Even God Needs Mercy? (A Troubling Homily by FrankenPope)

Even God Needs Mercy? (A Troubling Homily by FrankenPope)

The Joylesss Mystery of the Rosary?

Written by Fr. Brian Harrison, O.S.
Thursday, December 31, 2015

In the Traditional Latin Rite the Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated on the Sunday after Epiphany (January 10 this year). In the Novus Ordo calendar it comes two weeks earlier, on the Sunday within the Octave of Christmas; and Pope Francis, following up the two recent Synods on the Family, decided to celebrate this Feast publicly in St. Peter’s Basilica on December 27. In both old and new rites, the Gospel for this Feast is St. Luke’s account of the finding of the Child Jesus in the temple – the Fifth Joyful Mystery of the Rosary.

Unfortunately, our present Bishop of Rome used the occasion in order to preach a sermon that for countless faithful Catholics, including the present writer, had the effect of pouring a bucket of ice-cold water all over the happy occasion, leaching out the joy and replacing it with shock, uncertainty and consternation. For Pope Francis here continued his seemingly unending series of ‘firsts’ – radically novel statements and decisions that none of his predecessors would ever have dreamed of making, and which, indeed, they would never have believed could be made by any Successor of Peter.

Now, to give credit where credit is due, the Holy Father said some very fine things in his homily for the Mass of the Holy Family. Indeed, his pronouncements nearly always contain much that is good, true and spiritually helpful. He could surely never have been elected to the highest office on earth if his track record revealed that most of what he said was foolish, mistaken, superficial or heterodox. Nevertheless, it will only take a small drop of venom to make a rich and delicious Christmas cake highly dangerous for your health. Likewise, just one shocking affirmation in a papal homily can make its overall effect deeply unsettling and dangerous for our spiritual health.

In this case, the Pope has said something which makes many of us shudder; for it is something which it is not easy to exculpate, at least at the objective level, from the charge of blasphemy. Intentionally or otherwise, he has spoken words which, taken in their natural, unforced sense, imply that the Son of God himself has committed sin.

Consider these words by which His Holiness, preaching in Italian, commented on the Gospel incident: “We know what Jesus did on that occasion. Instead of returning home with his family, he stayed in Jerusalem, in the Temple, provoking great suffering (provocando una grande pena) to Mary and Joseph, who were unable to find him. For this little ‘escapade’ (questa ‘scappatella’), Jesus probably had to ask forgiveness (dovette chiedere scusa) of his parents. The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it.”

Now, I can already hear the immediate, almost instinctive, response of those Catholics whose default position is to spring to the defense of the Holy Father no matter what he says or does. They’ll be insisting right away that since popes should always be given the benefit of the doubt, a benign reading of his December 27 homily must be the correct one.

Now, I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt too, when the doubt seems reasonable. Especially the Holy Father. But just how much of a “doubt” can reasonably be found here? “Oh,” my neo-Catholic critics will protest, “You’re putting the worst construction on his homily! The words ‘little escapade’ show that the Pope doesn’t consider the Child Jesus’ action to be anything seriously blameworthy.” Ahem. Seriously blameworthy? Excuse me, but even venial sin, if charged to the Son of God, is already a massively big deal! It’s an utterly unacceptable charge against the perfect divine holiness. Moreover, does an alleged sin that “provoked great suffering” to the Mother of God and St. Joseph really sound like something trivial?

“Well,” I will be told, “Maybe Francis doesn’t mean to ascribe any sin at all to our Lord. We should assume he means that the ‘forgiveness’ Jesus sought was the kind you ask for when you’ve made a completely innocent mistake that has unintentionally turned out to harm somebody else”.

Sorry, but that won’t work either. In the first place, if that’s what Pope Francis really meant, couldn’t he have said so clearly? Is it really expecting too much of the Vicar of Christ to say that he should be more sensitive to the fundamental revealed truth that his Lord and Master is “without sin?” (cf. Heb. 4:15, 2 Cor. 5: 21, and many other biblical texts)? Sensitive enough, that is, to anticipate that certain words might well be taken to cast doubt on this revealed truth and so scandalize the faithful? Sensitive enough, therefore, to either not use those words at all or carefully explain the orthodox sense in which he’s using them?

