Thursday, 10 March 2016

5th Sunday of Lent - Year C

Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

There is something about the awful predicament of the woman in today's Gospel which reminds me of my death. St John uses his words carefully. At first he says she was caught committing adultery and if this were not enough to give us a picture he later has her accusers say she was caught in the very act of committing adultery.
If she had her wits about her while she was being dragged away the woman might just have managed to snatch at a bed covering or an article of clothing to protect her dignity otherwise she would have found herself standing before the crowd, and before the Lord, stark naked. This is the part that reminds me of my death.
One day we will die - you and I - and according to the teaching of our Faith our body will remain here on earth till the last day while our soul will suddenly find itself standing before Jesus.
Of course, our soul is spirit and wears no clothes. It can't put on a smart suit or a pretty dress as do criminals brought before a magistrate. It cannot sprinkle a little deodorant or perfume or put on a bit of makeup.
There will be no room for bravado, no opportunity for lies, no postponement till we have prepared a defence. No. The soul will stand before the just judge in total transparency, clothed in the simple, unadorned apparel of its own truth at the moment of death.
Since nothing will be hidden there will be no need for a prosecutor or defence attorney, and no need for witnesses to put in a good word for us. Even the Judge will have no reason to speak; what, indeed could he say?
At that moment, as we stand before the Master, we will see him face to face in all his terrible beauty, goodness and truth. For some this will be a moment of ecstatic joy; for others a moment of intense regret as they find themselves turning away from him into the purging suffering of Purgatory; for still others it will be a moment of indescribable terror.
What I am speaking of here are what the Church calls the Four Last Things: death, judgment, heaven, hell.
As I have said, I don't think it will be necessary for Jesus to speak. It will be in seeing him as he is that each soul will see itself as it really is. There will be no need for discussion. The soul will know where it must go.
The soul which enters heaven will find the place reserved for it - the place in which it finds its greatest fulfilment, happiness and peace. Like a fish in the ocean which finds its own depth, or a bird in the air which flies at its own height, the soul will find for itself the degree of joy, of closeness to the Lord, which it can bear. So too with the unfortunate soul in Purgatory and ruined soul in hell. Each will assign itself the place in which it belongs.
The woman caught in adultery, standing naked and transparent before her Lord, is a powerful image of our own destiny but with this difference - however painful and humiliating this moment may be - it is not yet too late, the judgment is not yet final.
For the self-righteous Pharisees, too, it is an opportunity, a warning. These men are no less sinners than the woman but their sins have not yet been exposed. Unlike the woman who, strange to say, has the advantage here - they do not see their own sinfulness laid out before them. Jesus obligingly helps them out.
If the Scripture scholars are right, if what Jesus writes on the ground with his finger is the name of the sin of each one of them, we should marvel at the kindness and respect and mercy he shows each one by not shaming them publicly. Jesus truly shows himself to be  merciful beyond words to each one of the sinners before him.
And he shows us the same mercy. There is no sin he will not forgive. If we were Hindus we would wash in the Ganges. If we were Moslems we would make a pilgrimage to Mecca. If we were Protestants we would privately admit our sin to God. But as Catholics we must confess (at least our grave sins), to the priest. Even those of you who have not been in a confessional for many years know in your heart of hearts that this is true, that this is the teaching of your Catholic Church.
Before the Lord, at the end of our life, we will see ourselves clearly. As the hymn says we will see:
'... the chances we have missed,
the graces we resist ... '
I sincerely recommend that you avail yourself of the sacrament of Reconciliation before Easter so that you may hear the Judge say: Neither do I condemn you.