Monday, November 13, 2017

Disappointment or Hope

Here in Richmond we are sill without a bishop, and it has been fascinating over the last few months to read and listen as we all express our wish list regarding the new Bishop of Richmond. Even Jesus himself couldn’t fulfill everyone’s list of hopes and in some cases demands. What we can be guaranteed is that the Pope will name a new bishop who is a fragile, sinful human being like all of his predecessors. In short, the new bishop will be just like all of us. 

In today’s gospel Jesus instructs us that

if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.

We Christians are quick to say, “We are all sinner”, and yet we want to pretend that our leaders are not. We want to pretend that our Popes, bishops, or pastors are somehow immune from the normal human experience. Some of the young ones who seek to build their “careers,” expend great amounts of energy on the appearance of sinkessness And then, when their fragility comes to light we are at least disappointed and at most scandalized. 

This is not to say, that we should simply except whatever behavior comes. It is important to note that today’s gospel does not say that we are to forgive the unrepentant. Elsewhere we are told the process for dealing with them which may include what we call excommunication (“treat them as you would a tax collector”). 

Today’s gospel reflects Jesus’s perfect understanding of human nature. His understanding that people can change but it does not happen in an instant. The    truly repentant person may have sincere contrition, and may with a true intention to change confess their sin and ask for forgiveness, and then fall into the sin multiple times before, with the help of God’s grace they are able to overcome the sin. And as often as they pick themselves up and start over we are required to forgive, in the same way we hope to be forgiven. 

Pope Francis has more than once, and to the chagrin of some, said of himself, “I am a sinner.”  There are not a few who find this pope too human. The fact that we pray in a particular way at every mass for the Pope, the bishops, and all the clergy is not a mere formality. Our Church has always recognized that our leaders stand in need of prayer.  When we speak of papal infallibility it is only in connection with certain matters of faith and morals, it is not in regard to sinlessness. Jesus and Mary are the only two who can claim that title. 

Not a one of the original twelve was perfect. The gospels do not even attempt to gloss over their flaws. St. Paul boasts of his frailty as a basis for his utter dependence on grace.  

Every week around the world, sadly, there are people who walk away from their church because they didn’t like something their pastor said or did. And often they are justified in feeling offended because the pastor did something stupid. But walking away is not the Christian response. The Church never walks away from ome of its members and we never walk away from the Church. We forgive and we keep moving forward toward the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.