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the above whitewash won’t wash in any case. If the Pope had in mind a completely innocent mistake on the part of the Child Jesus, he could scarcely have called it an “escapade” – a word Webster’s dictionary defines as “a reckless adventure or prank”. Recklessness is always at least a venial sin against the cardinal virtue of prudence. Finally, the context also makes the whitewash quite implausible. For Francis goes on in the very next sentence to liken this imagined forgiveness-seeking on the part of Jesus to that which takes place in our own homes and families: forgiveness-seeking, that is, which is occasioned by our sins. He says, “Moments like these become part of the pilgrimage of each family; the Lord transforms the moments into opportunities to grow, to ask for and to receive forgiveness, to show love and obedience. In the Year of Mercy, every Christian family can become a privileged place on this pilgrimage for experiencing the joy of forgiveness.”

In short, these rationalizations attempt to excuse the inexcusable. Like the child who recognized that the Emperor had No Clothes, any child will also understand that when you say someone “had to ask forgiveness”, you mean they had done something wrong.They sinned.

But enough of that. It’s still the glorious Christmas season, so let me try to restore the joy to this mystery by offering an alternate explanation of the Finding in the Temple – one which upholds the stainless innocence of both Jesus and his holy Mother. Of course, we don’t know all the circumstances (crossed wires, misunderstandings, or whatever) that led to his being left behind in Jerusalem. But our Catholic faith itself gives us certainty that there was no sin of disobedience, imprudence or negligence on the part of Jesus or Mary. There was very probably no sin on the part of St. Joseph either.

One possible scenario that occurs to me derives from Jesus’ own question to his parents, in response to the Blessed Mother’s question as to why he had “done this” to her and Joseph. He asked, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?” We can suppose that young Jesus was so intimately and deeply conscious of his own unique and intimate Sonship in relation to the Father that, at the level of his developing human knowledge (from which he sometimes temporarily ‘blocked’ out his divine omniscience, so as to share more fully in our human learning experiences), he ingenuously took it for granted that Mary and Joseph would understand that as well, and would thus naturally seek him first in his Father’s house, the Jerusalem Temple.

As to why he was not with the caravan at the time it set out for Nazareth, we can of course be sure it was not because of disobedience to an instruction on the part of his parents to be at a certain time and certain place in order to begin the journey. For such disobedience would have been sinful. There was no accurate method of telling the time anyway in those days, and if there was a misunderstanding or uncertainty about when the caravan was due to set off (dawn? mid-morning? noon?), young Jesus may well have felt called by his Heavenly Father to visit the temple while waiting for the caravan to get under way, assuming his parents would fetch him there when it was time to go. (Prayerful people in modern times will often visit an airport chapel when they have quite a while to wait before their flight starts boarding.) It is also possible that Jesus asked a companion to tell Mary and Joseph where he would be waiting, but that the message never got through.

When Mary and Joseph never came to fetch him on the day of the caravan’s departure, Jesus prudently remained in the temple until they eventually found him there. Going somewhere else in the big city, where, as a Galilean child, he may have known nobody, could have been very unsafe as well as making him even harder to track down. The scribes and doctors in the temple would of course have fed and looked after this prodigiously wise and learned boy, after he had explained to them that there was a misunderstanding about the departure of his caravan destined for Nazareth.

How the caravan got to set off without the Child Jesus, but also without any fault of negligence on the part of his parents, or at the very least, on the part of Our Lady, is another point on which Luke’s Gospel account is silent. But there certainly was some explanation. Now, historians tend to frown on imaginative possible reconstructions of events that involve something that seems unlikely. They usually prefer the principle of “Occam’s razor”: the simplest, least complicated, most plausible explanation, they’ll say, is most likely the true one.

But the fact is, life brings us many “improbable” events and experiences – both good and bad. Take the following true example. Several years ago I flew from St. Louis to Atlanta, having made a prior arrangement with friends to pick me up at the airport. I had given them, of course, my flight number and time of arrival. I made the plane journey, and, shortly after the flight arrived on time, I was duly in my friends’ car heading out of the airport. Now, if that is all the data that a historian was given about the incident, what would he conclude? Why, that nothing unusual happened, of course! I met my friends as planned and all went exactly as we expected.

