Friday greetings from a cool and sunny city of Chicago.
Been a bit under the weather for a few days. My apologies for not posting yesterday.
There certainly has been quite a bit of cyber-talk about Pope Francis' comments about redemption. The central line is this: "The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!"
This has certainly caused quite a bit of questioning and confusion as well, even among the commenters on this blog yesterday. My understanding is that Christ's redemptive act on the cross, the shedding of his blood, was an act of redemption meant for all people. There are those who reject the faith knowingly, in an exercise of their God-given gift of free will. The central belief that the Lord intended redemption for all, means that they too are caught up in that act of redemption.
I think it is a good thing to think about those people in our own lives who have turned away from the faith. I think of a relative of mine who, though baptized, confirmed, and who once was a regular mass-goer, now is an avowed atheist. I think of him with love in my heart and I pray that some day he will turn again to embrace the Lord who gave him life and children and the love of his family. I believe that Christ's redemptive act is still at work in his heart. In this sense, I can see what the pope meant when he said, "Even the atheists. Everyone!"
I thank God that God is God and I am not! As I travel the country talking with people about the faith and underscoring the importance of cultivating a sacramental spirituality, there is one place that I simply do not go. And that place is the place of judgment. When someone asks me about a son or daughter who has turned away from the faith and has not had their own children baptized, then asks me whether or not the son or daughter or the grandchildren will be condemned to hell, I just cannot provide an answer, because I know not the ways of God and how God works in the particular person's heart and mind.
My heart is filled with lament at times like this and when questions like these arise. And I remind myself again that God is God and I am not.
About eight weeks ago, I shared with you the fact that my friend, Mary, died suddenly in her sleep. I am still grieving her loss. A few days ago, her 45 year-old brother had a massive heart attack and suffered irreparable brain damage. Yesterday, his wife and family faced the decision about the continuation of life support. Joe died peacefully after life-support was removed. These are the realities that families face every day. The faith of this family is certainly being tested. I think it is wise to think about what the pope said, especially in the tough times. I often tell people that we really can not even wrap our brains around the height and depth of God's redemptive love. Often, this is our only solace.
I find great comfort in the words of Bl. Pope John Paul II. In one of his last letters, Mane Nobiscum Domine, he had this to say about the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist:
It must not be forgotten that the Eucharistic meal also has a profoundly and primarily sacrificial meaning. In the Eucharist, Christ makes present to us anew the sacrifice offered once for all on Golgotha. Present in the Eucharist as the Risen Lord, he nonetheless bears the marks of his passion, of which every Mass is a “memorial”, as the Liturgy reminds us in the acclamation following the consecration: “We announce your death, Lord, we proclaim your resurrection . . ." At the same time, while the Eucharist makes present what occurred in the past, it also impels us towards the future, when Christ will come again at the end of history. This aspect makes the Sacrament of the Eucharist an event which draws us into itself and fills our Christian journey with hope.
So, even when friends and family members turn away from the Christian faith, I hold onto what John Paul II said, and believe that Christ's sacrifice, his redemptive act, which we remember and celebrate every Sunday, fills my own "Christian journey with hope." Gotta sing. Gotta pray.