Sunday, June 14, 2015

And Justice for All

I'm back from Rome, after a very fruitful pilgrimage.  We had good weather, good food, and good company.  Now I just need some good rest to get past this jet lag...

   Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

Little could I have guessed that, when I got back from Rome,
the North Country would be right in the middle
Roadblocks and helicopters, bloodhounds and accomplices,
have been the big story for a whole week now.
There are a limited number of facts…
…but everybody’s got an opinion.
And there’s one opinion I’ve heard 
pretty much across the board:
I hope they catch those two quick 
and throw the book at them!
We want to make sure they get what they deserve.

Within the human heart,
there is a clear, deep-seated desire for justice.

But have you ever gotten a speeding ticket?
And then desperately tried to wiggle your way out of it?
Or have you been—shall we say—
a bit “creative” when filing your taxes?
I’m not at all trying to equate either one 
with homicide or a jailbreak,
but there’s a part of us that will go 
to quite extraordinary lengths
to avoid getting what we deserve.

Within the human heart,
there’s also a clear, deep-seated hope for mercy.

As we return to the Sundays of Ordinary Time,
our second reading is one frequently chosen for funerals—
containing as it does the consoling belief
that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.
But it’s the ending of that passage which grabs my attention today—
although it rarely, if ever, gets much attention at funerals anymore:
We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,
so that each may receive recompense,
according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.
It’s a conviction that’s echoed
in the Prayer Over the Offerings of the Funeral Mass:
that the faithful departed, who believed Jesus to be a loving Savior,
may find in him a merciful judge.
It’s not a conviction, however, that I often hear echoed
in the words of remembrance shared by family or friends;
those generally sound more like the proceedings of a canonization.
I understand the urge, in our hour of grief,
to think of our loved ones as headed straight to heaven.
But isn’t it a bit presumptuous to think
that heaven is due us, regardless of our faith or actions?
Sure, we expect the other guy—
especially any really, really bad one—
to be held responsible for his misdeeds.
But what about ourselves?  And those close to us?
Do we hope to be treated according to a different set if rules?
Do we really believe in judgment?
I should clarify:
Do we believe in any judgment other than our own?

The escape routes from personal responsibility
which we so often devise
are a whole lot more complex
than the one dreamed up by two inmates at Dannemora.

The kingdom of God,
while grown from tender shoots and tiny seeds,
is like a large, majestic tree
with branches enough to accommodate
every soul the Lord’s ever created.
But just because a tree is very big
doesn’t mean that all birds are going to make their home in it.
Yes, God’s mercy is boundless…
…but his justice is also perfect.
God loves us enough to fully respect our free will—
that way in which we are most like him
and unlike the rest of bodily creation.
God respects the choices we have made and holds us to them:
whether for good or for evil, for him and his kingdom or against.
In this life, we are to pray to the Father, Thy will be done,
and do our part to make it so on earth as it is in heaven.
We must learn God’s law and choose to obey it;
we shall be judged accordingly.
But in the next life, it is God who says to us, Thy will be done,
since it will come to pass for us in heaven or hell
as we passed our time in the body on earth.  (cf. C. S. Lewis)

It’s the Church’s ancient creed, repeated Sunday after Sunday,
that the Only Begotten Son of God
will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Yes, God is merciful—
but we must not presume on that mercy.
And God also is just, indeed—
and there can be no escaping the divine justice:
we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.
As we believe Jesus to be a loving Savior,
let us live as men and women always ready
to stand before such an awesome and merciful judge.

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