Milk and honey

From a  billion-dollar lottery to the parable of the rich man in the Gospel, wealth was definitely the hot topic this past week. While attending a Catholic training conference over the weekend, even one of the speakers commented about God’s promise of “a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:8) Throw in the popular quote from Ecclesiastes about “all things are vanity” from Sunday’s first reading, and all references seem rather confusing. (Ecc 1:2)

During the RCIA training (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), the speaker referred to the land of milk and honey promised in the Old Testament as an indicator of how wildly God is in love with us. I started to think about what milk and honey could represent. Whole milk has a richness to it, coating the glass that contains it, and honey is sweet without being overly sweet. The taste of honey can reflect the location and pollen  from the flowers the bees used to make it and milk would have been primarily from sheep and goats in Old Testament times and locations. If the land was flowing with milk, then the amount of those animals grazing there  would have had to have been massive. Also, the weather would have had to be the right combination of both rain and sun so that there would be enough grass on which the animals could feed and enough flowers to bloom for the bees. With the right weather, both the animals and the bees could thrive. It all comes down, however, to trusting God. If we believe that He will provide for us, even when things look bleak, God will give us what we need, when we need it. 

I was very tempted to play the lottery last week. I know my chances to win, especially if I only bought one ticket, would be miniscule, but it only takes one to win. With such a large jackpot, I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to win, as that amount was just way too much. So how much is enough? If I wanted to retire today, I don’t know how much money I would need, especially with the soaring cost of everything. Would one million dollars be enough, or would I need a hundred million? And while retiring today would relieve me of the stress and drama of my current work situation, something else would ultimately come along to replace it. This is true, unless I put my total trust in God. We can learn from the various stories of the Saints, that a carefree life is one lived by doing God’s will, even amongst the hardships and difficulties that it brings. 

Perhaps winning enough to pay off my house and my car, and make the home improvements I want to make would be worth buying a ticket. For example, I want new windows (and there’s a lot of them!), but I don’t yet need them. However, do I trust that God will help me make good financial decisions so that when I do need to replace them, I will have the funds to do it? God gave us a model of work and rest to follow in the story of creation. He wants us to live life to the fullest and be the best version of ourselves. He wants us to work at improving ourselves and our fallen world. Our anxieties about money come from a need to control our circumstances and our future, to take what we want in the attempt to satisfy ourselves. Yet the Gospel reading reminds us that we can only control our response to what we receive. Most of us know the joy and satisfaction of a job well done. God wants us to experience that, balanced with rest and leisure, all while sharing an intimate relationship with Him in everything we do.

In sending Jesus, God has spared nothing to show us how much He loves us. His “crazy love” wants to shower us with the blessings of rich milk and sweet honey when we put our trust in Him. If we work for Him and with Him, He will provide. In the times when we are distracted by the world around us, God’s Word will remind us what is truly important: a life spent in love with Him.   

Practicing charity in small matters

I was able to laugh at a video that came up on Facebook, but then again, as someone who always returns a shopping cart to the designated area, I may not have been the target for the video. Sponsored by BBC Scotland’s The Social, The Trolley Theory is a comedic illustration of doing the right thing for society.

In the United Kingdom, the term trolley is used for what Americans would call a shopping cart. In a very succinct presentation, The Trolley Theory uses the simple act of returning the trolley as a representation of what makes a good or bad member of society. It is “the apex example of what is right and what is so very wrong with free will.” This line got me thinking and I started to wonder about those who don’t return the trolley or cart to the corral. Would they find this video amusing as I did? Or would they be offended? Would they even care or would they shrug it off as some other person’s problem? 

What is wrong with free will, is that we are all free to make choices that affect others, while thinking that it has no effect on anyone but ourselves. Yet, it is in this “wrong” that others have the ability to step up and do more than what our “responsibility” is. Continuing with the example of a shopping cart, the store that I now frequent has two cart sizes. I love using the small one, as I don’t get much and it’s more easily maneuvered throughout the store. In the various parking lot corrals for the carts, there is supposed to be one lane for small carts and one for the big ones.  When the situation presents itself, I will align a cart or two in addition to the one I’m returning. It really doesn’t take much effort to do it, and I hope that by aligning the carts, others who are returning theirs will keep the alignment. I don’t have to do it, but then again — as the video points out — I don’t have to return the trolley either. 

