I'm sure none of us have failed to notice that Pope Francis has been trying to give us a different impression of our church, of the Catholic community, the people of faith following Jesus. He has insisted that our church should be, as he described it, "more like a field hospital," a welcoming place taking in the wounded and serving them, ministering to them, not a place of judgment and condemnation.
He has written an encyclical and declared a whole year of proclaiming God's mercy saying, "The name of God is mercy." The name of God is mercy, is love, forgiveness. It's the very nature of God. Some people have been critical of Pope Francis, wanting more of the judgmental church that we were kind of used to, a church that was quick to condemn and to think of people in a negative way because they're sinners. Francis is saying, "No, that's not the kind of church Jesus established when he called together his disciples into the first Christian community."
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
If we listen to the Scriptures today, isn't it just crystal clear that Pope Francis is really following the right way? God is a God of mercy and love. The very nature of God is love. Where there is love there is God. Saint John in his first letter reminds us of that. In the first lesson today, David, the great king of the Chosen people, especially chosen by God to be their ruler, has committed a horrendous sin, committed adultery with the wife of Uriah.
Then he sends for Uriah and tries to cover up his sin, and ultimately sends Uriah back into the battle and asks that he be put in a place where he will be killed. So David becomes responsible for his death and then takes his wife as his own -- a sin of violence and unfaithfulness. But then Nathan confronts David, and David begins to realize what he has done. He openly confesses his failure, "I have sinned." What's the response? Immediately he is forgiven.
Immediately God reaches out in mercy and forgiveness because David is ready to acknowledge, "I have failed. I have sinned. I am guilty." God forgives. It's a fulfillment of what Isaiah, the prophet, said at one point in the book of Isaiah, "God is always waiting to be gracious to us." As soon as David turns to God for forgiveness, the forgiveness is there. God is waiting to forgive. That's how God is.
In the second lesson St. Paul himself, one who was very judgmental, who was out to condemn those who were not utterly faithful to every part of the Jewish law (He himself had tried to observe it with great strictness and thought that he was earning God's love), suddenly Paul is confronted by Jesus in that mystical experience where he is thrown to the ground and he sees Jesus asking him, "Why do you persecute me?"
Paul says, "Who am I persecuting?" "Jesus of Nazareth." Paul realizes Jesus is alive. Jesus has come to bring God's gift of love to Paul. Paul realizes that he can't earn that; it's totally a gift. Jesus enters into his life and changes him by his mercy and forgiveness. Obviously in the Gospel lesson, it's a very clear example of how Jesus reaches out to the sinner. Simon, so sure of himself, so righteous, "How can this man not know this is a public sinner and let her touch him, come close to him? What kind of a prophet is that?"
But then Jesus reminds Simon that in his righteousness he wasn't even hospitable, carrying out the ordinary responsibilities of a host to a guest. But the woman had done it for Jesus. She had done it because she was pouring forth her love on Jesus who had forgiven her sins. She had been forgiven much; she loved much. That's the lesson Jesus draws -- the one who is forgiven much will love much.
As we reflect on these readings, I hope we really begin to understand what Pope Francis is trying to do within our church -- to change it from a church that is judgmental, sometimes harsh, sometimes condemnatory, into a church that is like God -- always merciful, always welcoming, always drawing people in by being like a field hospital -- taking the wounded, the crestfallen, the suffering, and making them a part of our community, drawing together a community of love and forgiveness.
We forgive one another. That's where it starts -- in our homes. We forgive our friends. We forgive those in our neighborhood. We forgive those in our community. We try always to reach out in forgiveness, reconciliation. As we do that we are imitating God who is mercy, who is love, who is forgiveness. If each of us could humbly and deeply, in a profound sort of way, come to understand what God has done for us because immediately as we stand before God as a sinner, God forgives us.
If we can understand that, accept that love of God poured forth upon us, it would change us like it changed that woman, like it changed Paul, and enable us to be people who reach out in love to one another. That's the kind of church that Francis is trying to promote in our world so that we become a community sharing that gift of God's love with one another. But letting it go beyond our community into our world where we become the very agent of God to bring God's love and goodness, ultimately God's peace into our world where there is so much lack of love, so much hatred, so much violence.
It starts with our first understanding and our standing before God saying, "I am a sinner," receiving God's forgiveness, then responding with love and carrying that love wherever we go. That's what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. That's the kind of church we're called to be. I pray that each of us will continue to try to deeply understand how God is always a God of mercy, forgiveness, and love, and imitate that God in our everyday life.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Parish, Detroit, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]
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