In one of the interviews Pope Francis gave onboard a plane headed back to Rome, he responded with, “Who am I to judge?” when presented with the case of a homosexual cleric. The context in which the statement was made is equally important.
Before this, the Pope was talking about the need for a theology of sin in the light of the cleric’s case. Here the Pope makes a distinction between a crime and sin.
He talks about the necessary process of the investigation he had conducted as prescribed by canon law to address the crime. Then he goes on to condemn child abuse as a crime and makes a distinction with regard to sin if a person undergoes conversion.
In this specific context of a possible conversion, he makes the statement, “Who am I to judge?” He then quotes the catechism of the Catholic Church that says, “These persons must never be marginalized and they must be integrated into society.”
‘Who am I to judge?’
Pardon this long introduction to our reflection on this Sunday’s Gospel, the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery.
I suppose we can say that the basic principle and foundation of Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” statement is Christ’s “Neither do I condemn you.”
The beauty and power of this statement of Christ, again, is best appreciated in its broader context. What precedes the statement is Christ saying, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” as a response to the lobby group of the scribes and Pharisees. He then tells the woman, “Go and sin no more.”
Perhaps this is a good starting point for our reflection on a “theology” of sin. Let us begin with the end in mind. An authentic Christian “theology” of sin must lead us to God’s love, mercy and forgiveness—in short, redemption.
What I offer for our reflection is self-awareness and self-acceptance: to be aware of our blessings and goodness that lead us to the awareness of God’s love that is gracious and creative; and to accept that we are also flawed and sinful that leads us to the awareness of God’s love that is merciful, forgiving and redemptive. (This is an Ignatian teaching.)
Key to this framework of awareness and acceptance is the word “self.” This leads us to a personal awareness and acceptance of “our” blessings and sins. In both cases we can accept and be embraced by the personal love of God for us.
In the latter, a personal confession of our sinfulness leads us to a personal openness to and acceptance of God’s merciful, forgiving and redemptive love—a “love that comes to us in Christ.”
Note that all this is rooted and grounded in the truth—the truth of who we are or, in Ignatian parlance, a realistic knowledge of the self, blessed and sinful yet “loved and loved greatly” by God.
Coming face to face with the truth is a process of humility and a moment of the greatest humility. As Teresa of Avila put it, humility is truth.
The process of humility strips us of both the good and the bad. The stripping of the bad is obvious, but the stripping of the good is also important, and, perhaps because of its subtlety, becomes trickier.
We saw this in the older brother last Sunday in the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” where he complained about his being good for years yet not being rewarded. His being good led him to envy not so much his “bad” brother but the “unreasonable,” and “unfair” love of the father.
As the cliché goes, the greatest enemy of the best is the good. As Ignatius dramatically processes this in one meditation before Christ Crucified, we must ask: What have I done for you? What am I doing for you? What more should I do for you?
The “more,” which always aims for “more,” makes the good not enough. For the woman in today’s Gospel, it was good that she was not condemned and stoned, but this was not enough. Christ adds, “Go and sin no more.”
This brings us to the next point for reflection in our “theology” of sin. Sin, we often say, is missing the mark, from the Greek “hamartia.” The Filipino word is “kasalanan” or “sala” which means to go against, to transgress, to be lost.
Sin is the image of digressing, or not being true to our authentic self. Sin is forgetting who we are in our relationship with God, forgetting how much God loves us.
This love of God is mysteriously yet powerfully and clearly expressed in Christ’s “judgment” of the woman: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
In the coming weeks leading to Holy Week, let us remember the story of the woman caught in sin. It is our story.
We are all the characters in the story: the scribes and Pharisees who “lobby” and accuse; the woman who sinned yet stands silently before her accusers and her God; and if we choose, we can be the person Christ loved and continues to love us.