The counterpoint to argue against the trolley theory is that returning the trolley is really a selfish act. What happens when no one returns the trolley/cart? The parking lot becomes a minefield of potentially moving self-autonomous weapons, ready to ding the side of your car or worse to roll into the path of your vehicle as you try to enter or leave the parking lot. During busy times at the grocery store, it’s hard enough to watch for pedestrians and other vehicles. Adding abandoned carts with the potential to move on their own from the slightest stirring of a breeze is a hazard that can be avoided by properly returning the cart. It may be selfish for me to want to reduce the number of moving possibilities as I navigate through the parking lot, but my selfish act is not just helping me, but others too. However, can an action be selfish if it benefits more than just the person committing it? 

You may be thinking, “A whole blog post about shopping carts? What does it all matter?” In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” (Lk 16:10) It doesn’t matter if it’s money, time, speech, or shopping carts, little details matter. Even so, we shouldn’t use these items to be judgemental to others, but rather look and choose the opportunities that benefit others. If the circumstances allow your options to go beyond what you would normally do, then do it. These “small matters” give us the chance to practice charity towards others. And by practicing, we can increase the love we have for others and reflect the love that Jesus has for us.

“Wash the plate not because it is dirty nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.” 

Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Meaning of sacrifice

While anyone can look up a definition of the word ‘sacrifice,’ what does the word mean to you? How would you classify it; does it have a connotation that is positive, negative, or neutral? Have you ever given any thought to the word? 

In ancient times, sacrifice was a habitual act. Various religions used it as a way to communicate with their deity. For the Israelites, it was a sacrifice of grains, first fruits, and livestock. Other religions demanded infants and children. These were times when most struggled to get enough to keep them and their family going throughout the year. To give up any food, especially the best, took courage and faith. We will never be able to begin to understand what it took for parents to give up their children in the cultures that required it. In eras when children did not always survive into adulthood, was it considered a blessing that they were sacrificed for what the family believed to be a higher purpose? In ancient times, sacrifice hurt and most people, if not all, were affected by it in some way.

In modern times, if you mention the word sacrifice, someone may think you are talking about a particular play in baseball — the sacrifice fly ball. Another may think of it in terms of time; perhaps parents have to sacrifice their weekend to shuttle their kids to different activities. Others may think of it in terms of money or material things, but many times it’s more about sacrificing a luxury than something that is truly essential. (No, the cup of coffee from Starbucks is not essential; a habit perhaps, maybe an addiction, but it is not a requirement for life.) For people in lower economic brackets, they may need to make choices between modern day necessities like electricity, water, food, and medicine, but these choices are not necessarily sacrifices, as they are not freely choosing to give up any or all of those elements. Rather they are choosing what’s most important to their life, given the funds that they have. 

Sacrifice is a word that is used in our modern language. Sometimes it is confused with choice, or perhaps misused instead of it. In using it as such, the connotation softens the word, so that the harsh starkness of giving up something that is critical to life, or even life itself, no longer resonates. As Catholics, we hear about the ‘sacrifice of the Mass’ and perhaps we have even used that phrase ourselves. Yet each week we go to Mass, as the words of consecration are spoken, do we realize that what is taking place is Jesus giving Himself up on the cross on Calvary? While the Mass is the ‘unbloodied sacrifice’ it is nonetheless re-presenting the ultimate sacrifice of a life for a life – namely Jesus’ life for ours. Jesus freely gives His life to atone for what we never will be able to do: to make full reparation for the sins we commit. And He did it because He loves us. He did it even knowing that people turned away from Him. He did it so that we can hope in His mercy. He did it so that we can become the best version of ourselves in spite of our sinful predisposition. 

Jesus is both God and man, and so His death hurt. Not just His family and followers at the time, but for everyone who believes in Him. We should allow ourselves to feel hurt by His death. In participating in His death, we can better appreciate the resurrection, His ascension, and the descent of the Holy Spirit. Being affected by these events, we can immerse ourselves in the life of Jesus, sacrificing ourselves to become His representation in our little corner of the world. 

“…Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh. I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given Himself up for me.”

Gal 2:20

Piety from the Spirit

One of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit we receive at the sacrament of Confirmation is the gift of piety. But what is it and what do we do with it? 

At a basic level, piety is about respect for the sacred. We can start with God’s name. It’s not just about being sensitive when using the name Yaweh, it’s about respecting God’s name in all three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and this includes the name of Jesus. If we throw around the name of Jesus like it’s any other word, we are not being respectful to God. If we would not substitute our own name, or the name of a loved one, then we shouldn’t use Jesus’ name in our responses. 

