To be honest, the Archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Urosa, has never before crossed the radar of my consciousness. But then he made an intervention at the Synod:
Mercy invites the sinner and it becomes forgiveness when one repents and changes one’s life. The prodigal son was greeted with an embrace from his father only when he returned home …
This Synod, without a doubt in the light of the revealed truth and with eyes of mercy, is called to reflect very clearly the teaching of the Gospel and of the Church through the centuries about the nature and dignity of Christian marriage, on the greatness of the Eucharist and on the need of having the necessary dispositions to be in union with God to be able to receive Holy Communion; on the need for penance, repentance and the firm purpose of amendment for the repentant sinner to be able to receive Divine forgiveness; and the strength and continuity of both dogmatic and moral truth of the ordinary and extraordinary Magisterium of the Church. It provides as well lights inspired by mercy to assist more effectively those in irregular situations to alleviate their moral suffering and to better live their Catholic faith.
His intervention is dripping with sound scriptural exegesis and a full knowledge of the recent magisterial teaching of the Church on morality.
The Prodigal Son is often (mis-)used to exalt mercy without justice. But there are other passages to, for which we must be prepared to offer a succinct and sound explanation.
How about the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)? Read it carefully. If you do I suspect you will notice that:
- Our Lord never disputes, mitigates or modifies the Law on adultery, nor does he say the scribes and Pharisees accused her unjustly.
- The scribes and Pharisees were not intent on justice but on trying to catch our Lord out.
- The woman does not try to justify herself.
- Our Lord does not ignore her sin, but reveals that the scribes and Pharisees too are sinners, which they implicitly admit.
- The Lord invites her to repentance, to sin no more. In this she will find divine forgiveness.
- Our Lord clearly does not want the woman to die in her sin, nor to continue in it. This is a life-changing moment for her.
- Our Lord clearly intends to exemplify how God’s mercy offers forgiveness to repentance.
Mercy is life-changing. As Cardinal Urosa reminded the Synod, it becomes forgiveness only when greeted with repentance and a firm purpose to reform one’s life. Mercy is not carte blanche to continue as one wants. We will fall again into sin. But thanks be to God, mercy is not offered only once, and repentance is always possible in this life.
Yet, even tomorrow we might die. We know not the day or the hour. Repentance is the task of today, not tomorrow.
The scribes and the Pharisees actually did that woman a favour by bringing her to the mercy seat of God, though their intention was ill. The Church’s intention in its teaching on mercy and forgiveness is truly loving, and let no one tell us otherwise.