That Sunday the Gospel reading closed with this golden clasp: “If you, who are naughty, give good things to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
The celebrant forgot the heavenly Father, the Holy Spirit, the prayer, the trust, the river of consolation and joy that flow from the sacred text. He only noticed the parenthesis: “You are evil”. For him there was no way around this word of Jesus. It was a truth as clear as the sun.
No wonder some parishioners turned and walked out the door. José Luis Cortés wondered: “How can you be right with the Church when the Church is so wrong with the Gospel?
I remembered a missionary who, when I was a boy, went to preach in my village and, from the pulpit, fired blasts over the heads of his listeners. He went so far as to declare that tavern-keepers, if they died, would go to hell, falling like comets. The hurricane that arose in my house! The fact is that my father was a tavern keeper and did not see it as a great obstacle to his soul. But those warnings never stopped hammering in his head.
The taverns, the dances, the fashions, the soirées, the appointments, the “times of now”, for those “preachers of the cruet”, it was all bad.
In the 17th century, the Jesuit Baltasar Gracián wrote from Zaragoza: “Here the Virgin keeps us in the affliction of the plague, although sins are rife. The inhabitants are all murderers and thieves, and nobody pays any attention. They did not “pay attention” to the sixth commandment. Neither the seventh nor the eighth. All rogues, all wicked.
Gratian had plenty of disciples. Shortly after him, Cornélio Jansión (1585-1638) proclaimed an inaccessible and tenebrous God and found human nature entirely corrupt. A religion of sadness and terror!
The story is told of a man who died and, while waiting at the reception desk in Paradise, put on the spectacles of God the Father. He began to see things he had never seen before: the infidelities of his wife, the betrayals of his best friend. Furious, he was on the point of fulminating the earth and its inhabitants, but God, who is Father, arrived at that very moment and warned him: “It is good that you put on my divine spectacles, but you must also put them on from my heart”. John XXIII and Mother Teresa put on the heart of God and thus moved the world with tons of goodness.
God sends sun and rain on the good and the bad, on the just and the unjust, because for Him there are no saints or sinners, only children. He sees everyone “with good eyes”, because He is unique and all Father. Even if His children leave home and wander from nonsense to nonsense, He always waits for them with a smile, a hug and a party. “All saints have a past and all murderers have a future”, says an Eastern proverb.
Mercy is the great definition of the divine heart. The Hebrew word we translate mercy has to do with the maternal placenta. We can attribute to God, raised to infinite power, the best maternal feelings. For mothers, all children have a heart of gold.
Why then must the children of light see everything dark? Why must we be so grumpy, prickly, bitter, with the claim, moreover, to have a monopoly of truth? Where does this mania for being inquisitors, ready to inflict torture and light bonfires come from? Why do we so often preach: “Remember that you must die” and not immediately add: “But do not forget to live”? Would not the Christian life be more attractive if we had a few more drops of life and joy? Why do we not think that saving the soul is not enough for one who has also received a body from God?
The writings of Teresa of Avila – that fragrant Doctor of the Church – were considered by the Holy Office to be “lies and deceptions very harmful to the Christian republic”. Do you know what she taught? “I am more afraid of those who are very afraid of the devil than of the devil himself”. And she rebuked a prioress who had forbidden the telling of jokes in the monastery: “What have we come to, dear God! It is not enough to be fools by nature, we aspire to be fools by divine grace!
God is Truth and Tenderness, source of Peace and Joy. To look like Him we do not need to wear black. Looking at the universe He painted, He is not very fond of dark colours.
Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf
(PHOTO: Robert Katzki)