That Sunday the Gospel reading ended with this pearl: “If you, who are evil, give good things to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven not give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

The celebrant forgot the heavenly Father, the Holy Spirit, prayer, trust, the fountain of consolation and joy that flow from the sacred text. He noticed only the parenthesis: “You who are evil”. The theme of the homily: “You are evil”. Jesus declares it openly. A truth as clear as the sun. The oracle of the Gospel, the word of God.

No wonder that some parishioners turned around and left the church. In such a case, the humorist Cortés would ask, “How can one be right with the Church, when the Church is so wrong with the Gospel?”

I remembered another preacher who, when I was a kid, went shouting from the pulpit down in a sermon that tobacco-pickers, when they died, would go to hell tumbling like kites. What trouble that caused in my house! My father was a tavern keeper, and he didn’t see that as a great stumbling-block for his soul. But just in case, before I sang Mass, he was careful to pass the torch to my little sister, because the missionary’s threats never stopped hammering at her head.  The taverns, the dances, the evenings, the flirtations… all bad.

For these reasons and others, I don’t like Cohelet’s book very much. Cohelet means preacher, the one who speaks in the assembly. The Cohelet of the Bible, a pessimist, an umbrella without rods, proclaimed to the four winds that life has no meaning. Wealth and science, all useless. The only happiness on earth: food, siesta and reign. All bad, all evil.

Of course, it is not God who says such things; it is some preachers, some coeletes. In the 17th century, the Jesuit Baltasar Gracián wrote from Saragossa: “Here Our Lady keeps us safe in the affliction of the plague, even though sins are rampant. The inhabitants are all murderers and thieves, and nobody pays any attention to the sixth. They paid no “attention” to the sixth commandment. Nor the seventh or the eighth. All rogues, all wicked.

Scholars consider Gracián a modern writer. Even today, in fact, he has disciples in bulk. The plague of Jansenism rages around. Cornelius Jansenius (1585-1638) proclaimed an inaccessible and dark God, a Church as a circle of the elect, and human nature entirely corrupted.  A religion of sadness and terror.

Remember that man who died and stuck on his Father God’s glasses? He began to see things he had never seen before: the infidelities of his wife, the betrayals of his best friend. Furious, he was about to strike the earth, when God, the Abba, appeared to him and warned him: “It’s OK to put on my divine glasses. But on one condition: that you also put on my heart. John XXIII put on God’s heart and so moved the world with tons of goodness.

God sends the sun to the good and the bad, and rain to the just and the unjust. Because for Him there are no unjust or naughty people.  All good, because they are only children. All good, because He knows how to be Father. Even if they run away from home, a heart always awaits them, a smile, an embrace, a feast.

Mercy is the great definition of the divine heart. They say that the word rahamîn – the Hebrew equivalent of mercy – has to do with the maternal placenta. We can attribute to God, elevated to infinite potency, the best maternal feelings. For mothers all children have hearts of gold.

Why then do the children of light have to see everything dark? Why should we be so grumpy, thorny and severe, pretending to be in the truth? Where does this inquisitorial fury come from, ready to inflict torture and condemn to the stake?

The questions could be multiplied: Why is it that so much is preached, “Remember that you must die”, and not immediately added, “but do not forget to live”? Would not the Christian life be more attractive if we added a few more drops of life? Why do we not think that saving the soul is not enough for those who have received from God a little more than the soul?

The writings of Teresa of Avila – that fragrant woman, Doctor of the Church – were considered by the Holy Office as “hoaxes and deceptions very harmful to the Christian republic”. Do you know what she taught? “I am more afraid of those who are so afraid of the devil than of the devil himself”. And she scolded a Prioress who had forbidden the telling of jokes in the monastery: “Good Lord, what have we come to! It is not enough to be fools by nature, that we still aspire to be fools by divine grace!”

God is Truth, Tenderness, Peace, Source of life. To look like Him we do not need to dress in black. Much less see everything dark. Looking at the universe He created, He doesn’t like that colour very much.


Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf

(PHOTO: Clay Banks)


Start typing and press Enter to search