Monday, February 8, 2016

"LISTEN TO THE PETITIONS, AND GRANT PARDON."


Homily for February 9th, 2016: 1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30.

          “Listen to the petitions of your servant and of your people Israel which they offer in this place,” Solomon prays at the dedication of the Temple. To pray that God will hear the petitions offered in the Temple is what we would expect. But then comes something we do not expect: “Listen from your heavenly dwelling -- and grant pardon.”

          Solomon’s prayer reminds us that whenever we approach God, the first thing we need to ask for is pardon for our sins. None of us is worthy to enter into the presence of the all-holy God. That is why the first thing we do in every Mass is to ask forgiveness for our sins, and implore God’s mercy.

          Our wonderful Pope Francis has made prayer for God’s mercy central in his preaching. Repeatedly, and in different ways, the Pope tells us: God never grows tired of forgiving us; it is we who grow tired of asking for forgiveness.

          It appears that this theme is rooted in the Pope’s personal history. At age thirty-six Jorge Bergoglio was put in charge of all the Jesuits in Argentina. The country was under a cruel military government. They arrested hundreds of people they did not like, perhaps thousands, and without trial flew them in planes over the South Atlantic and dropped them into the sea. Many Jesuits embraced something called liberation theology, putting political action and protest before traditional priestly duties: administering the sacraments and preaching the gospel.  
          Guiding his Jesuit brothers along the right path in this chaotic and perilous situation would have been difficult even for a much older man with greater experience than Fr. Bergoglio. Some Jesuits were clearly over the line. To protect them he forbade his brothers to provoke the authorities by living in the slums and engaging in political protest. Inevitably this provoked charges that he was “soft on injustice.” Over time Bergoglio came to feel that he may have been too rigid, and that his treatment of his Jesuit brothers who confronted the military regime in Argentina, and embraced the cause of the poor, had perhaps been too harsh. This continues to weigh on him today, as Pope Francis. It helps us to understand his constant emphasis on our need for forgiveness.

Regardless of our personal history, we all need to pray for God’s mercy and forgiveness. And Pope Francis is right to remind us that this prayer is one that God will always answer.