The Cardinal’s Column
Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.
May 6, 2012
Living in the kingdom of God
Cardinal George's Schedule
- May 6: 11:30 a.m., 50th Anniversary Mass, St. Zachary, Des Plaines
- May 7: 1 p.m., College of Consultors' Meeting, Quigley Center; 3:30 p.m. Finance Council Meeting, Quigley Center
- May 8: 9:30 a.m., Presbyteral Council General Meeting, DePaul University, O'Hare Campus; 5:30 p.m., 75th Anniversary Mass, Notre Dame High School for Girls, St. Ferdinand
- May 10: 7:30 a.m., Big Shoulders Fund Board of Directors' Meeting, Chicago Club; 2 p.m., Board of Advisors' Meeting, University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein
- May 11: 9:30 a.m., Leo High School Visit; 7 p.m., Confirmation Liturgy, St. Bronislava
- May 12: 10 a.m., Priesthood Ordination Mass, Holy Name Cathedral
- May 13: 9:30 a.m., Baccalaureate Mass, St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wis.; 1:30 p.m., Commencement Address, St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wis.
- May 14: 2 p.m., Ordination of Rev. Msgr. David J. Malloy as Bishop of Rockford; 7 p.m., Concert, The Suffering of the Innocents, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center
- May 15: 10 a.m., Episcopal Council Meeting, Quigley Center; 1 p.m., Administrative Council Meeting, Quigley Center; 5:30 p.m., The Lumen Christi Institute Great Books Seminar, Chicago Club
- May 17: 1 p.m., Address the Board of Trustees, DePaul University
- May 18: 2 p.m., Ordination of the Most Reverend Liam Cary as Bishop of Baker, Bend, Ore.
- May 19: 11 a.m., Jubilee Celebration for Religious Men and Women, St. Barbara, Chicago; 5 p.m., 150th Anniversary Mass, St. Joseph Women's Club, St. Joseph, Wilmette
Cardinal George approved the following clergy appointment May 1:
Rev. Waldemar Stawiarski, pastor of St. Helen Parish, West Augusta Blvd., to be on sabbatical from May 1 to Oct. 31, 2012.
Rev. Louis Tylka, pastor of Mater Christi Parish, North Riverside, to be on sabbatical from May 21 to Nov. 21, 2012.
Our political, social, ecclesial and often even our family lives seem divided and fractured these days. What the church puts together in a seamless way — respect for human life at every stage of development or vulnerability, justice for the poor and the migrant, condemnation of oppression and violations of human and religious freedom, the rejection of violence as a means of solving conflicts — fits into no political platform. Many seem purposely to create division or exploit divisions already separating people. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, celebrated during the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost Sunday, is the antidote and the cure for the present impasse that destroys lives and separates people; but living with the risen Christ in the universal kingdom of God entails a huge shift in perspective, a displacement of the horizons that form habitual ways of living and thinking.
Living in the kingdom of God means thinking beyond and outside the boxes created by citizenship in a nation, by cultural or racial exclusivity, and by individual choice. In the kingdom of God, divisive markers are not needed to establish identity. There are neither countries nor national citizenship; there is no separation caused by different languages, no marriage and giving in marriage, no personal dream or individual choice not perfectly conformed to God’s will. To live even imperfectly in God’s world, in the new world made possible and available by Christ’s resurrection from the dead, we must therefore sacrifice ourselves and forgive others.
Our society recognizes and often rightly honors self-sacrifice, but it doesn’t seem to have much place for forgiveness. People are either winners or losers, oppressors or victims. We say we believe in “the forgiveness of sins” when we recite the creed at Sunday Mass. Is it an empty belief? What does it mean? Why our seeming reluctance to forgive and accept forgiveness?
With the Holy Spirit, who is the gift of the risen Lord to his church, comes the power to forgive sin. Since only God can forgive sin, the church’s power to forgive sin comes from God. God desires to forgive. Pope John Paul II defined divine mercy as “love that is eager to forgive.” Yet the God who forgives is also the God who judges. There are passages on almost every page of the Old and New Testaments that speak of God’s judgment, which will be based on his command that we do righteous deeds. Jesus’ return in glory, so dramatically pictured at the end of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, has the Lord separating sheep from goats, the one group for eternal happiness and the other for condemnation. Despite God’s will that all be saved and be with him forever, what might prevent even the Lord himself from being able to forgive the sins that merit condemnation?
God cannot forgive our sins if we do not cooperate with his grace by asking for pardon and if we, in turn, refuse to forgive others who have sinned against us. Taking to heart the words of the prayer taught us by Jesus himself, we must ask ourselves what blocks forgiving others and accepting forgiveness, even from God? Two such obstacles to living in God’s world, in Jesus’ kingdom, come to mind.
First, we might find it hard to believe that forgiveness is possible and accessible. We can’t start over again, can’t accept new life because we’re caught in this life. We cannot forgive ourselves and therefore cannot accept people whose actions we condemn. People are reduced to what they do and defined forever by their sins against us and ours against them. Broken relationships can never be healed. We don’t believe that forgiveness is possible; it is simply unavailable. This attitude separates us even from God’s love and mercy. Why confess our sins when forgiveness is not really possible?
Second, another reason for denying forgiveness is the belief that it is unnecessary. God accepts us, some believe, no matter what we do, and it is intolerant to accept others no matter what they do. “Love is blind,” the proverb goes, so God, in his infinite love, either overlooks or doesn’t care that our actions defy his commandments.
Perhaps this attitude is rooted in our cultural pragmatism. In our legal system, principle follows practice; in the kingdom of God, however, practice is supposed to conform to principle. In our society, if we don’t like a law, we work to change it. The law, even divine law, should reflect what we approve of; so asking for forgiveness for breaking a commandment is therefore unnecessary. Jesus won’t have to figure out who are sheep and who are goats at the last judgment, because all the goats will have been turned into sheep by “progressive” interpretations of divine law. Salvation for all is, of course, something devoutly to be hoped and prayed for; but the Gospel doesn’t give any guarantee. We remain free to push God away, although there are consequences to un-forgiven sin. There are consequences even to forgiven sin, which explains the doctrine of purgatory. God respects our freedom, but he also respects the difference between what is always right or good and what is always wrong or evil.
God brings good out of evil, and the way he accomplishes this is through forgiveness. There is more joy in heaven because one sinner has been forgiven and saved than over a hundred others who don’t believe they need forgiveness. The sin against the Holy Spirit is self-righteousness. In the Gospel, love means always saying you’re sorry, always asking for forgiveness, for our personal sins as well as for the sins of the church and of our society. Forgiveness purifies memory, personal and social. The great saints, even on their deathbed, prayed for God’s forgiveness because their great love helped them to understand and be sensitive to the evil of sin and its terrible consequences.
It is a grace to ask for forgiveness. It is a grace to accept forgiveness, from God and others. It is a grace to offer forgiveness to others, especially our enemies. It is a great grace to live habitually in the Kingdom of God, the realm of the risen Christ. These are the graces of Eastertime. They are ours for the asking, but we remain free to ask or not.