Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of March 25, 2007
5th LENT SUNDAY
1st reading: Is 43:16-21; psalm 125; 2nd reading: Phil 3:8-14; Gospel: Jn 8:1-11
The three passages of the scripture we just heard are wonderful, rich and contain great and profound reflections, but unfortunately I can't comment on them all, I have to choose and it costs me because leaving out what is beautiful is always very difficult.
Let's start with the first passage taken from the prophet Isaiah and I invite you to pay attention to the last verses: "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise." (Is 43:19-21). The Word of God is so rich and profound that we can also apply it to our situation and realize that it fits perfectly. The expression "I do a new thing" concerns the novelty of the New Testament, of the new Covenant. In the Old Testament the covenant is between God and men, while in the New it is still between God-Christ and men, but with a noticeable difference. In the New one, men are now redeemed, freed from sin and have acquired true justice, the one referred to by Paul in the second reading, while in the Old Testament there is a legal justice that, if offended, can be repaired with some sacrifices of animals, not comparable to the great, to the infinite sacrifice of passion and death of Jesus Christ.
Today too the Lord repeats to us: "I do a new thing". We are living in an ecclesial, social and political situation that is cause for suffering, apprehension and concern. In the world, in our society and in the Church, selfishness, deceit, pride, conceit, immorality and even something worse is all the rage at every level. Faced with this condition that concerns the Church as well, God intervenes because the Church is His Church. There will be a new divine intervention. In fact, even if the Church is devastated it will not collapse, it will not be torn down, since it is supported by God himself: this is the thought of God throughout the centuries.
In the Old Testament this intervention was continually announced and centuries passed before its realization; I hope that in our situation, this new action of God does not require as many centuries, but a much more limited spaces of time. In the 12th century God asked Saint Francis to restore his Church; he initially believed that it was the material Church: the Porziuncola, but then he understood that God was referring to the Church of Christ, the Church of God. Francis, the humble little monk who stripped himself of everything, lived in chastity, poverty, obedience and restored the Church of that time: rich, powerful and opulent. He restored to the Church the charism of evangelical authenticity it had lost.
The Lord, over the centuries, has always entrusted the rebirth and renewal of the Church to people who humanly have no credit or interest, but for God they are important and, I dare say, even irreplaceable. This is the meaning of the two expressions: "I do a new thing" and "do you not perceive it?" We are getting aware of it, it is enough to compare the ecclesial reality of twenty years ago with the current one: today it has certainly changed. Today the importance of the Eucharist, the importance of the Word of God, practice and participation in all the other sacraments has been re-established in the Church. Today the need to love and to live in humility has returned to the Church. Twenty years ago, there was nothing of all this, instead there was pomposity and solemnity: the bishops were equated with princes, the Pope was equated with a king. Instead, we must understand that both the bishops and the Pope must have the only attitude Jesus is talking about, that of a servant: "I Christ am a servant, you are a servant, you are doubly servant because you are a servant of mine". I am not appropriating the words of Christ, but I am adapting them so you may understand better: "You are my servant and you are servant of your brothers, if you do not live the service I will reject you from Me, I will throw you out of Me, I will vomit you out of Me". This teaching is based on the Word of God and this rebirth, this renewal, this revival is not only perceived by man, but also by the whole creation.
Remember that wickedness, cruelty, sin, mystification, the devastating immorality, the infernal pride contaminate the whole universe, thus living a bad existence. Conversely, conversion, return to God, love and humility create and release a positive energy giving man and every creature the possibility of a better life; so all the negative realities, cruelty, wickedness, self-interest are no longer there and therefore only positive ones take their place.
We continue with the second reading.
"Brothers, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ, yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Phil 3:8-14)
Paul, my dear friend and teacher Paul, makes a great, beautiful affirmation of shocking depth: "I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord". He was able to make a definitive and uncompromising choice, namely: "I choose Christ and completely reject all that is opposed to him: science, vanity, wealth, conceit or anything else. I reject everything and put myself on the side of Christ and embrace him." But this is not enough for Paul. In fact, for those who still had doubts about his choice, so radical and definitive, he adds something else: "All that I, Paul, am leaving, I am not leaving it with difficulty or any effort, it does not cost me because the relationship and knowledge of Christ are so high, so sublime, compelling and rich, that I consider trash all that is in contrast with Christ". Here it is, the Church must be reborn from here. If I do not follow Paul, I am not an authentic and true man of the Church, so to those who do not follow Paul and do not exclusively choose Christ, rejecting everything that can hide, overshadow or obscure Him, I say: "You are mercenaries and not shepherds, you are not according to the heart of God, you are not the servants of God, go away, I do not know you and I do not want to have any kind of relationship and dialogue with you because if you reject Christ, Christ rejects you and I reject you". We must have the courage to affirm these truths, otherwise we continue to live with compromise, confusion, and adapting the Word of God to our comforts.