“Sacred items” are those items set apart from the every day and are for use during Mass, prayer, and sacraments. In addition, we should respect  churches and church spaces, especially when people are there to pray. This may mean avoiding unnecessary conversation or removing yourself to another location. From buildings to rosaries, and all things inbetween, piety is  acknowledging that these items are not meant for our pleasure, but as conduits in our relationship with the Lord. Even something like holy water, (which is blessed) is not something we would use to bathe in, but rather we use to bless ourselves, reminding ourselves of our baptism, and to call on the grace we received in that sacrament to help us in our current challenge. 

Sometimes distractions can cause us to lose focus and test our ability to be pious. For example, walking up to receive the Eucharist, we should be preparing ourselves for receiving the greatest gift of all: the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. Yet there is that cute baby peering over the shoulder of the parent in front of us. How could anyone not smile and give a little wave? And if we receive in the hand, do we present our hands like a throne for Jesus to be placed? And on our way back to our seats, do we take the time to welcome our Lord into our bodies or do we scan the crowd to see who’s there and acknowledge our friends? 

The gifts the Holy Spirit poured out on us at Confirmation may seem like that occurred a very long time ago. However, God is the master of all time, and His gifts do not have expiration dates. When we receive a gift from God, it’s not for us to keep and hold it. But rather, we are called to practice and share it. Piety is not for just “holy people” or saints, it’s for all of us. We are all called to be holy and practicing piety (with help from the Holy Spirit to lead us) will enable us to recognize the holy and sacredness of items and events in our lives. Our respect for sacred items is one way to love the God who wants nothing more than to shower us with even more gifts. We need to use and share what we have already received in order to receive more. Piety is not about perfection, it is a practice. Let us thank the Holy Spirit for this wonderful gift and ask His assistance as we put it into practice!

Carrying your cross

How many crosses do you carry? And I am not  talking about the jewelry you wear, the rosary in your pocket, or possibly the tattoo on your body. I mean the spiritual, sacrificial hardships that are uniquely yours to bear. Is there more than one? Or does it change as your spirituality grows?

Luke’s gospel (9:23) records Jesus indicating the call of discipleship is for us to deny ourselves,  to take up our cross daily, and follow Him. While many, especially in our modern culture of “me,” would think that the cross Catholics are called to carry is the denial of putting ourselves first, in reality the crosses we are meant to carry can many times be categorized as a weakness towards sin. Even St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians acknowledges the thorn of the flesh he was given. (2 Cor 12:7). For some of us it may be an addictive pattern, for others it may gossip or judging others. Although we may share the same inclinations with another, how we handle ourselves and address our weakness is unique to each individual.

Life is ever changing. If we focus on one particular area in our life to improve, it often seems that we falter in other multiple areas. Then as we shift our focal point to those other problem areas, the original element of focus ends up back in the same way prior to trying to fix it. Some may call it an endless battle and eventually give up. Yet Jesus didn’t indicate that we only needed to pick up one cross (or needed to pick it up once) but rather daily; that thought alone can be overwhelming. When we notice ourselves falling back into a pattern of sinful behavior, it is a golden opportunity to lean on Jesus and also the saints and angels for assistance. Just like Simon the Cyrenian helped Jesus carry His cross, Jesus does not abandon us to our own devices unless we specifically push Him away. Some days the weight of our cross can feel like it’s about to crush us,  on other days it could simply be an annoying inconvenience. Our journey with our crosses span the length of our lives and it’s how we embrace certain moments of spiritual exercise overall that will determine our success.

Not all crosses we bear are a direct reflection of our actions. Illness, separation, or death can also be burdens that challenge our spiritual journey. Yet these, too, are temporary and do not define our spiritual lives. They can ultimately bring us closer to God and others as we navigate our way through these times. 

It can be easy to look at others and be thankful that we don’t have the crosses they bear. Comparing our crosses to theirs may not only minimize the severity of ours in our minds, but can also minimize the impact and effect of addressing the weaknesses we do have. But venial sins can stack up quickly. Minimizing the impact of our actions can lead us dangerously into the sin of pride, as evidenced by the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). We also need to be cautious not to “decorate” our crosses just so that others can see what we are dealing with. 

We can’t choose which cross we want to pick up, but we are asked to acknowledge our cross (or crosses) and daily pick them (all) up with the Lord’s assistance. Carrying this burden sensitizes us to have compassion for others. Yet we don’t just pick it up and hold it; we carry it and follow Jesus. He has shown us that even when we fall, we need to rise up again and continue in the path He has made with His cross – all the way through to the resurrection. 

