with purpose of amendment). Instead, repentance without contrition and purpose of amendment is, again, simply a mind-game which has no respect for the one who would provide pardon. It makes one into the elder brother of the prodigal. It is self-righteous, loving only of self specifically apart from God.

Holy Father, I love you to pieces, but you are wrong. Why do you torture your priests and Christ’s faithful with that which is less than love? I’m sure you want a more profound theology about all this. I will provide that with a future post on the prodigal son. It will be sure to knock your black shoes off! Stay tuned.

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Amoris laetitia 351: priests’ obligation? Missionary of Mercy wants to know.

ambiguity

Queritur: Are priests obliged to follow the recommendations of Amoris laetitia in any case in the Confessional, footnote 351?

  • The sacraments mentioned in the note cannot be baptism, confirmation, marriage, holy orders or, all things being equal, anointing. The plural is used, so the sacraments mentioned here are both Confession and Holy Communion, the one not meant to be a torture chamber, the other not meant to be a reward.

Answer: No, because no one knows what it means, and multiple attempts to get the Holy Father to give an answer about 351 have failed. The law of the Church hasn’t changed, and yet, the intent of the note is clear. And yet, the law forbids it. And yet… blah blah blah… It’s ambiguous. It being that it is ambiguous, what is it that priests would be obliged to follow? There is no answer to this from the Holy Father. So: IT MEANS NOTHING.

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The monster’s got me by the ankles and is smashing me to the ground

dilbert

I am exhausted. Today, so far, I’ve had 113 email conversations, however many comments, texts, and hours[!] of phone conversations, most of those about canon law, ecclesiology, moral theology, church politics, with a number of priests, canon lawyers, theologians. I am deeply sorrowful at the state of the Church. Deeply. I don’t know how to express that. I agonize. I don’t think it’s negativity. I love the Church. I love those in the Church, even the baddies just like me, and by that I mean those who go on ad hominem attacks, just like me, except I’m worse. I know how bad that is for me. The last thing I want is to see that attitude in them.

ogreI feel like I’m being lifted up upside down by some ogre who’s got me by the ankles, and who has commenced whipping me about in the air and then smashing me down to the ground, only to do it continuously, and somehow I remain conscious through it all. I feel sick. Nauseous. It’s like traumatic stress. The monster is, of course, myself. I’m very bad and very evil with a very black and terribly cynical heart. If I wanted to rant, just laying it all out, proving my cynicism to myself (because cynicism is all about self), I think I would actually frighten the most intense of cynics right into silence, much like when the murder rate in Manhattan went down to zero for quite a while after September 11, 2001. The run of the mill murderers were unfathomably out-murdered, and they were stunned into pacifism. Jesus had to reach really very far into hell to find me, which makes me all the more grateful to Him. And that all means that I hold all those lesser cynics to be much better off than I ever was. You have no idea.

If that seems like unstoppable pride, let me tell you ever so humbly about someone who was more cynical than even I could ever be. A layman, he had the CDF wrapped around his little finger, deposing and setting up bishops at will, forcing documents and policies right and left. The CDF, his pet project, hated him, but Ratzinger did what he said and, I would hazard, respected him and even liked him for the clarity and devotion he had. I’ve never known anyone more intelligent, which includes the greatest Thomists in the world today. He knew how to get things done for the good of the Church. I often helped him. I’ve now and again done a bit of his kind of work myself, asked to do so many times by the Curia, off the record, but whatever gets the job done, right? Sometimes cynics are simply realists said to be cynics by those fearful of reality. And that was him, a saint, really, cynical of the diabolical, but not of Jesus. We both knew, however, that if he reversed that, even for a moment, he could do great damage to the Church. He stayed with Jesus, even though he saw all the diabolical there can be among some members of the Church.

As for myself, if I lost all sanctifying grace, I could rant about pretty much everything, including “and” and “the” and even the nice stuff. I would not only highlight that which boasts of ambiguity, but I would also draw conclusions from that which would make anyone curl up in a ball and die of despair. I excel at that kind of thing, I dare say more than anyone. No comparison. And this has ripened over the last number of years. I know the hell of it; I know of a certainty that that’s who I am if I am without grace. One actual believer in the Roman Curia once said that he feared that my analyses could  [… I had better stop!…] At any rate, I’m sure that I would pervert any time being greater than space dynamic into a Marxist dialectic with all such things. I’m truly bad and evil. But I know it. So I look to Jesus, who creates both time and space. He’s all that’s left for me. He is the Church with His Mystical Body. He’s the One.

And then the monster disappears. Just like that. If I pride myself to think that I’m really good at being evil, my pride is then shattered into humility by Him who was more cynical of evil than I could ever begin to be cynical of that which is good. Jesus bears the wounds of all of hell broken out on His risen body. He smashes all cynicism into that which is laughable. Jesus has conquered. He’s the greatest love of my life and I want everyone to know about Him.

We must keep unity in the Church. No schism! Let’s discuss the ideas, yes. But let’s all of us stick to that. But if anyone wants to be ad hominem with me, say that I’m not a real priest, whatever, go ahead. I take back being offended by any of that. I deserve everything I get. I’ll just beat you to the punch: I’ve absolutely crucified the Son of the Living God with my sins and without Jesus I would absolutely go to hell like the child of hell that I am if I am without grace.

