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Monday, March 25, 2013

Forgiveness & Punishment - One without the Other?

I was reading the Modesto Bee online this morning and saw a letter to the editor from a woman who had her precious statue of Our Lady stolen from her front yard.  She is (understandably) upset as it stood in her front yard for ten years unmolested.  In her letter she stated that while she does not know who stole her statue, God does and the person will be punished.

One of the comments under the letter is from a typical Christian basher.  He or she makes reference to forgiveness, snarkily implying that because the wronged party told the thief (with certainty) that their crime would be punished, they were not being Christian.  They were not 'forgiving'.

I understand the person who posted the comment was being a jackass, however it still made me stop and think.

Why do we have so many people running around today yelling their heads off about being forgiven by God, being 'saved' as though it were a one time event, and then going merrily on their way with their disgusting and immoral behavior?  Is it because people have completely bifurcated forgiveness and punishment?

The man (or woman's) reply to the letter writer caused me to wonder if one of the reasons our society is so incredibly screwed up isn't because we have taught our young (and ourselves) that being forgiven absolves one from any of the deserved punishment stemming from our action.  In other words, one cannot be forgiven if one still has to pay for the offense. 

Being Catholic, I have been taught the difference between being forgiven for my sins and the removal of temporal punishment for those sins.  It seems to me, with the rise of "lots of music and feel good Christianity" of the once-saved-always-saved people the need to make amends for that harm we cause is now only alive in two places: The Catholic Church and Twelve Step Programs.  It may be why young men - teenagers - can see nothing wrong with sexually violating a classmate while she is drunk and then stand up and cry when they are sentenced for their crime.  It would also explain why they would never have felt any remorse at all if they hadn't been stupid enough to post their criminal behavior on social media networks which lead to them getting caught in the first place.  It would also explain why people are talking about how sad it is their futures as successful professional football players have been ruined instead of wondering about the society that gave the framework for this behavior in the first place.

Think about it:  This is Passion Week.  It is the most important time of the year for Christians.  It is the week we remember, celebrate, re-present and reenact that moment in human history in which God, emptied of Himself and taking on our nature, offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice in order to open the gates of heave and forgive the sin that separated us from Him in the first place.  In other words, in the words of St Augustine, O Happy Fault....but it WAS a FAULT.

It would seem to me that if GOD thought taking an action and accepting punishment, even punishment of torture and death, was necessary to heal a wound caused by sin it would be pretty darn arrogant of men to think they can shout "Jesus is my Lord and Savior!" and that would be it as far as being forgiven.  If GOD told us we had to do certain things in order to gain eternal life (the corporal works of mercy, The Eucharist - you know, those pesky things that St James refers to when he wrote that Faith without works is dead), then we are being pretty arrogant and self serving to think we have the right to change that to "Just say the sinners prayer and all will be well forever".

Someone I attended Catholic school with (I mention this because she received the same level of excellent catechises as I did so there is no excuse for her apostasy) told me that the Bible says that no one can pluck her from His Hand...which is absolutely true.  However, she can leap out of it on her own volition and she has done so if she has walked away from Holy Mother Church.

Today it would seem, from the tone of the commenter on the letter to the Modesto Bee, we have a whole lot of people who believe that forgiveness means "Ally Ally Ox In Free" when it comes to punishment.  It does not surprise me.  We have, as a society, turned into a huge bunch of babies.  We are overly sensitive, cannot stand any kind of criticism at all and are periodically allowed to rewrite our own personal histories to meet our own agendas.  Don't anyone DARE to tell their 12 year old they are doing their homework wrong, or they need to study more, or they should learn that doing laundry means separating the whites from the colors and actually adding soap to the machine.  You might hurt their feelings. 

This does not, of course, mean that one needs to browbeat a person for making an error.  God does not browbeat me for the sins I commit today; rather, He lovingly forgives when I seek absolution.  If I do not, He lovingly waits for me to want Him back in my life.

I hope the person who stole the beloved statue of Our Lady repents.  I hope they seek forgiveness.  I also hope they get caught and have to face the consequences of their actions.

Hoping for all of that does not make me a bad Christian - it makes me a Catholic, and for that I am eternally grateful.