Blest to be poor in spirit

The first Beatitude: “Blest are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3) is one that I found troublesome to understand. But when I heard Bishop Barron explain the ‘poor in spirit’ as those who are not addicted to good feelings, it made much more sense. Our society seems to expect us to always be happy and if we’re not, we feel that something is wrong and needs to be fixed.

I had several days recently that were rather trying; nothing horrible, I was just perceiving everything as requiring a Herculean effort. Why did even the simplest of tasks seem so difficult? I kept praying and asking for help, yet it seemed as if I was moving through semi-solidified gelatin. With the expectation of needing to put on a good face, or be required to answer probing questions of what’s wrong, my mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual energies were depleted by the end of the day. Instead of having a good night’s sleep, my sleep pattern was interrupted, resulting in the next day my waking up tired or cranky, or both. I started to think, “What’s wrong with me? Why is this happening?” The expectations I had for myself were not being fulfilled, and I felt like I was doing everything wrong. I was still praying, yet the words seemed hollow.

While I felt like I needed to put it in God’s hands, what exactly was I putting in His hands? What kind of intercessory prayer should I be praying? Because I felt like I was making poor choices, how could I ask God to fix something that I was responsible for? That was not fair to God. But that is a very human way of looking at life. God wants everything: our good and our less than stellar selves. The days were a hard slog to get through, and it was very difficult not to dig myself further into darkness by casting poor judgements upon myself. Then while at Mass, poor in spirit kept coming into my head and I realized what I was going through was an exercise to strengthen me for when I’m not my happy, smiling self. 

Everyone has times when not for any particular reason, they’re just not happy. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong or needs to be changed, but rather to stay the course and take things slow. It may mean that you need to go half-speed, and that’s okay. Some chores may only be half-done or not completed at all, and that’s okay. You may feel that you are lazy and making bad decisions, and saying prayers without meaning them, but it’s important to keep trying and to continue to ask God for support. These types of days don’t last forever and they are helpful in strengthening our compassion for others. While you may not feel very blessed as you journey through those cloud-filled days, the sun is still shining on the other side of the clouds and eventually the clouds will break. No matter how far away God seems to us, He is always walking the way right beside us.

When we allow ourselves to experience a full range of feelings throughout our human lives, and allow God to guide us through each, our lives are truly blessed. We can appreciate the happiness and joy of life because we experience even the days that are a struggle. Our lives are not summed up into one day or the feelings we had on any particular day. And we may never fully know or understand what God can do as we allow Him and His will be done, as we muddle our way through those dismal days. But  perhaps when we look back on our lives at the end, we may see the exquisite masterpiece God has painted, using the shadowed-times to punctuate the times of vibrance and full-color. 

The fisherman and the sheep

In the long version of next Sunday’s gospel reading from John (21:1-19), Jesus asks Peter three questions and after each gives him a directive related to the care of the sheep. It makes me wonder, what does a fisherman know about tending sheep?

In our modern eyes, the directions Jesus gives to Peter about feeding the lambs and sheep and tending them is about the Church. After 2,000 years, that makes sense. But what did Peter think of it all? He’s not recorded asking what sheep or where they were located. Most emphasis, including in the reading itself, is focused on the question that Jesus asks: “Do you love me?” Peter is distressed that Jesus keeps asking him the same question over and over again. Peter has seen Jesus work many miracles, and miraculously rise from the dead. Peter has proclaimed Jesus as the long awaited Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed one. He’s observed Jesus responding to the Pharisees when they haven’t even muttered a word, reading their thoughts and hearts in His address. How can Jesus, who seems to know all, not know that Peter loves him? I can see how distressing this would be.

Jesus once told Peter he would make him a fisher of men, yet now it seems He is making Peter into a shepherd. What, or who, did Peter think Jesus was referring to when he gave him the instructions to feed and tend the lambs and the sheep? Did Peter think of the sheep as the other disciples? It can be easy for modern day readers of the scriptures to think that what is recorded is the only dialog that ever happened. Perhaps there were other conversations Jesus had with Peter that allowed him to understand the references Jesus made. While the whole concept of a new religion, a new Church, may not have been the detailed instructions Jesus provided, He may have indicated that Peter was to “tend” to those who wanted to follow the way that Jesus had taught and exemplified.