P.S. The undercurrent of this post is terrible pride. I hope you can pick that up. I am the worst of the worst. Somehow that’s pride, right? But Jesus is good and kind. :-)

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Amoris laetitia and Cardinal Burke

cardinal burke lourdes

I took this picture in the Immaculate Conception “Upper” Basilica in Lourdes when I was a permanent chaplain there for a couple of years, when Cardinal Burke was on pilgrimage with the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest in 2009. I suffered terribly in the days of yore, trying to facilitate such Masses.

I’ve had quite a number of extended conversations with Cardinal Burke over the years, one of which was quite recent. I’ll tell you this: he is the utmost gentleman, the most humble parish priest who has no “airs” about him at all, except the brightness of a spirit of unstoppable humble reverence before the Lord Jesus. But there are those who are upset with him, I think, precisely for this reason. It makes them nervous.

Those who are upset with Cardinal Burke the most are the traditional-ism-ists. Don’t they know that they are only proving in this manner whatever it is that Pope Francis is trying to say about charity toward others? I know a number of the pseudonymous crowd, but they literally run away and hide (really) when I ask for them over the phone after they’ve published things without a name. Otherwise, in safer times, they’ll buy me lunch. Or, alternatively, attack me as best they can. I’ve known some for decades, and have suffered terribly for some of them, perhaps unbeknownst to them. But there’s no real talking with them. Very quickly everything turns to: “It’s a conspiracy of the Jews!” and then whatever else makes them breathless for the day, living on the adrenaline of mystery, the whole pen-name thing.

Cardinal Burke has been their hero until now. He’s said something they don’t like. He’s taken away their thunder. He has correctly said that the most recent intervention of Pope Francis is his own personal opinion, which is correct, both because that is what Pope Francis himself said, and because that’s the kind of document it is. That’s it.

I suggest that those who think they know better than Cardinal Burke start to read some history about the Church being, as Saint Robert Bellarmine said, “never closer to dropping into hell than at this time.” That statement is always true, and is always true because of, get this, your sins and mine. And Jesus did descend into hell, the Church in hell, if you will, to preach to the damned spirits. But the Immaculate Bride of Christ is saved from hell always and at every moment, because Christ Jesus is our Savior. Our savior is not our own cleverness, not our ad hominem attacks on mere men. We are at war with the fallen angels. We need to help each other out of respect for Christ crucified. Cardinal Burke had to make this preliminary statement. I’m sure he will have more to say. Give him a chance! But you can see how difficult the battle is. There is mutiny for the sake of mutiny. Attack for the sake of attack. People letting bitterness turn them into cynics.

Do I have questions about, say, I don’t know, casuistry for our Holy Father? Yes, I do. Would I present those questions to him with the utmost respect for his person and with the utmost reverence for his office as the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter? Yes, absolutely. I’ll give some background to those questions in articles to come about the prodigal son and the adulterous woman.

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Analogy for Divine Mercy: Waterfalls!

waterfall1

This above picture is utterly deceptive. These falls are about 1/4 mile long. The width of the falls at the bottom is about 150 feet across. I’m sure this would count as a level 6 for serious knuckleheads, if not just an outright portage (good idea). I’m guessing all kayaking is forbidden (good idea). I took this picture the other day on way to the house exorcism.

waterfall2

The picture above is utterly deceptive. You would think cars can’t drive under waterfalls. You would be wrong. That is a roadway. I took this picture the other day on my way to the house exorcism.

waterfall3

The above picture is utterly deceptive. This waterfall is next to the hermitage. You would think it’s only about 5 feet across. It’s more like thirty. I took this picture the other day on my way back from the house exorcism.

san clemente mosaicThis mosaic at San Clemente in Rome isn’t utterly deceptive. It’s an attempt at an analogy about waterfalls, using the psalm line: As the hart years for running streams, so my soul is thirsting for you my God.” I used to pass this daily for years while doing my stint in bella Roma. The waters gushing from the foot of the cross depict the exorcism of all exorcisms. Note the serpent escaping just below the cross. He hates that the Lord Jesus has just died for all of us, thus having the right in His own justice to have mercy on us, the mercy of establishing His own Kingdom to replace the kingdom of the prince of the this world, the ancient dragon, that cunning serpent, the father of lies.

To this day, the one who has best depicted the waterfall of which we must take note is Mel Gibson in his “The Passion of the Christ.” In one of the final scenes on Calvary, you’ll remember the soldier must thrust his sword into the side, into the Heart of Jesus, you know, just to make sure that He’s dead. He does so, and from that we receive the image of the font of the Sacraments and the creation of the Church from the side of Christ just as Adam’s wife was taken from the side of Adam:

side of christ

side of christ 2

side of christ 3

Also His Immaculate Virgin Mother was redeemed at the first moment of her conception so that sin never touched her soul. This vision of this waterfall is not deceptive at all. It speaks of us of the truth of our salvation, the goodness and kindness and truth of Jesus with a love stronger than death, that mocks death, that rises from the dead, taking captivity captive, taking us to our Heavenly Father to give us as a gift to Him. Thank you, Jesus.

