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The Last Word - March 2015

Forgiveness and Permission

It's a dilemma. We all know that we are commanded to love all people, loving them and showing mercy and forgiveness when they offend against God's law. But Jesus also calls all people to a higher morality, a higher standard, and to continuing conversion and repentance. These two -- love of all people and the call to live in accord with God's law -- can often come into conflict. “Love the sinner but hate the sin,” we are told. Wouldn't it be nice if it were that easy?

It is a balancing act really. You can so love the sinner that you give that person the impression you have no objection to his or her behavior, that there is no need for change, for repentance, for conversion. Or you can so hate the sin that the sinner experiences this as rejection of him or her, as alienating and rejecting him or her as a person.

So how do we offer forgiveness, mercy, and love without that forgiveness being experienced as permission? How do we show understanding and compassion without giving up our moral principles and the principles of the Gospel? And how do we preach a high morality and the commandments of God without discouraging the weak and without seeming to be without mercy for the complicated lives that people live and the messes that we all, at times, get ourselves into?

We have all had to face this dilemma at one time or another. Maybe we have a friend or a son or daughter or brother or sister who does not go to Church anymore or is married outside the Church. Do you talk about it at all with them and, if so, how do you do it without seeming to push them away?

This is a problem the Church has faced from the very beginning. And it is, as you read this, a debate is going on at the Vatican, in our dioceses, and even in our parishes in preparation for the synod scheduled to take place in Rome in October of this year. The issues are those surrounding marriage and the family and, yes, sexuality, an area where the Church's teaching and credibility has been sorely stained in recent years. It is an area where the Church's teaching is often misunderstood. It is an area where that teaching has not always been well expressed. It is an area where the teaching comes into direct conflict with the norms of our society. It is an area where many of those in church with us every weekend and generously engaged in the life of the parish sometimes disagree with the teaching of the Church. It is an area where, even when the Church's teaching is accepted, change cannot always take place overnight.

In the months to come, some will seem to lean a little more toward mercy, while others will lean a bit more toward teaching the traditional morality. There will be a temptation to cast this discussion in terms of good guys and bad guys, liberal versus conservative, right against left, or in terms of winning and losing. It is important to understand that we are all on the same side, however much we may be unsure how to balance these two seemingly opposed ideas. We are all, each in our own way, striving for that one goal, which is the salvation of souls.

Rev. Msgr. Michael Henchal