I think of a fisherman as one who entices with bait and then takes the result from the water with the intention of the fish being consumed. A shepherd is quite the opposite, he does not entice with bait, but rather leads the sheep into pastures where they can graze, keeping an eye out for the dangers of weather, predators, and strays. The Church and the popes throughout the centuries have been shepherding God’s people, leading us to a relationship with Jesus and encouraging us to live a life centered on Sacraments and the Beatitudes. The letters and encyclicals of the popes have warned us of potential dangers in society and advised the flock of how to live a Christ-centered life within the culture of their time. 

I’ve read that the three “do you love Me?” questions were meant to correct the three times Peter denied Jesus prior to the crucifixion. Yet after each question and answer, Jesus gives Peter an instruction. Perhaps Jesus asks Peter about the strength of his love for Him because it’s not enough to just say we love someone, but true love is demonstrated by action. Jesus giving Peter a command after asking about Peter’s love for Him are entwined; you can’t have one without the other. 

We, too, are called to show our love for God through our loving interactions with all  those we encounter: family, friends, and individuals whom we may not know but come into contact. We are called to feed the lambs and sheep of Jesus’ flock by sharing the love He has given us with others. Let us keep alert to the opportunities Jesus is asking us if we love Him in the challenging opportunities in our daily lives. 

Peter represents the Church

Happy Easter! While Jesus is the main focus of the Easter liturgies, I was surprised to notice how much Peter is mentioned. I have attended these liturgies for several decades, yet this year it was almost like a spotlight was on Peter and his participation in the events.

During the Gospel for Holy Thursday, I must admit that I was amused at Peter’s response to Jesus about washing his feet. It really sounded like something I would say, going from one extreme (of not being washed) to the other (of washing more than just the feet). I think it’s a very human trait to see things as “all or nothing.” Yet God goes beyond our human thinking to what really matters. Anyone who has visited Israel knows that even in today’s modern age with motorized transportation, our feet seem to be magnets for the dust of the area. Yet after a long, tiring day of travel, if one just washes their feet, one feels like a whole new person who can travel for another eight hours. In ancient times the task of washing another’s feet fell to the lowest class of people: the servants and slaves. Even after spending three years with Jesus, Peter still didn’t understand that Jesus was teaching by example: those who want to follow Jesus must become servants to others.

Peter’s declaration to never abandon Jesus is the next example of how Peter’s responses are very much like the humanity of the Church. From the top all the way down to the laity, the Church is made of imperfect people trying their best to have a relationship with God and do His will in their earthly life. Sometimes we do well, but more often than we care to admit, we stumble and fall. Peter does try to follow Jesus, even if it is under a guise of blending in with the crowd. Perhaps Peter had to go through this experience in order to be bold enough to proclaim Jesus after the resurrection. While it is unfortunate that Peter’s betrayal kept him from following Jesus to the crucifixion, he is the only other Apostle besides John that the Gospels indicate followed Jesus after his arrest. 

Peter’s response to the women’s strange story illustrates the bond he had with Jesus. How many of us, after denying knowing a friend who has been unjustly arrested and killed, would run to their tomb after hearing that the person has been raised from the dead? Wouldn’t we rather hide from that person? But Peter took action: he ran to the tomb. He may not have understood what he saw, but he did go in search of Jesus. Despite our imperfections and failings, this is what the Church is all about: to take action by seeking Jesus first, putting all our energies and effort into the search. We, like Peter, may not fully understand what when faced with our own versions of the burial cloths at the empty tomb, but we, like Peter, know things are different and will never be the same. We are changed by our relationship with Jesus.

Though we ask for more than we need and are likely to stumble and fall, if we continue to seek God, He will give us what we need, when we need it and is ready for us in His merciful love. Jesus continues to teach by example by illustrating who we are called to be through Peter’s representation during the most sacred liturgies of the year. 

Prove it

During the reading of Luke’s Passion Gospel on Sunday, I read Herod’s part with new eyes. “Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time, for he had heard about him and had been hoping to see him perform some sign.” (Lk 23:8) I wonder how much “Herod” we each have within us?

Herod was glad to see Jesus? That seems rather odd. In the context of Pilate sending Jesus to Herod to make a decision about Jesus’ life, Herod’s reaction seems more cartoonish in nature. My mind conjures up a grown man bouncing up and down on his throne and clapping his hands in delight at the potential of seeing some wonderful event before his eyes. Yet, this should exactly be our response to Jesus; with joy and gladness, we welcome His presence into our daily life. Our reaction, however, should not be conditional on anything Jesus does for us, but rather the sheer act of Jesus being God should alone account for the celebratory nature in the response. For some, welcoming Jesus joyfully is easy to do when things are going well. For others, even when there are abundant blessings, welcoming the Divine with gladness seems not to be a natural reaction, but a difficult choice requiring much effort. 