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Decorating our refurbished confessional: Ideas, please!

curtainHere’s one of our best all-time go to guys who can help get anything done. He’s holding up a section of curtain that had been hanging from a shower curtain rod attached to the ceiling of the cry-room, our makeshift confessional through the decades. This was a GlenMary parish until recently, as were all of the parishes in Western North Carolina. This was the last one they let go to the diocese, it being inclusive of perhaps the poorest county in all of Appalachia, Graham County. For the years I’ve been here we had an absolute priority: GET RID OF THE MOLD! It was deadly. The previous pastor is still on sick leave. But now it’s time to seriously refurbish the confessional. What we’ve done is to remove the curtains and put up office partitions which we hacked through so as to put in a traditional fixed grill:

confessional screen

What we need to do now is to put up some appropriate art and aids. Thus, on either side of the window, following the example given in the Pontifical Basilicas over in Rome, we would like to hang framed Acts of Contrition, English on the one side and Spanish on the other. I’d like to hang a big crucifix above, slightly to the left of center of the screen, perhaps that of San Damiano, with a framed image of the Guadalupana just slightly below and to the right of center of the screen. Dunno… Any ideas? Anything else? I think we need to add some cushioning to the kneeler. It seems like it’s just a board covered with white vinyl.

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Confession without Confession? Sure!

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Some reactionaries are outraged by Pope Francis saying that absolution can be given to someone who can’t confess his sins. They quote Saint John Paul II in his Reconciliatio et paenitentia, to wit:

Whether as a tribunal of mercy or a place of spiritual healing, under both aspects the sacrament requires a knowledge of the sinner’s heart in order to be able to judge and absolve, to cure and heal. Precisely for this reason the sacrament involves on the part of the penitent a sincere and complete confession of sins. This therefore has a raison d’etre not only inspired by ascetical purposes (as an exercise of humility and mortification), but one that is inherent in the very nature of the sacrament.

Strong words to be sure. I’ve done otherwise 1000 times in my decades long priestly ministry. General absolution given to, say, a group of soldiers heading off to extreme danger, without hearing any of their sins, though reminding them that they must have the intention to go to individual confession, is both possible and recommended. I’ve never had occasion to do that, but I just wanted to insert that into the argument at the get-go. But I do want to say that I’ve granted absolution a 1000 times on, I think, pretty much every continent in the world, and in so many countries, to those who did not make, could not make a confession of sins in any way, that is, of those who were dying, who had suffered whatever form of violence, whatever.

If I’m shot and can’t speak, I hope that there’s a priest around to absolve me regardless of the idiocy of the traditional-ism-ists. Saint John Paul II was not one of those, and I’m sure that he’s done what I’ve done, as every priest I’m guessing pretty much without exception has done or will do in his lifetime of ministry, that is, grant an absolution expeditiously to those who are dying and cannot confess their sins in kind and number and aggravating circumstances with the due care by which this sacrament is honored. This sacrament is also honored when absolution is to be given regardless of oracular confession of sins.

Anecdote from Africa told to me, as I wasn’t there: A group of missionaries were detained by some warlords who had them standing in a big circle so as to interrogate them. They got tired of asking questions and said that they were just going to shoot them all. They were all Catholic and had a priest with them. One of the young men cried out, scared out of his mind, “Father, give the absolution! Give the absolution!” But the priest was so scared the words wouldn’t come out of his mouth. That intense fear seems to have melted the hearts of the warlords enough, or it was so humorous to them, that they just let them all go. The point is, however, that the priest could have given the general absolution.

Having said all that, I can imagine other examples perhaps more to the point, but what’s the use of speaking to those who are not priests, have never heard a confession in their lives, nor will they, but who only want to criticize and make sure that no one goes to confession by mocking pretty much all priests in the world as not being true priests since they were not ordained by this or that bishop of their liking? Just to say, I’ve been publicly mocked by this crowd, with them saying, in fact, that I’m not a real priest. Despite them: Go to Confession!

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Hearing Confessions in the strangest of places: Blizzard’s edge at the impassable chasm

blizzard

Mountains are strange that way. One or two flakes in front of you. An impassable white-out blizzard another 5000 feet away, on the other side of the impassable chasm. I’m exaggerating, but I’m trying to make an analogy, you know, like when hell freezes over, that kind of thing. I love the snow, being from Minnesota and all, but the analogy I’m thinking about involves our Blessed Mother showing the Fatima kids a vision of hell, with souls falling into hell like snowflakes in a blizzard. Snowflakes are so very delicate, beautiful, seeming immaculate in their wispy crystalline designs, but destined, in this analogy, to drop inextricably into an ever more violent eternal vortex of hateful violence and despair. But, just think, before dropping in, if only they had a chance to go to Confession, and then they wouldn’t drop down at all. Having said that: here’s a wild article on mercy and confession that was just published in the Catholic News Herald for the Diocese of Charlotte:

Father George David Byers: A Missionary of Mercy hears confessions in the strangest of places (Catholic News Herald – March 2016) 

This Missionary of Mercy confesses to you that I haven’t always followed to the letter the canon law of the Church, namely Canon 964, which states that “the proper place for hearing sacramental confessions is a church or oratory” and that “except for a just reason, confessions are not to be heard elsewhere than in a confessional.” I have been very broad in my interpretation of a “just reason.”

Scaling particularly deadly mountain walls with friends, or other similarly intense moments, has never been an occasion for me to hear a confession. However, as any priest, I do recall terrible traffic accidents when absolutions were provided. We’ve all heard confessions in hospitals and rehabilitation centers, as well as in nursing homes and assisted living centers. But those are to be taken for granted.

