Without a doubt, Pope Francis’ fist visit to the States was magnificent and moving. It was not that he carried an air of royalty that drew the crowds, but it was his humility and humbleness that beckoned them. Just like Jesus, whenever he saw the crowds, the Pope looked for the weak, the sick and the young. The Pope definitely had a good eye for them because the newscasters revealed many glimpses of him stopping his chauffeur driven little Fiat so he could mingle with these special ones. Like Jesus, this anointed one was given the grace to embrace the sick and to put his face against theirs. May all Christians pray that we will have the same anointing to do the same.
Because of his visit, many, both Catholic and of different denominations, have begun to read the contents of his talks. One, in particular had drawn the interest of someone who wrote to question the intent of the Pope. The article of question can be viewed on https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/transcript-pope-franciss-comments-at-st-patricks-cathedral/2015/09/24/eaba43c0-6311-11e5-8e9e-dce8a2a2a679_story.html
With no intent to embarrass or offend the one who questioned, I share my response…
When Jesus walked on earth, he was completely human and completely God. How He managed to keep the two separate is a complete mystery. Nevertheless, it was only through His human form that Jesus could die; we know this as truth because God cannot die.
So…let’s examine the article again and the context in which Pope Francis had spoken the portion in question… (NOTE: I have “highlighted” the words that will be pertinent in the discussion.)
“Yet, if we are honest, we know how easily this spirit of generous self-sacrifice can be dampened. There are a couple of ways that this can happen; both are examples of that “spiritual worldliness” which weakens our commitment to serve and diminishes the wonder of our first encounter with Christ.
We can get caught up measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success which govern the business world. Not that these things are unimportant! We have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and God’s people rightly expect accountability from us. But the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in God’s eyes. To see and evaluate things from God’s perspective calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, great humility. The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus… and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.”
To me, Pope Francis was encouraging the people not to give up hope in the work God has called them to do. In the Catholic faith, the works of the people are a reflection of the faith they have in God. A person cannot truly say he/she is a Christian if he/she rejects to serve the poor or intentionally rejects to love another. The Catholic faith embraces the fact that faith without action is dead. Every encounter with Jesus leads to transformation and as we are transformed, our thoughts and actions begin to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
In his address, the Pope mentions that there is tendency to measure one’s apostolic works based on the standards of the world. He then moves the reader to understand that the best standard of measure is based on its value in God’s eyes. I will use the Believe Street Meal as an example. In the earlier years, we have had people drop by to say that our actions were merely there to encourage others to be dependent on others. However, if we look at the situation through God’s eyes, we recognize the hunger pangs and the distress of the people we serve and we pray that our service will help them see that God still cares for them in their times of trials and He has called us to share with them the gifts of faith and hope.
Going back to his address, I believe the Pope is showing that in human terms, Jesus didn’t seem to accomplish anything because he ended up dead. In human terms, that would have meant the end of everything. Although He took on all the sins of the world, He was dead just like the other sacrificial lambs. HOWEVER, Jesus was and is still God and so He was able to rise up from the dead, breaking the curse of death and breaking all the bondages of sin. It was through His resurrection that Jesus reveals to the world that death (as a consequence of original sin) has no hold on Him.
“if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation”.…Romans 10:9-10
I believe it is Jesus’ resurrection that distinguishes the difference between the Jews and the Christians. The Jews are still waiting for the Messiah, whereas we Christians recognize that Jesus IS the Messiah and His death was not futile because the Holy Spirit raised Him from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection gives us victory over sin and death.
You write…”When I die, I go directly into His presence. That is my belief. And when I come to His presence, I will not be judged because God no longer sees ANY of my sins. I basically have inherited complete righteousness due to Christ’s sacrifice for me. If I have to go through repeated self-condemnation and keep asking for forgiveness, that means Christ did not do a good job. It is, pretty much, nailing Him back on the cross again and again.”
Yes, all those who profess with conviction that Jesus is Lord and Saviour will return to our Father. However, in Revelations, there is mention of the 2nd death…
Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death. Revelations 2:11
Then I saw a great white throne and the one who sat on it; the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. Revelations 20:11-15
In the Catholic faith, although we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we realize that we are still subjected to concupisence (the effects of original sin).
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin
and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6
In this case, I have quoted the entire 6th chapter of the Book of Romans as it clearly explains that as long as we remain here on earth, we are continuously subjected to temptations to sin. Whether we like it or not, we will continue to sin and hence the verse…
even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;… Romans 3:22-24
This is the reason why it is important to continue to acknowledge and confess our sins because we continue to fall short of the glory of God. Unless we can honestly say that we are no longer sinning, we do need to confess to God that we have fallen and we ask for His mercy and grace to forgive us and to help us walk faithfully to finish the race in victory.
May we all continue to ask our Father for the grace and strength to stand strong in Him and may the Holy Spirit brings us back Home safely and victoriously into the loving arms of our Father.