Herod had been waiting to see Jesus for a long time. Why wait? Why didn’t King Herod send his men to bring Jesus before him? If Herod really wanted to see Jesus, he didn’t have to wait on the obscure chance that Pilate would send Jesus his way to decide His fate. Herod could have created the opportunity to meet Jesus if he really wanted to see him. Perhaps all the stories he heard about Jesus may have been too much for Herod to believe, and because of the doubt, it didn’t warrant the investment in time or resources to meet with Jesus. How many of us want a relationship with God, or a closer relationship with God, but end up further away because of all the necessary “things” we need to do in life. This is one of the great advantages of Lent: it gives us the opportunity to engage more in our spiritual life with a set amount of space and time. 

Herod hoped to see Jesus perform some sign. How many times do we ask God for a sign and then feel disappointed when it doesn’t happen? To me, it seems like when I approach life looking for signs or divine influence, I’m much more able to see them, than if I ask specifically for a particular occurrence. Is it because I’m looking for a sign to see that what I want is what God wills? How much God blesses us when we, in faith, trust in His providence? Rather than asking Him for signs to believe in Him, we believe in Him and see the signs around us. For others, a sign is a requirement before belief; perhaps even if they see the sign, they explain it away, rather than opening up to truly welcome God into their life. 

Herod was looking for Jesus to prove who He was and His importance. While Herod was initially glad to see Jesus, because Jesus did not meet his expectations, Herod dismissed him. How often do we dismiss Jesus because He hasn’t met up with our expectations? Is it truly fair for us to put expectations on any person — Jesus, our family members, our friends, our coworkers, really anyone? Is it any wonder that Jesus does not respond to Herod at all? Jesus is not a magician to put on a show for others, rather He is a healer looking for those with faith to respond to Him. It is when we acknowledge our frailty and need of Him, opening ourselves up to whatever God wills, that we can be healed, changed, and transformed. 

But she stayed

The Gospel from last Sunday (Jn 8:1-11) about the woman caught in adultery has haunted me for the past few days. While there are many pieces to ponder and various levels of spirituality one can glean from it, I keep tripping up over one very obvious yet very subtle fact: the woman stayed standing in front of Jesus.

Most times in the Gospel readings there are minute details that a person can read through and totally not catch the depth of the meaning. But sometimes they can be frustratingly lacking in detail. We do not know the woman’s name or the circumstances of how she was caught in the trap of the Pharisees. Was she set up? Did she agree to be part of the plan? Did she make a habit of committing adultery, or was this the first time? Who was her husband? Was he in on the plan? John did not include any of these details in the account, perhaps out of mercy to her, so that we can’t invoke her name or her situation. 

One by one her accusers walk away and she is standing alone before Jesus. Could she read? Did she know what He was writing on the ground? Did she even know who Jesus was? Yet she stood there until He addressed her. Her response is just two short words acknowledging that no one had condemned her. She neither pleaded her innocence nor her guilt. Perhaps she was curious as to what Jesus would say, now that she survived the mob of vengeance. While it’s beautiful to hear Jesus saying He doesn’t condemn her either, He does give her a directive not to sin again.

We need to keep this story in mind as we celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. We stand (or sit, or kneel) before Jesus (who is personified by the priest) and while we don’t have a mob of people declaring all our offenses, we do await the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the priest’s response: the counsel, the penance, and the absolution. In the most beautiful words, the absolution is like Jesus’ response to the woman,  “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”

Perhaps because I correlate the woman’s interaction with Jesus to the sacrament, I am curious as to what happened next for her. What did her husband say when she returned home? How did other people treat her after that? Was she shunned or did others forgive her once they found out that Jesus forgave her? Maybe most importantly, how was she changed by her interaction with Jesus? Did she become a follower? Alas, there is no more written of her, so we will never know in this lifetime. 

Even when comparing this account with the sacrament of reconciliation, I still marvel that she stayed standing after all her accusers left. I wonder if I had been in her shoes, would I have stayed there? Or, once I knew I was not going to be stoned, would I have walked away? Would I have waited until Jesus addressed me? Or would I have been too embarrassed by what had happened to want to have any sort of interaction with Him? Being branded an adulteress, perhaps she knew that Jesus was different from any other man she had ever met. Perhaps she heard about His healings and wanted to be healed as well. 

May we all have the courage of this adulteress to stand in our sin before God, seeking His healing mercy and the grace not to sin again.