A Compassionate God

Fr. Michael Guastello’s Homily April 7, 2019

“So I’d like to see a show of hands from the congregation, who wants to go to heaven?  Good. Good answer. Show of hands, who wants to go today? Okay kind of what I thought.  Fantastic. I bring this up because a friend of mine sent me a survey from ABC News about Americans and their attitudes toward heaven.  According to the survey, 89% of Americans believe in the existence of Heaven. 85% believe that they’re going there. Now in a society that is becoming increasingly more secularized I’m glad to know that there is still a large percentage of folks who believe in the existence of Heaven, but what I found fascinating was the second statistic that there’s still this high percentage of folks who seem pretty confident that that’s where they’re going.  If we think about it a lot at times we can just assume entrance into Heaven. We see this especially when someone famous dies and we hear the Eulogies on television or on YouTube. In one case that I know of, the deceased had her wardrobe changed three times in a six and a half hour memorial service and speaker after speaker after speaker got up to the microphone and declared this person in Heaven. Now this was a protestant service, but we can run into this in Catholic funerals as well where the homilist will just canonize the deceased, declare the deceased a Saint right there and then at the homily.  Many of us have run into this. I know that I have, ‘Well ya know Good ‘ol Joe is surely up there singing and dancin’ with all the Angels and Saints’, but it’s dangerous when we start taking our salvation for granted as if we just automatically go to Heaven. We can gather from many of his letters that St. Paul did not take this for granted. He did not think that it was automatic that he was going to Heaven. Not in the least. In fact, in the letter that we read today to the Philippians in Mass he writes in reference to the resurrection, ‘It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it.’  In other words, St. Paul is a work in progress and he knows it. He knows that he still has a long way to go in the spiritual life and he knows that it would be a mistake for him to act or behave as if his own personal salvation has already been accomplished. He is aware that he needs to grow in holiness and so he states it twice, ‘I continue my pursuit, I continue my pursuit.’ He also says, ‘I consider everything a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things.’ And if you know anything about St. Paul you know that he’s not kidding. He lost everything. He was a Roman citizen. He was highly educated. He was a well respected man in the community and then he encountered Jesus Christ on his way to Damascus and it changed his life.  He would wind up beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned. There were multiple attempts on his life before he was eventually executed by the Romans. He was beheaded, but he didn’t care. He just didn’t care and as he tells us today, he was happy to share in the sufferings of Christ and considered the rest of everything else ‘rubbish’. Now, while we want to be careful not to take salvation for granted, we also have no reason to be afraid either because our God is a loving God, a merciful God, a God of compassion, a forgiving God and we see this on full display in our Gospel today. The Scribes and Pharisees bring this woman caught in adultery to Jesus. It’s a test as John tells us. They’re trying to trap Jesus by pointing out that the law of Moses instructed stoning for such a person and so they bring this woman to Jesus and they throw her in front of him.  Moses says a woman like this should be stoned to death. What do you say, Teacher? So here’s the trap, if Jesus authorizes the stoning, he would be guilty of a crime himself because as a Jew he cannot take part in such an activity. If he objects to the stoning he would discredit himself as a phony, as a fraud going against the law of Moses and so he replies, ‘Let the one among you who is without sin be among the first to throw a stone at her.’ With this statement Jesus avoids their trap and turns it on the Pharisees and the Scribes because you see, they probably viewed themselves to be sinless, but they know that Jesus doesn’t consider them to be sinless and so if they cast a stone, they’ll be in trouble with the authorities as well. If they refuse to cast a stone then they’re admitting to be sinners. They’re only option is to walk away from the situation and so Jesus defeat them at their own game and then he turns to the woman, ‘Where are they?  Is there no one to condemn you?’ ‘No one, Sir.’ ‘Well neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.’ You see, Jesus doesn’t condone her behavior, but he doesn’t condemn her either and instead he meets her with love and mercy and he challenges her to living a life of holiness moving forward

Like so many accounts that we read in the Gospels, we are meant to identify with the person or persons that Jesus is addressing.  We can put ourselves in the place of who it is that Jesus is ministering to and so this same compassion that Jesus shows to this public sinner is the same compassion that he has for each and every one of us personally.  So we continue with this season of Lent. The liturgical seasons that the Church gives us are wonderful opportunities for us to reflect upon the relationship that we have with Jesus Christ. The season of Lent can serve to remind us that in spite of the mistakes that we make along the way of life towards our Heavenly Homeland, our God is a loving God, a compassionate God, a merciful God and a God who wants us to be with him in Heaven at the end.”