Some venues for confessions might be considered strange by those who just can’t imagine themselves confessing in such circumstances, but others are less inhibited. I’ve frequently heard confessions in the midst of rushing crowds in airport concourses or train stations, outside supermarkets or on street corners. Cars and trucks and parking lots are most favored, but so are walking confessions, which make their way along city sidewalks or country roads.

A house, a barn, a dog kennel, a chicken coop … any place will do. Mercy is available everywhere.

The fact of someone wanting to go to confession is a “just cause” for not using a confessional, even when a confessional is right at hand. Sometimes the sacristy is better for any number of reasons. In some places, women’s confessions were traditionally heard in “the box,” while men’s confessions were heard in the sacristy.

Having said this, though, there are limits. Proximity is necessary for the sacrament. No video conferencing. No phones. No radio talk shows. No email or texting or Facebook or Twitter. Not even Snapchat. No sacrilege.

Permit me, though, to bring you to a place to offer your confession so strange that you may not have considered it – not realizing that you have been confessing in this most unheard of place since your very first confession. You’ll need your imagination for this, but only because it’s so real that it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around.

Imagine that when you go into the confessional, to your shock you see that there is someone already kneeling down just starting to confess. It’s Jesus! You kneel beside Him sheepishly, and see your own priest on the other side of the screen. Jesus then starts to confess all your sins as if they were His own. He’s brief and to the point, includes aggravating circumstances and numbers of times for any serious sins. He just enumerates the sins without ambiguity, without excuse. He then concludes: “I accuse myself of all these sins, Father, and I beg absolution and penance.” Your priest then gives you your penance and absolves you, and you go away filled with wonder at the great love of Jesus who, in order to provide the grace of that absolution, stood in our place, taking on the death we deserve because of our sin.

When we confess, we do so alongside Jesus, who steps in for us. But because He does that on a spiritual level, we must be loyal to Him by ignoring any fear, any humiliation we might feel. Instead of looking to ourselves, we look to see His goodness and kindness. That’s a strange place to confess from, alongside Jesus, is it not? And yet, it is all very familiar, for no matter how strange the place is in which we might confess, we are always right next to Jesus, who loves us so very much.

Father George David Byers is administrator of Holy Redeemer Church in Andrews and one of two “Missionaries of Mercy” commissioned by Pope Francis in the Diocese of Charlotte.

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Flores for the Immaculate Conception (Salve Regina edition: 700 Missionaries of Mercy sing their hearts out)

img_20160209_172418681.jpgAs 700 of the 1000 some Missionaries of Mercy were waiting for the Holy Father to arrive in the Sala Regia, we decided to break out into praise of the Immaculate Mother of God. After all, why not? I apologize for not getting the opening words, but it was not planned. At the end, you might be able to tell when the Holy Father arrives.

This, I think, is a most appropriate “flower” for the Immaculate Conception.

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This was my view for a while…

WNC Great Smoky Mountains

I took this picture after Communion calls the other day. I love bringing Jesus round about to the sheep of His tiny flock. I shall miss my parish. I love everyone here and there are many who don’t want me to depart. Hey, it’s only for a couple of weeks to meet up with Pope Francis, right? Well, who knows. What if His Holiness asks: “Et tu?” And I respond: “Adsum!” And he asks: “Irkutsk?” And I say: “Vado!” I mean, after all, I’m used to the cold; the North Woods of Minnesota and southern Irkutsk have more or less the same climate. Time to start packing. For Rome that is. And then?

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VIRTUS® and Porn: No concern? Today…

VIRTUS

When I was teaching up in the Josephinum, I sat through the VIRTUS® course that was obviously tailored to seminarians and priests. I objected to the statement that on a list of questionable and evil behaviors there had to be at least two which presented with an individual before it would be considered enough of a concern to do some reporting. I objected because one of the items listed was showing porn to minors. That, said I, was more than enough on its own to do some reporting. It would be more than enough for me to knock the idiot unconscious, regardless of any laxity in civil law, regardless of any laxity in local diocesan chancery personnel policy. However, for VIRTUS®, it’s Continue reading

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In honor of Saint Paul: Stop the breathless condemnations!

Saint Paul Conversion Damascus Caravaggio

The vicious, murderous Saul, was graced with a vocation by Jesus. But Lord, he said, they will hold my past against me! I am evil and bad. Don’t worry, Jesus replied, I shall be with you. And so it was, Saint Paul would boast of his weakness so as to give Jesus the glory.

There’s a certain breathless rebellion against authority which seeks to discredit the Holy Father and priests and bishops for that matter. It’s all over the internet, the ugly lust of looking about in search of one of the scoops of the century, so that all can say “Ooooo!” and “Ahhhh!” But that is the only reward for being the best at gathering bad news. I mean, if we go before our judgment and Satan would be allowed to accuse us for all we have done, each one of us, and if God would judge us only on those accusations, whether true or false, out of context or not, we would all be going straight to hell. The faith is about mercy, about the Good News, the Evangelium, the Gospel, not about an uncontrollable lust to condemn all to hell with no chance of redemption, with no chance of salvation if they are not already mirror images of ourselves. The faith is Continue reading

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Impossible world? Justice and Mercy as One

chess board robert van der steeg impossible world

The Mercy Team = The Good Guys!
The Justice Team = The Bad Guys!