Well in fact, that wasn’t the case at all! Occam’s razor, if applied by our historian in this case, would shave off a large and remarkable slice of reality. For what in fact happened at the Atlanta airport was more complicated and totally improbable. My flight landed on schedule at Atlanta, but my friends somehow went to the wrong baggage claim area to meet me, some distance away in another part of that very big terminal. After I had waited a few minutes, with no sign of my friends, another priest came up to me. He saw me in my clerical suit and noticed that I was looking around waiting for someone. He said to me, “Hello, Father. I don’t suppose that by any chance you are waiting for José and Mercedes Pérez, are you?” Surprised, I answered, “Yes, as a matter of fact, I am!”. “Well,” the priest went on, “I happen to be the pastor of their parish, and by coincidence I met them a few minutes ago when we were all coming into the airport.

We said hello, of course, and they told me they had come to pick up a priest friend who would be visiting with them for a few days. We split up when they told me they were going to the Delta baggage claim to meet him. It just so happens that I’ve come here to the United baggage claim to meet a friend of mine who’s arriving about now.” Pleasantly astonished at this little serendipitous gift of divine Providence, I thanked the very priest very much and went on down to the Delta baggage claim, where, sure enough, my friends were awaiting me! We all laughed and thanked the good Lord for helping us all avoid a long and possibly fruitless search for each other. But the main point of this anecdote is its inherent improbability. A writer of fiction would not have invented such an incident, with its string of unlikely coincidences, because he’d think it would make his story too implausible and artificial. Yet I assure you, dear reader, that it all actually happened just as I have described.

Therefore, it should not be too hard for us to believe that divine Providence allowed certain other seemingly improbable events to take place, without any culpable parental negligence on the part of Mary and Joseph, that resulted in the departure of the caravan without its most important Member. We need to remember several things. First, as among many Middle Eastern peoples right up till today, men and women did things in segregated groups. Secondly, extended family groups tended to play a bigger role in that culture than in ours, which for centuries has been centered on the ‘nuclear’ family: a husband, wife and their children. Finally, it could well have been that this pilgrimage caravan included a lot more people than just the folks from Nazareth. For greater security in age when brigands and wild animals often endangered travelers, several of the nearby Galilean towns quite likely banded together for this Passover trip to Jerusalem and back, in which case there could have been a thousand or more people in the entire caravan.

We can envisage, then, a scenario in which two distinct groups, composed of men and women respectively, each included hundreds of people, and were travelling separately. As regards the children, in a culture that didn’t necessarily expect them to be under the direct supervision of their own parents in such situations, the custom was for the older boys to travel in the men’s group, while the smaller ones would travel with the girls in the women’s group. Now, the Child Jesus, at 12, was just at that age when it would have been quite reasonable for him to have traveled in either the men’s or the women’s group. St. Luke tells us (2: 44) that during the first day, Mary and Joseph both thought that Jesus was safely in the caravan. Evidently, then, each of them assumed he was in the other group. And the assumption might well have been supported by mistaken testimony: someone assures Our Lady confidently that they’ve seen Jesus up ahead in the men’s group and she accepts that calmly, seeing no need to look for him prior to their encampment that evening, when families will be mixing again. Meanwhile, Joseph, not seeing Jesus in the men’s group, assumes he is with the women. Possibly – remember the implausible, but real, coincidences from my Atlanta airport experience! – he too was reassured by a mistaken report to that effect.

There could of course have been other seemingly unlikely combinations of circumstances that led both our Lord’s holy Mother and his foster-father to continue through the hours of that first day’s journey assuming, without blame, that Jesus was safely there in the big caravan. Divine Providence, in any case, permitted this misunderstanding so as to leave all future Christians with a precious and unique testimony from our Lord’s boyhood as to how early in life he manifested his supernatural wisdom and consciousness of being the Son of God, whom he calls “My Father”, in a completely unique way.

It is deeply disappointing, and indeed, profoundly shocking, that the Successor of Peter himself should purge this Joyful Mystery of its joy by daring to pronounce words which, taken in context and in their natural, obvious sense, cast doubt on the spotless sinlessness of the Son of God himself.

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10 comments on “Even God Needs Mercy? (A Troubling Homily by FrankenPope)

  1. “Troubling” is not the word for it; heretical and blasphemous is a more apt description.