“But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:13-14). Here is the anxiety of this union: Paul wishes to be completely united to Christ, he is not satisfied with the justice he practiced when he was a zealous Pharisee who followed the law. This, as I told you, is a legal justice, but the heart instead needs a stronger, more penetrating, more efficient purification only possible thanks to the full, complete union to Christ. This is why Paul says: "I completely adhere to Christ, completely I give myself to him and only in this way I can feel united to him as there is nothing left in me that can be an obstacle to the union between Christ and me".
We take the third reflection from the Gospel of John.
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (Jn 8:1-11).
A poor woman is brought before Jesus and the fingers condemning her to stoning are pointing at her. A first remark: to commit adultery it takes two, so if the woman is adulterous, so is the man, both have offended the commandment of God. However, according to the so-called male prevalence, the latter is not under accusation, on the contrary, the terrible thing is that probably he is among the accusers.
In the heart of this woman thrown at Jesus’ feet there is probably already a principle of conversion and repentance, which, on the contrary, does not happen for the adulterous man because he could not repent in just a few minutes. This woman, who already has within herself the seed of penance and conversion, does not even dare to look at the Master in His face. Here is the infinite wisdom of the Lord! Jesus has His head bowed and his eyes lowered so as not to humiliate that woman because otherwise that intersection of glances would probably have caused reactions, which was not yet appropriate to manifest.
The woman still needed to feel love, affection and respect from the Lord, yet Jesus' eyes before a sin cannot be totally merciful, until the conversion is complete. This is why the Lord has His eyes down: so as not to humiliate the sinner, the one they threw at His feet like an animal. In this way He wants to give her more time, He does not want to humiliate her, but at the same time He is preparing her for conversion, He is preparing her to return to a regular and rightful life. In fact, two short sentences are enough and the woman accepts the remission of sins and Jesus’ advice. It is really beautiful this meeting. Instead, what are we doing all the time? What the elders failed to accomplish because Jesus prevented them from throwing stones at her, we, the conventional thinkers, do instead: she is a sinner, she must be stoned to death. See how wicked we are? We do not even give others the opportunity, the time to repent and we do not even try to see if the situation has changed. Those who make mistakes must be eliminated: this is the human law, but the law of God is completely different and I am certain I will meet this woman in Heaven; On the other hand, I am not certain to meet those who condemned her because repentance must be authentic and sincere. Faced with Jesus' question: "Is anyone condemning you?” she replies: "No one, sir", so she recognizes the authority, the value, the importance of the words of Christ. And Jesus says to her: "Then neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin." We do not know what happened to this woman, but God knows, Jesus knows it and who knows if He will let us know it in a private conversation. I feel that this woman has been saved. She, humiliated, judged and condemned is now in the light, in the glory and in the joy of Heaven. Her accusers, on the other hand, are in hell because they are the same ones who later accused Christ before Pilate. "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor, Jesus, called the Christ, or Barabbas?" (Mt 27:21) and they shouted, certainly directed by those shrewd high priests, "Barabbas". As written in the Gospel, they had gone to Jesus only to set him a trap, in them there was malice and perfidy. They were not interested in stoning, but they wanted to test Jesus to deceive Him and then to have a reason to lash out against Him. It is a diabolical plot from which Jesus came out unscathed and will continue like that until the start of His passion, as planned by God the Father, leading Him to death on the cross.
At this point you can do all the reflections and meditations you want but I say, shout, scream that I'm on the sinner’s side, I'll never be on the side of those who accused her. I will never be on the side of those priests, bishops and cardinals of the Church who accuse and destroy for no reason and who, like the woman's accusers, are now in hell. See how my language has changed. Sooner or later they too will join them because they have set traps to the righteous ones and have tried to suffocate them in order to have the green light to reach their infamous and distorted plans. God, however, will intervene as he has already done in the past and will raise those who feel small.
Praised be Jesus Christ.