That’s how the know-nothings do things, an impossible world. They expect to achieve peace by pitting mercy and justice against each other. All that is obtained is frustration, for the upset of doubting God comes to the fore. Cynicism is the result of cutting mercy off from justice, for immediately after asking for “mercy, mercy, mercy,” we see what seems to be a total lack of mercy all around us. Instant cynicism. Left to fester, this turns into a bitterness on the war-path, that sees good in no thing, that is, in nothing, content to let mercy and justice cancel each other out so as seemingingly to have the right to scream out: “I told you so!” (with the “you” in that cry being their god who doesn’t exist, that is, their nihilistic selves). This is the darkest of all dark existential peripheries. Woe to those who fling multitudes of people precipitously into such a vortex of self-referential self-pity.

We want mercy and decry justice and are thus thrown into the most wild vortex of self-pity on the prowl for making always more victims of the division of mercy and justice. But you have to know, this is a personal choice. Jesus nor any Pope ever said that justice was something bad. This was only said by people who are bitter to the core. Think about it. It’s true, no? We should never be eager to follow the path to hell just because we are hurting. Instead of saving ourselves with our own idiocy, why not let the Divine Son of the Immaculate Conception undo the knots into which we have bound ourselves?

Accept that in Jesus (as in God, for He is God), justice and mercy are one.

Look upon the cross. Jesus is there, founding the mercy He provides to us (“Father, forgive them”) on His own justice, taking our place in what we deserve in justice so that we might receive His mercy. This makes His mercy credible, majestic. “For the sake of His sorrowful passion (justice), have mercy on us and on the whole world (mercy).”

There comes a time when, finally, we realize that Jesus has won the battle, that He has a good grip on our souls, on our hearts, on our minds, not a steel grip of ideology, but a grip cemented by the blood of His wounds, a grip of friendship that won’t let go. And then, we walk in His presence. Or, better, it is then that He carries us as little children into the battle with the Evil One, Himself doing the fighting for us, but we with Him. The solidarity of justice and mercy as one. He’s the One.

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Did you know that Mary’s Baby Boy is the great “I AM”?

finding christ in the temple bloch

Firstly, the painting: This is the Finding of Christ in the Temple by Carl Heinrich Bloch (†1890) of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. “Read,” if you will, about the moment Mary sees Jesus by reading the expression of the already bar-mitzvahed boy sitting on the steps of the temple. That boy sees her anguish, and that she’s the mother of Jesus who’s busy with his own bar-mitzvah. The boy on the steps is already running his own business of selling “a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24). He has rope in hand, ready to tie up the feet of his captives to hand over in a bundle to anyone buying them for the sacrifice. Mary did make such a purchase twelve years earlier when Jesus had been presented in the Temple. Luke recounts Simeon’s words to Mary at that time, words that we are supposed to remember now: Continue reading

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To (Arch)Bishops: Pope Francis’ Missionary of Mercy’s invitation to Victims of Abuse and to Treatment Centers for Priests

pope francis

The parameters within which the Missionaries of Mercy work are defined more or less by the national boundaries and territories of the episcopal conference of the Missionary’s domicile. The bishops will eventually be sent the entire list from which they can request a Missionary if they don’t already have one or they need more help. In the U.S.A., the ratio is about one Missionary for every two (arch)dioceses.

A Missionary doesn’t always wait. I would like to push those who think they may be ineligible to ask how it is that mercy works its effects to go ahead and push their bishops or other ecclesiastical superiors for such an event during this Year of Mercy. I’m asking (arch)bishops and religious superiors not to wait for those who may feel ineligible to ask to just make it happen for them.

So, I’m asking (arch)bishops and religious superiors to schedule events in their Cathedrals and in Treatment Centers for Priests with Pope Francis’ Missionaries of Mercy, events which offer such encouragement about mercy, specifically for those who have been abused, and specifically for those who have been the abusers. I’m available for either kind of event. It is imperative that all know the goodness and kindness, the peace and joy our Lord Jesus, who loves us all so very much.

Just to say: this blog is followed by many in Silver Spring, MD, in Albuquerque, NM, and in Dittmer, MO, et al. There is an interest.

Just to say: This is what Pope Francis wants. Do what you need to do to help bring healing to all.

Contact me at an old but still active email address, which is holy souls hermitage [one word] at gmail dot com.

— Father George David Byers

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On those who mercilessly attack priests

Graphic from wdtprs

Readers will surely recognize the parody masthead worked up by wdtprs. One happily resorts to such things when defending one’s friends. And today I should like to defend a priest-friend, indeed, many priest friends, even myself[!] from the attacks at the epicenter of all that is not Catholic.

It seems that Schismatic Reporter Peter Feuerherd has taken to attacking priests with a vengeance, choosing the very opening day of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy to do his hatchet job.

He happily reports descriptions of “‘restorationist’ approaches to liturgy and church governance.” There are complaints that the priest he is especially targeting (about 70 miles from my parish) mercifully preached about the great mercy of praying for the repose of the souls of the faithful departed during a funeral homily. Imagine that, praying for our loved ones: such a crime!

