Arts and Culture

God’s Love for Sinners

by Father Robert Lauder

Second in a series

Reading through for the third time the “famous” interview that the pope gave in August and which was published in Jesuit magazines throughout the world in late September, I continue to find that Pope Francis is giving me wonderful, insightful and hope-filled advice about how I should be a priest and how I should relate to those I serve.

I very much like the pope’s emphasis on mystery and on the profound truth that Catholic dogma and belief should lead us into the future with confidence and hope. Francis points out that if one is a restorationist and a legalist and wants everything safe and clear, then that person will be frustrated. No one can understand God completely, but because of God sending His Son among us, we can have a deep relationship with our Savior and Redeemer. Pope Francis writes the following:

“Tradition and memory of the past must help us to have the courage to open up new areas to God. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions, those who long for an exaggerated doctrinal ‘security,’ those who stubbornly try to recover a past that no longer exists – they have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way faith becomes an ideology among other ideologies.”

Greatest Mystery of All

Probably all of us when dealing with profound mysteries want what is being taught and proclaimed to be crystal clear, even when we are dealing with Christian faith. While Christian dogma is profoundly true, it cannot be crystal clear because it deals with the greatest mystery of all, the mystery of God, and with another great mystery, the mystery of the human person.

Pope Francis is telling us to have courage. What we believe about God’s love for us should enable us to place ourselves in God’s hands with hope. I know this is very important, even though for most of my life, I have found this difficult to do. I feel a little like St. Paul, who wrote that the good that he wanted to do, he did not do, and the evil that he did not want to do, he actually did.

All of us are sinners, but the presence of God in our lives should free and liberate us to be people of hope.

I think that Pope Francis comes across as a person who has enormous confidence in God. He radiates Christian hope, and I believe he will help us to be people of hope. For me, one of the most important remarks that he made in the interview is the following:

“I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”

Living Without God

At some time in my training or in my ministry, I accepted the image that God left a person’s life when the person committed a serious sin. The image led me to think of people who did not attend the Eucharist on Sundays or were in a second non-sacramental marriage or had been unfaithful to their marriage vows as living without God’s presence in their lives. The image I had was that somehow such people had built a fence around themselves keeping God out, and the only way that God would re-enter was through some dramatic conversion on the part of the person. I think that I went so far as to imagine that there was no point in a Catholic who had committed a serious sin even praying until that person went to confession.

Reflecting now on the way I once thought about people “in sin,” I see my previous thinking as a confused jumble of truths, half-truths and errors. Without being aware of it, I had slipped into a kind of legalism and had an image of God as primarily someone who gave us rules and laws.

New Way of Seeing

What Pope Francis has helped me to see in a new way is that the goodness and love of God goes way beyond, in fact infinitely beyond, any image I have of God. While I believe that because of our freedom we can reject God’s love, I also believe that God never stops loving us. I am encouraged by Francis’ statement that we should try to find God’s presence in “every human life.” I now am confident that if we look for God’s presence in every human life, we will find that presence.

Should people, who at this point in their lives think they should not receive the sacraments, still pray? Now that seems like a really stupid question to me.