Happy St. Patrick’s Day, my brothers and sisters! May your day be filled with blessings from God, with friends, and with celebration of the great wonders the Lord God has wrought.
My sisters and brothers, imagine this woman, dragged before Jesus, thrown onto the ground. You‘ve seen similar images today– men and women crowding around her screaming and yelling, many already holding their stones, some held high, their faces twisted in anger. She is crying, screaming, fearful, for she knows she is about to die. She knows it, my brothers and sisters, for the crowd is yelling down at her for her lust. Who knows why she committed the sin of adultery (and where is the man she committed it with–perhaps himself holding a stone?).
Then one by one, the crowd diminishes in the presence of Jesus’ silence. The screaming lessens and then disappears. Rocks are dropped, but nowhere near this poor woman. Does she even notice through her own tears? I would not. I would only realize at some moment, perhaps cried out, that I am not dead yet, and then realize that no one is yelling, and then look up and see no one but Jesus.
10 Jesus again straightened up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’
11 ‘No one, sir,’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus. ‘Go away, and from this moment sin no more.’
Go away and sin no more. What mystical words, my brothers and sisters. Condemnation is about holding on to the past. Forgiveness is about moving on to the future. It is apt, I think, I hope, I pray, my brothers and sisters, that these sets of readings follow the election of Pope Francis. He has chosen the name Francis, which no pope has chosen before. And Francis was called to rebuild the Church in a time of turmoil.
Each of these readings is about rebuilding.
19 Look, I am doing something new, now it emerges; can you not see it? Yes, I am making a road in the desert and rivers in wastelands.
20 The wild animals will honour me, the jackals and the ostriches, for bestowing water in the desert and rivers on the wastelands for my people, my chosen one, to drink.
21 The people I have shaped for myself will broadcast my praises.
God has created something new for Israel: a new home freed from slavery. Is Francis a sign of God bringing something new to the Church? Perhaps. But Francis cannot rebuild the Church alone. We too must join him. We must insist on a Church of the poor. A Church of the environment: “the wild animals will honor me. ”
Like Paul, we must proclaim
13 Brothers, I do not reckon myself as having taken hold of it; I can only say that forgetting all that lies behind me, and straining forward to what lies in front,
14 I am racing towards the finishing-point to win the prize of God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.
Paul is not writing about progress. He is not seeking the next tool to let humanity live in this desert we’ve created. No. Paul is seeking to leave behind his old self to journey toward the resurrection. Christ has wiped our sins away through His death on the cross. We are called to race toward Him through the work we do in this world. A work filled with rebuilding the world toward hope and promise.
Pope Francis is showing us how: to leave behind the condemnation Church and to renew ourselves in Christ as a Church for the poor.
And so we return to that woman, cast down on the ground before Jesus. We, the Church, are like the woman. We have sinned against God by caring more for rules than for people. Yet, Jesus does not condemn us. He simply asks us to sin no more.
Can we carry that cross? Yes, forgiving others is a cross, and being forgiven for our sins is a cross that we bear. We are not worthy of such forgiveness. We are not worthy of reconciliation with God. Yet, Jesus sits there, writing in the sand. And the next time the wind blows, what He has written will blow away, just as our sins have been blown away by the water of baptism and the fire of confirmation. But now, we must turn our eyes, our hands, and our hearts to rebuilding.
I cannot say, my brothers and sisters, what Pope Francis will be like. I am hopeful that he will return us to a Church that focuses on love more than doctrine, that focuses on the poor more than reputation, that focuses on living love rather than speaking love. He cannot do it alone. And if he fails, we know that others have failed before him.
But the name Francis reminds us that every day people — people who are not priests or nuns — can renew the Church and can live a life of love, a life of poverty, a life that is following Christ. You and I, my sisters and brothers, must also take the name Francis. Having a new pope is a sign to do so. Having a new pope, though, is not a renewal of the Church or a rebuilding of the faith. You and I: we are the renewers and the rebuilders through Christ Jesus and the love that we have for each other.