Feuerherd says that “the restoration movement, popular among some newly-ordained priests, grew during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. Broadly defined, the movement has called for a leaner, muscular church, more attached to ancient liturgical traditions with a strict interpretation of Catholic doctrines and practices.” I mean, what does he want? A more effeminate, limp-wristed Church which has no sense of the liturgy of the Lord of History? A loosey-loose understanding of doctrine and morality so that it is a virtue to believe whatever in hell you want to believe and do whatever in hell you want to do? Is that merciful, Peter Feuerherd? Just a question? Did I mischaracterize you? Put words in your mouth?

And apparently, the pastor is supposed to live in a structure that is “uninhabitable and desperately needed renovations.” We have a pastor who is on his third year of medical leave because of doing just that. Just wondering if there is any mean-spiritedness going on here. Just a question. You tell me.

Peter, you quote “A retired priest of the Charlotte diocese.” I know him. Nice guy. I really have to wonder if he said what you said he did. It doesn’t sound like him.

Anyway, the reason why I complain is that beating up on priests like this, for small things not in accord with your personal preference, that is, against them for just doing what they are supposed to do, to be priests for their flock, is a great disservice to the Church. It puts a damper on people going to confession to these priests. And that, Peter, it seems to me, while not being a civil or canonical crime, is something you’ll have to answer for before God, or at least that is my question to you. Your accusers will be those parishioners, no? Just a question you might like to answer for yourself in a quiet moment.

This year is about mercy. Let’s put the emphasis on mercy and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit, who was sent for the forgiveness of sins.

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Immaculate Conception – Year of Mercy

LOURDES-GROTTO

Father George David Byers: PDF of conference on the Immaculate Conception and Genesis 3:15 (2,4a–3,24) at the Institute of the Incarnate Word in Chillum, MD (Washington, D.C) – 7 Feburary 2013

Here’s the full PDF version of the thesis: Father George David Byers: Genesis 2,4a-3,24 – Two Generations in one day

  • Yes, the Immaculate Conception is to be found in Genesis 3:15
  • Yes, there is original sin by propagation, not imitation
  • Yes, there is a promise of a Redeemer, the how and the why.

I don’t know how else to say it, but it needs to be said:

  • This is what Blessed Pope Pius IX was looking for from his exegetes in the early 1850s before declaring that Mary was immaculately conceived… and didn’t get it.
  • This is what the Venerable Pope Pius XII was looking for from his exegetes in the 1940s before declaring that Mary was assumed soul and body into heaven… and didn’t get it.

After my Licentiate in Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute (Jerusalem and Rome), I stayed on in the library to write an STD, though at another University for political reasons. Six pontifical universities were following the progress of the thesis. I gave it to enemies of the conclusions so that they might attack the logic, the method, whatever. Nothing, they couldn’t do it. This was a massive undertaking of historical philology, a truly brutal, unrelenting, historical critical work. In honor of Mary. It’s her gift to me to give back to her.

On this occasion of the opening of the Year of Mercy, 8 December, 2015, the best thing I can do as a Missionary of Mercy is to offer this research to the Church. I hope this will be a long and detailed series. This is biggest thank you I can give to Pope Francis for his act of governance on my behalf on 24 June 2015.

Why open the Holy Year on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception?

  • Is it because it’s the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II? Yes.
  • Is it because it’s the feast of the Immaculate Conception? Yes.

Don’t forget, the most emotional moment for the entire assembly of bishops was about Mary, Mother of the Church, a title pronounced by Venerable Pope Paul VI. The applause went for something like 10 to 12 minutes. It’s really hard to clap for two full minutes. This was 10 to 12.

Mary is also Mother of Mercy

In her immaculate conception she has clarity of vision, that is, purity of heart and agility of soul, transformed in grace from the first moment of her conception. In looking at her Divine Son tortured to death on the Cross, she can perfectly see the need of every man from Adam until the last man is conceived. Just for being in solidarity with her Son, she can perfectly intercede for us for what we need. She is mediatrix of all graces, co-redemptrix as one of us who asks for what we need from God, from Jesus. These are her labor pains for us. This is where she becomes our Mother of Mercy.

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Analyzing the attack on Archbishop Fisichella and Pope Francis: Epistemology of the New Evangelization in Mercy

A really obnoxious student of mercy not yet sure how to learn about mercy, who needs the mercy of the possibility of conversion.

Diane Montagna, reporting at Aleteia on the reserved matters that the Missionaries of Mercy will have faculties to resolve, provides this:

Regarding what constitutes “physical violence” against the Pope, Archbishop Fisichella told journalists at Friday’s briefing: “I would say that we need to understand well ‘physical violence,’ because sometimes words, too, are rocks and stones, and therefore I believe some of these sins, too, are far more widespread than we might think.”

And that quip was enough to send people into a rage of sarcasm directed both at Archbishop Fisichella and our Holy Father, Pope Francis.