  2. Phaley,
    I agree, its pretty bad, as it imputes at least a “fault” to our Divine Savior, who is true God, and therefore sinless and perfect.

  3. It just keeps getting worse doesn’t it?
    I don’t believe Bergoglio says these things because he is lacking in intellect.
    I think he says these things because he lacks faith and Catholic Spirituality.
    Imo, I believe Bergoglio is a deist at best and a heathen at worst.

    Either way, there’s nothing we can do about it until he either abdicates or dies, except keep praying.

  4. I don’t have the time or inclination to look it up, but didn’t JPII have a rather distasteful explanation of the finding in the Temple? If I recall, he said something about Our Lady having practically forgotten that Her Son was Divine, being “too close” to keep a perspective. Does anyone recall this? I wanted to puke on that one. But, yes, Francis takes the cake here.

    Now for the best explanation? Fr. H’s explanation doesn’t help me much. It’s clear that Our Lord was in the right to stay and teach in the Temple — His Father’s house. He had just received something like a bar mitzvah, right?, that He had attained to manhood, of sorts? If so, it was even more appropriate that The Father would have His Son “do some business” on the occasion. But what of Our Lady? It must have been that this was a sort of Divine preparation for Her to endure the Crucifixion. Not just to endure, but to participate, to become the Mediatrix of all graces.

    Does anyone have some wisdom from the Fathers on this?


      Pope John Paul II
      Taken from: L’Osservatore Romano, 22 January 1997

      The episode of the finding of the young Jesus in the temple sheds light on Mary’s growing participation in the life and work of her divine Son
      “At the temple in Jerusalem, in this prelude to his saving mission, Jesus associates his Mother with himself, no longer is she merely the One who gave him birth, but the Woman who through her own obedience to the Father’s plan, can co-operate in the mystery of Redemption”, the Holy Father said at the General Audience of Wednesday, 15 January, as he reflected on the finding of Jesus in the temple. Here is a translation of his catechesis, which was the 42nd in the series on the Blessed Mother and was given in Italian.

      1. The Evangelist Luke describes the young Jesus’ pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem as the last episode of the infancy narrative, before the start of John the Baptist’s preaching. It is an usual occasion which sheds light on the long years of his hidden life in Nazareth.

      On this occasion, with his strong personality Jesus reveals that he is aware of his mission, giving to this second ”entry” into his “Father’s house” the meaning of his total gift of self to God which had already marked his presentation in the temple.

      This passage seems to contrast with Luke’s note that Jesus was obedient to Joseph and Mary (cf. 2:51). But, if one looks closely, here he seems to put himself in a conscious and almost deliberate antithesis to his normal state as son, unexpectedly causing a definite separation from Mary and Joseph. As his rule of conduct, Jesus states that he belongs only to the Father and does not mention the ties to his earthly family.

      Jesus’ behaviour seemed very unusual

      2. Through this episode, Jesus prepares his Mother for the mystery of the Redemption. During those three dramatic days when the Son withdraws from them to stay in the temple, Mary and Joseph experience an anticipation of the triduum of his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

      Letting his Mother and Joseph depart for Galilee without telling them of his intention to stay behind in Jerusalem, Jesus brings them into the mystery of that suffering which leads to joy, anticipating what he would later accomplish with his disciples through the announcement of his Passover.

      According to Luke’s account, on the return journey to Nazareth Mary and Joseph, after a day’s traveling, are worried and anguished over the fate of the Child Jesus. They look for him in vain among their relatives and acquaintances. Returning to Jerusalem and finding him in the temple, they are astonished to see him “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Lk 2:46). His behaviour seems most unusual. Certainly for his parents, finding him on the third day means discovering another aspect of his person and his mission.

      He takes the role of teacher, as he will later do in his public life, speaking words that arouse admiration: “And all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers” (2:47). Revealing a wisdom that amazes his listeners, he begins to practice the art of dialogue that will be a characteristic of his saving mission.

      His Mother asked Jesus: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously” (Lk 2:48). Here we can discern an echo of the “whys” asked by so many mothers about the suffering their children cause them, as well as the questions welling up in the heart of every man and woman in times of trial.

      3. Jesus’ reply, in the form of a question, is highly significant: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:49).

