“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God….” (John 1:12)
Jesus led an affirmed life. This is an important point: for to affirm others Jesus had to be affirmed himself. Thus we see that after Jesus’ baptism the Father in Heaven first calls Jesus “my beloved” and then adds my “son, in whom I am well pleased” (see Matt: 3:17). Jesus’ mission of affirming others came from the fact that he was first of all an affirmed person. Since Mary was a human being fully alive in the Holy Spirit it was impossible for Jesus not to be touched by her affirming presence.
We see throughout the Gospels the tremendous and extraordinary power Jesus possessed to affirm others! People in the presence of the most dire circumstances suddenly find their lives transformed by the dynamic, affirming presence of Jesus. Whether it be the woman at the well, Zacchaeus (the dishonest tax collector), the woman caught in adultery, the man who came to Jesus through an opening in the roof, or the immoral woman who dried Jesus’ feet with her hair, Jesus is authentically open to them, he makes time for them, he affirms and does not condemn them, and ultimately he liberates them from the tyranny of sin. Thus, as one example, he says to the woman caught in adultery: “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:10-11). And Zacchaeus comes away from his encounter with Jesus vowing to make restitution to all those he has defrauded (Luke 19:8).
We thus see that Jesus, who is the supreme exemplar of authentic Christian affirmation, had a remarkable way of being open to others and giving to them the gift of discovering their own inner goodness and of receiving themselves as children of God. Jesus’ method of affirming others involves a liberation from sin rather than an acceptance of sin. Jesus does not condone sin – rather he frees, he heals, he liberates. Authentic affirmation, therefore, does not, as Catholic psychiatrist C.W. Baars points out, consist in “lowering moral standards and precepts with a mistaken notion that this will help people to become happier….” Thus, to try to affirm someone by telling them that pornography is OK, or that illicit sexuality is OK, or that vulgar language is OK, contradicts the Jesus method of affirmation. Jesus never, ever compromises the moral law to affirm someone. Thus, as mentioned, Jesus authentically affirmed the woman caught in adultery by his forgiving presence, and by directing her to a “life of purity” (“go and sin no more,” John 8:11).
In contrast, many people have raised a red flag about the so called Pope Francis mercy. They note that “Francis mercy” has a different taste, so to speak, than the Divine Mercy spoken of in Saint Faustina’s Diary (where the consequences and gravity of sin are mentioned in a very serious manner) and brought prominently to our attention by Saint John Paul II. If this characterization of Francis mercy goes too far, it at least serves to demonstrate the profound concern many have about it.
If Pope Francis wants to bring to the Communion rail people who are in situations that profoundly contradict Catholic moral teaching, then it is incumbent upon faithful Catholics to point out that such a sentimental type of mercy is dramatically at odds with infallible Catholic doctrine that states that a person in mortal sin cannot receive Holy Communion (see CCC 1385). Anyone, including a Pope, who holds Catholic moral teaching to be an “ideal,” rather than the norm, has missed the mark regarding the true Catholic understanding of grace and justification infallibly promulgated at Trent and enshrined in the Catechism (see CCC 1987 thru 2005; see 1989, which reads, “The first work of the grace of the Holy Spirit is conversion, effecting justification in accordance with Jesus’ proclamation at the beginning of the Gospel: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Moved by grace, man turns toward God and away from sin, thus accepting forgiveness and righteousness from on high. ‘Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man’ “).
God the Father in Heaven affirmed Jesus once again during Jesus’ Transfiguration, saying, “This is my son, My Chosen one, listen to him” (Luke 9:35). Jesus is our model. He shows us the authentic Christian method of affirmation. Let us listen to him!
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
Ref. I am relying almost exclusively on a beautiful little book entitled, Born Only Once: The Miracle of Affirmation, by Dr. Conrad W. Baars. Everything in this note flows from Dr. Baars’ book, and I have merely presented some of his ideas in a condensed manner.
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