The lack of a spirit of dialogue was evident with people giving others a platform to whine by speaking of what they called a lack of purity in the usage of metaphors in the Archbishop’s statement. Without citing a long diatribe of one of the Fathers of the Church against those who spend all their time on the purity of language so as not to see the point of what is being presented by an interlocutor (such as the Scriptures themselves), I must say that all of this places into evidence the need for what Francis calls a Synodal Church, precisely what I think is going to be Step Two in Pope Francis’ plan for the Church. We need to understand some things:

  • Fraternal correction, direct, incisive, public, against even one’s own ecclesiastical superiors, is something which the Common Doctor deems to be especially obnoxious, though, he admits that this is sometimes necessary in order, for instance, to combat great scandal.
  • Fraternal correction of one’s superiors, however ferocious, may also be the very greatest sign of filial devotion and loyalty and, indeed, obedience, not wanting their superiors to be without any counsel just because they hold a certain office. I call this “the very greatest sign” of mercy because it often places one in a position of being marginalized without mercy into the existential peripheries.
  • There is, however, needless sniping, which breeds real contempt for priests and bishops and, indeed, the Holy Father. This is a very great evil which has been combated throughout the centuries by so very many saints, even if it is not slander, but “merely” detraction. If it is not necessary to say something to protect the faith and well being of the flock, it really needs to remain in silence.

This last point needs some explanation, and regards mercy. Let’s use a common example some younger priests encounter when trying to clean up the clericalism instilled in some parishes by some of their predecessors. Parishioners might well damn such a priest to hell with terrible bitterness while they watch their long-entrenched support of clericalism and all their self-referential structures of power groups which enable clericalism go down the tubes. However gracious and welcoming the priest is in setting about to do this, if the reaction is bitterness and gossip and putting down the priest needlessly, just how many such people, I ask you, do you think are going to be lining up piously for confession in that parish or any parish? To strike out in such manner against the Lord’s anointed, whether priest or bishop or, indeed, bishop of Rome, can, in fact, sometimes be a sin as Archbishop Fisichella pointed out to us, and that sin can do untold damage to the cura animarum, to the care of souls, even more serious than a physical attack on the person of the Holy Father could ever be. Archbishop Fisichella’s point is well taken by those willing to listen.

And yet, there seems to be an almost demonic glee in needless criticism.

And now we arrive at the point of this article, a note on the epistemology of the new evangelization of mercy.

I think Pope Francis has a great deal to offer the Church. I think that, finally, I understand him, what makes him tick, what he wants for the Church and the world. I have learned much from him about surging out to the peripheries, especially in this last number of weeks. I am thankful. But this has been a painful journey for me. And it took me a while to get to this point, precisely for the reason that Pope Francis really does have a great deal to offer the Church. More on that in future articles.

True learning is painful, since it manifests to oneself that which one would rather remain in the darkness. True learning wrenches opens one’s heart and soul. The greatest saints, says the Angelic doctor, are the ones who knew this pain most often. This is an agonizing process, during which one might offer some loyal criticism, and during which some might fall into rebellious criticism. Just as I think the first should be received with thanksgiving, so the rest should be received with patience in anticipation of the day of understanding. Thus, for example:

There were some exaggerations in the liturgy by certain priests and bishops after Vatican II, especially in the early 1970s, you know, sacrileges such as pouring unused carafes of the Precious Blood down the sacristy work-sink (not even the sacrarium) after Mass because such people did not believe in the Eucharist. I saw it. Others saw similar things. Many rebelled, becoming sede-vacantists, or sede-privationists. Some became extremely bitter, but would still come to the “indult” Mass or now the “Extraordinary Form” Mass. Some of these would let their bitterness fly with no provocation and with the most horrific language concerning their truly bad experiences. Of course, some unjust judgments were also made by some of them about those who had nothing to do with such things, but my reaction was to have no reaction, except to be welcoming. This was disarming and won many friends. So much so that even this or that mistake of whatever Bishop of Rome is also seen with an eye to mercy. One might look hard at this image and at oneself:

pope francis confession

We eagerly encourage that those who now criticize Pope Francis needlessly and with such vehemence will take up the words of Amedeo Minghi about himself when confronted with the Francis-like evangelization of mercy of Saint JPII: “Che Caino sono pure io…” “What a Cain I am myself…” That says it all.

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033 Prodigal Mercy: Found in an unexpected “revolution in tenderness” – Mercy based on Justice, for a Post-Synodal Year of Mercy

PRODIGAL SON

My most favorite monochrome watercolor. The dog clinches it.

The heart of the Gospels is the mercy presented as the mandate of Jesus’ mission in the parable of the merciful father in Luke 15:11-32, a parable usually entitled by the one receiving that mercy, the prodigal son, though the one most in need of mercy, to whom mercy is also offered, is the elder son, who, in his own heart, insists on living in the darkest of existential peripheries to which Jesus is especially sent. So, just where is it that one is to find this prodigal mercy in the Year of Mercy? If you don’t know why it is that that’s the wrong question, then know that you’re a self-absorbed Promethean neo-Pelagian who is more in need of a revolution in tender mercy than ever. :-)

PIB Jerusalem

Biblicum in Jerusalem. There’s my room!

Decades into my own lifelong search for mercy, not knowing that the very search was, in itself, keeping me away from the profoundest of mercies, pretending to myself that I, with merely my own cleverness, could somehow find mercy, I used my years at the Pontifical Biblical Institute to put Lk 15:11-32 to a relentless scientific analysis. I discovered logistical anomalies in the papyri and codices written in whatever language and century and location, with those copyists’ versions predating and influencing some important Patristic commentary that could only confirm Pelagius in his Promethian perspective, but which also was the occasion for Saint Augustine, in answer to such dark self-absorption, to come up with a theology of grace that was to inspire Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Council of Trent and so many who have since been declared to be the Doctors of the Church because of their commentary on the spiritual life to be put into action for all those still trapped in the darkest of existential peripheries. It all comes down to mercy, which we would do well to appreciate with all due justice.

ecole biblique

École biblique et archéologique française de Jérusalem. So often a library rat here.

