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Bible Reflections View Comments

Pushing the Boundaries
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, June 16, 2013
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For Holy Thursday this year, newly elected Pope Francis announced his decision to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a juvenile correctional facility, where he washed the feet of twelve young offenders: male and female, black and white, Christian and Muslim. He emphasized again and again that this action was a sign of humility and service, a reminder of Christ’s example. Above all, he wanted to convey to these young people (and through his actions, to us) the importance of mercy and of hope.

Many people were shocked by this departure from tradition by the pope. Some went so far as to call it a bad example for a pope to set. Others were delighted at the pope’s willingness to reach beyond categories and expectations. His behavior certainly wasn’t without precedent.

In our Gospel for this Sunday, we hear of the woman who was a known sinner in the town lavishing both perfume and affection on Jesus. She had no need to hide the sins in her past because she knew the grace and forgiveness of God’s greater love. People in the town saw only her sin. Jesus saw beyond the sin to a potential for healing and redemption.

Simon the Pharisee, in whose house this display took place, was shocked, dismayed, and disapproving. He saw only what he wanted to see. He didn’t see his own failure to provide basic hospitality to his guest. He didn’t see how much he was reserving judgment on Jesus until he was sure he was backing the right man. That kind of caution is not always a virtue.

Part of the problem that some of the Pharisees had was that they had come to believe in their own reputation for perfection. Our first reading reminds us of the dangers of that attitude.

David was the greatest king in Israel’s history. He was a celebrity par excellence. And, like so many of the celebrities in our own time, he had flaws that could not remain hidden forever. The Scriptures hold up David as a model not only of leadership but of penitence. How sincere he was in his sorrow is for God, not us, to judge. But we can learn an important lesson from the scene in today’s first reading.

Today’s first reading outlines David’s notorious sin of committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband killed through a military ruse. David admits to his sin and receives God’s forgiveness through Nathan.

Too often we do everything we can to avoid admitting our sins, even our mistakes. We blame other people. We make excuses. We find ways to justify our actions. We have come to believe that the appearance of perfection is more important than honesty and integrity. Looking good has become more important than doing the right thing. It’s become nearly impossible for people to say, “I was wrong. I made a mistake. I sinned.” It’s easy to talk about the bad thing someone else has done. It’s much more difficult to admit personal responsibility.

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone sins. There’s no real shame in that. Jesus came to show us that not having the courage to admit our mistakes and move on is the greater fault. His example, held up to us again by Pope Francis, challenges us to move beyond the boundaries of decorum to the wonder of unbounded grace.


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Alphonsus Liguori: 
		<p>Moral theology, Vatican II said, should be more thoroughly nourished by Scripture, and show the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world. Alphonsus, declared patron of moral theologians by Pius XII in 1950, would rejoice in that statement.</p>
		<p>In his day, Alphonsus fought for the liberation of moral theology from the rigidity of Jansenism. His moral theology, which went through 60 editions in the century following him, concentrated on the practical and concrete problems of pastors and confessors. If a certain legalism and minimalism crept into moral theology, it should not be attributed to this model of moderation and gentleness.</p>
		<p>At the University of Naples he received, at the age of 16, a doctorate in both canon and civil law by acclamation, but she oon gave up the practice of law for apostolic activity. He was ordained a priest and concentrated his pastoral efforts on popular (parish) missions, hearing confessions, forming Christian groups. </p>
		<p>He founded the Redemptorist congregation in 1732. It was an association of priests and brothers living a common life, dedicated to the imitation of Christ, and working mainly in popular missions for peasants in rural areas. Almost as an omen of what was to come later, he found himself deserted, after a while, by all his original companions except one lay brother. But the congregation managed to survive and was formally approved 17 years later, though its troubles were not over. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus’ great pastoral reforms were in the pulpit and confessional—replacing the pompous oratory of the time with simplicity, and the rigorism of Jansenism with kindness. His great fame as a writer has somewhat eclipsed the fact that for 26 years he traveled up and down the Kingdom of Naples, preaching popular missions. </p>
		<p>He was made bishop (after trying to reject the honor) at 66 and at once instituted a thorough reform of his diocese. </p>
		<p>His greatest sorrow came toward the end of his life. The Redemptorists, precariously continuing after the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, had difficulty in getting their Rule approved by the Kingdom of Naples. Alphonsus acceded to the condition that they possess no property in common, but a royal official, with the connivance of a high Redemptorist official, changed the Rule substantially. Alphonsus, old, crippled and with very bad sight, signed the document, unaware that he had been betrayed. The Redemptorists in the Papal States then put themselves under the pope, who withdrew those in Naples from the jurisdiction of Alphonsus. It was only after his death that the branches were united. </p>
		<p>At 71 he was afflicted with rheumatic pains which left incurable bending of his neck; until it was straightened a little, the pressure of his chin caused a raw wound on his chest. He suffered a final 18 months of “dark night” scruples, fears, temptations against every article of faith and every virtue, interspersed with intervals of light and relief, when ecstasies were frequent. </p>
		<p>Alphonsus is best known for his moral theology, but he also wrote well in the field of spiritual and dogmatic theology. His <i>Glories of Mary</i> is one of the great works on that subject, and his book <i>Visits to the Blessed Sacrament</i> went through 40 editions in his lifetime, greatly influencing the practice of this devotion in the Church.</p>
American Catholic Blog Those who want to participate more fully in salvation history are comforted by the fact that Jesus wants to walk with us in our suffering and wants to break bread to give us strength on our way.

 
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