But you, who do you say that I am?
It cuts through all of the rumor and the gossip, doesn’t it? The world has its opinions about who Jesus is, but ultimately, what He cares about is what you think: Who do you say that I am?
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These past two weeks, Pope Francis has made two executive decisions that have really taken the world by storm. There has also been a lot of rumor and gossip about what he’s said. Knowing that you are “out there” having to field questions from friends, colleagues, and family—whether at home, at the water-cooler, or even as you watch your kids play soccer—knowing that there is a lot of conversations going on about Pope Francis’ words, I thought I’d cut through some of the rumor and give you some points that you could then give to others.
First, his decision about abortions and forgiveness…
The media has led everyone to think that the sin of abortion could not be forgiven until now. That’s false. Every sin—EVERY SIN—can be forgiven. And not just during the upcoming Year of Mercy.
What Pope Francis did last week has some history to it. In this country, before Roe v. Wade in 1973, abortions were relatively rare. It was a crime not only in church law, but to some degree in civil law. In the church, the crime received the penalty of excommunication—which also acts as an alert and a reminder to the culture about the gravity of a crime. In “the old days,” the priest could forgive the sin, but the penalty of excommunication would have to be lifted. This would be done by the bishop and with relative ease. And again: excommunication was rare because abortion was rare.
In the 1980s, when the church in the United States saw the ballooning rates of abortions because of Roe v. Wade, most priests were given, in addition to the power to forgive (which they already possessed), the power to lift the excommunication. Such has been the case in St. Louis for a while. This means that everyone who has confessed the sin of abortion here has been forgiven and the excommunication has also been lifted. Thanks be to God.
Now, all areas of the world have not seen quite the proliferation of abortion as we have. But abortion is expanding in the world. Consequently, the Pope thought it expedient to grant the bishop’s power to all priests throughout the world during the Year of Mercy. Here in St. Louis, this power will remain even when the Year of Mercy ends. Again, thanks be to God.
But, also: Lord have mercy. The reason why I have the power to lift excommunication is because abortion in the US is so frequent. Pope Francis’ words remind us that abortion is not just a grave illness in the US, but a growing global plague. The Pope has simply made more doctors— more doctors precisely because the illness is getting worse. So, see in Pope Francis words not only great mercy, but a great call to pray for an end to the greatest of human cancers which is abortion!
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The second executive decision that Pope Francis made concerned annulments.
I could say a lot about annulments, not only because my mom went through the process, but also because I am an advocate here in the Archdiocese—which means that I prepare the cases and help couples through the process (which, I guess, is kind of like a paralegal).
Since I don’t have an hour with you, I will simply say that Pope Francis has streamlined the annulment process. In the past, an annulment case would be judged by one court and then, after that initial decision, the case would be judged by another (appellate) court. The case would be carefully examined by three judges. This double-court, three-judge system existed as a kind of safeguard to protect truth and also to ensure justice. What Pope Francis did this week—and he can do this because we are dealing with processes of law and not doctrine proper—what Pope Francis did was to simplify the process by eliminating the second court and the three judges, thereby making it simply one court with one judge. To my understanding, this could possibly remove 3-5 months of wait time for some cases here in St. Louis. That’s good news.
What is bad about this is that it reveals to us the epidemic of failed marriages. And in epidemics, we often can’t do intricate surgery. We do triage. It appears that’s what we now have.
So, see in the Pope’s words not only a generous and merciful Pope, but also one who is calling for much prayer for the renewal of marriages!
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What can we do about all of this?
I think we need to really take a step back and honestly answer Jesus’ question today: “Who do you say that I am?”
As an advocate that does annulments, I see and read many cases. And the reality is, every couple is answering this question by how much or how little they pray together as a couple. Is Jesus the Lord and Savior of your marriage?
If you say that He is, then He is going to reveal the secret to being married:
Anyone who wishes to come after me must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
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For my part, not only do I pray and sacrifice for marriages—praying for you daily—but I have also boosted up my marriage preparation program. This is already a long homily, so I’m going to skip ahead and simply say that our marriage program is awesome.
I do think we need to do more to help couples in their early formative years—in those years where it is so easy to become a lost island, alone with many questions with no one to help, with little kids and thinking they have to re-invent the wheel and so on. We—all of us, you and I—need to look for and reach out to our young couples, to carry our cross and step outside our comfort zones by introducing ourselves and having them over for dinner… and simply letting them know that they are not alone and that here—in the very place where they should expect love and community—here is where they will find it!
And you have something to offer them! You who have been married for a few years, you have wisdom. And they need this. Let us get to know one another!
And notice: in the bulletin, you will see wedding banns—announcements of who is getting married in the coming weeks. These are our parishioners who are saying yes to a very important vocation. We need to pray for them! So, cut out this part of the bulletin, and place it on your dinner table or in your prayer book and spiritually adopt these couples. Pray for them when you are at dinner.
You’ll notice that their wedding dates and times are listed. Why? So you can crash their wedding! Really, you can go to their wedding—not the reception, of course—but you can go to their wedding. It’s not a private event. It’s a public deal—a vocation we should all rejoice in. So go, say hello, give a gift, and rediscover the beauty of your marriage again!
Brothers and sisters, if there is a marriage crisis out there, it’s because there is a marriage crisis in here. It isn’t simply because the priest or the Pope isn’t doing enough to save marriages, WE aren’t doing enough to save marriages.
Who do you say that I am?
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For those who have experienced a divorce or been abandoned, my heart goes out to you. I know the pain of divorce and my prayers are with you. The Church is here for you.
For those who are in need of an annulment, now is the time. Let us seek together the mercy of God!
And for those who have been hurt by a priest or the church during a past annulment, let me say on their behalf that I am so, so sorry. I pray that deep wounds may be healed. I pray that we can begin anew.
Together let us all pray for any couple who is too busy to pray and too prideful to say “I’m sorry.” We know all too well the danger they are in! Let us pray for the renewal of marriages and family in our culture. Yes, that Pope Francis has made the annulment process easier should give us all pause: pause to thank God for so much mercy, and pause to pray for all of us who need it. Amen.