Discovering this birthing of theological development in the days of yore, I was entrenched all the more into thinking I could find mercy. I then subjecting the inspired words of the Holy Spirit to more philological, linguistic and literary analyses, more forays into historically and archeologically verified Sitz im Leben, more of all that is… more. Only after all that personal work, I then read pretty much all there is to read in whatever language or century or location of whatsoever author about Lk 15:11-32 in all of its various contexts and levels thereof, whether in commentaries, studies, articles, Festschriften, theses, archived class prep notes of famous professors, et alia, whatever was available in the best Scripture libraries throughout Rome, Jerusalem, New York, and so many monastic libraries, I was set to put all this to the test with independent courses and seminars and exam research papers for various professors, and did, so that Maurice Gilbert, SJ. – past rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in both Rome and Jerusalem, and who consulted for Saint John Paul II’s encyclical on mercy, Dives in misericordia – said that I knew more than anyone alive today about Lk 15:11-32, which statement, after having also done the licentiate thesis with the then rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, Klemens Stock, SJ – who was later to become Secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission – I might agree, unfortunately entrenching myself all the more into the idiocy of thinking that I myself under my own power and with my own cleverness might find mercy.

warthog

Me!

There I was, living a life like the prodigal son, ζῶν ἀσώτως (without salvation: Lk 15:13), hotly desiring to shove the carob pods of the pigs down my throat but not being able to ask for the same, enslaved to the world to which I had sold myself. I had made my clever plan to eat my cake and have it as well, thinking I was back with our Heavenly Father but still staying away like those not in the family, remaining ‘in control.’ I went through all the motions to come back, but did not find any mercy. Jesus points out the disconnect:

“You analyze the Scriptures, because it seems to you that you have eternal life in them, and they are bearing witness to me, but you do not want to come to me so that you may have life” (Jn 5:39-40).

pope francis confession

All of us!

But then, despite myself being a self-absorbed Promethian Neo-Pelagian, there it was, a “revolution in tenderness,” a turning of the tables wrought by our Lord, I not finding His mercy, but He finding me by His mercy, His misericordia, His misery of heart by which He takes my need into His own Heart and fulfills that need as if it were His own, sacrificing His Heart in this way for me. The word used for Jesus’ mercy here and reserved elsewhere in the Gospels only for Jesus is ἐσπλαγχνίσθη (His Heart was sacrificed).

DOUBTING THOMAS

My Lord and my God!

Overwhelmed by His love, His invitation, the embrace of a loving Father for his son, I was unable to continue with my planned confession, with my being in control. I simply let myself be loved by Him. No more trusting in my own strength which I don’t have anyway. It is to be immersed in the joy of the Holy Spirit to take note of the Lord’s ironic use of our weakness for our sanctification. This joy has us be totally at ease, not at all getting nervous with the effects, the weaknesses brought about by original sin, by our own stupidity, weakness of mind, weakness of will, emotions all over the place, sickness, death, those things being merely the cross used to follow our Lord, seeing clearly just how far He had to reach to get us, and humbly thanking Him for this, rejoicing in this being brought back to life from a life without salvation, a living death now thrown aside not by us but by Him. Do I still sin? Daily. Do I still go to Confession? Frequently. Is our Lord good and kind? Very much so.

PIB Rome

Biblicum in Rome. Years with the angels, my colleagues.

But entering into the celebration, over which the angels themselves rejoice, I cannot but pray to the Father in anguish that he go out to the darkest of existential peripheries once again, to invite my “elder brother” back into the celebration. I follow Him out to the field hospital, to my brother, well within a stone’s throw, then right there, at the ready with gauze and bandages and splints and blood and a bit of whiskey for pain… We’ve all crucified the Son of the Living God. He’s redeemed all of us. We must be in anguish until the many are brought into the celebration of salvation. But it’s a bit of a fright: “This, your son.” “This, your brother.” Ferocious.

P.S. Did I convert from being a lifelong entrenched conservative to being a new-born liberal? No. Yuck. Conservatives can sin you know. And not just with impatience and arrogance and judging oneself to be better than others. Conservative or liberal? One is as good as the other. See Romans 7. More on that later. And more on Mercy based on Justice later. It’s O.K. to be thankful for Jesus’ mercy. Take note: this is about being invited by Jesus to know His Life, His Truth, His Goodness, His Kindness, His Mercy, His Joy, His celebrating of mercy received. It’s all about Him. Jesus is the One. Only Jesus.

THE UPSHOT: Mercy in the year of mercy after the Synod on the Family is all about showing the kind of mercy to others that will let them know that they are the loved sons and daughters of God, bringing them by this invitation to joy right into the loving embrace of our Heavenly Father, right into the Family of Faith. It’s not about people finding mercy. It’s about finding them with mercy, with the love of Jesus, the joy of Jesus. Only the Mercy of Jesus.

UPDATE: See Father Gordon J MacRae’s article entitled: “Pope Francis Has a Challenge for the Prodigal Son’s Older Brother.” Also, witness the incredible story of mercy of Pornchai Maximilian Moontri at Mercy to the Max.

– Father George David Byers

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