      With this response, he discloses the mystery of his person to Mary and Joseph in an unexpected, unforeseen way, inviting them to go beyond appearances and unfolding before them new horizons for his future.

      In his reply to his anguished Mother the Son immediately reveals the reason for his behaviour. Mary had said: “Your father”, indicating Joseph; Jesus replies: “My Father”, meaning the heavenly Father.

      Referring to his divine origin, he does not so much want to state that the temple, his Father’s house, is the natural “place” for his presence, as that he must be concerned about all that regards his Father and his plan. He means to stress that his Father’s will is the only norm requiring his obedience.

      This reference to his total dedication to God’s plan is highlighted in the Gospel text by the words: “I must be”, which will later appear in his prediction of the Passion (cf. Mk 8:31).

      His parents then are asked to let him go and carry out his mission wherever the heavenly Father will lead him.

      4. The Evangelist comments: “And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them” (Lk 2:50).

      Mary and Joseph do not perceive the sense of his answer, nor the way (apparently a rejection) he reacts to their parental concern. With this attitude, Jesus intends to reveal the mysterious aspects of his intimacy with the Father aspects which Mary intuits without knowing how to associate them with the trial she is undergoing.

      Mary attains new dimension in work of salvation

      Luke’s words teach us how Mary lives this truly unusual episode in the depths of her being. She “kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:51). The Mother of Jesus associates these events with the mystery of her Son, revealed to her at the Annunciation, and ponders them in the silence of contemplation, offering her co-operation in the spirit of a renewed “fiat”.

      In this way the first link is forged in a chain of events that will gradually lead Mary beyond the natural role deriving from her motherhood, to put herself at the service of her divine Son’s mission.

      At the temple in Jerusalem, in this prelude to his saving mission, Jesus associates his Mother with himself; no longer is she merely the One who gave him birth, but the Woman who through her own obedience to the Father’s plan, can co-operate in the mystery of Redemption.

      Thus keeping in her heart an event so charged with meaning, Mary attains a new dimension of her co-operation in salvation.

      To the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims, the Holy Father said:

      • Thanks, Tom, and Happy New Year. That sounds good, and isn’t the discussion I recall. Maybe I’m thinking of someone else (I hope so), but I thought it was from an encyclical.

  5. When Pope Francis makes remarks like this, I don’t know whether to think that our Pope is not very intelligent and therefore simply doesn’t understand the intricacies of the Faith; or whether he is simply a product of the Vac II Church and grossly ill-informed in his Faith; or whether he is really quite liberal and heterodox and says these things with full knowledge that they contradict articles of the Faith. The first two possibilities do not involve him in serious personal sin, the third possibility does.
    In any case, whatever the cause, it is of utmost concern when the Vicar of Christ keeps making public comments that are at variance with articles of the Catholic Faith.

  6. I suppose that it could also be the case that Christ was sorry that his absence caused his holy parents pain. This would admit of any wrong doing but would be akin to a family who is distressed or sorrowful at the absence of the father on a long business trip.

    However – please don’t construe that I condone this frankensermon.

  7. Captain Kirk: Mister Spock! Pope Francis and Jesus getting into trouble with his parents so much that he needed divine mercy…analyze using your usual superior Vulcan logic!

    Spock: It would seem likely that he had granted sufficient grace to his parents to forgive him for his own misbehavior, Captain. Since the Blessed Virgin Mary was without sin, we would have to conclude that she possessed sufficient grace and infused charity to be a merciful parent in all of her dealings with Jesus.

    Captain Kirk: So no spankings, no “Jesus, that’s it, you’re grounded!”, or “you can’t use the donkey cart for the weekend!”, or “write five hundred times ‘I will never wander off to the Temple without permission again!’ “?

    Spock: That would seem most unlikely, Jim. However, the paradoxes of God-Man Christology do invite speculations from Bishop John A.T. Robinson and Rudy Bultmann scholars.

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Even if Jesus had been brash in wandering off causing his parents great worry and anxiety, I suppose, although it does sound a bit unusual, that he could always grant forgiveness and mercy to himself. I would have to check with my superiors on that.

    Father Philip Lamont, S.J.: Perhaps Pope Francis meant to say that in the Christological and Trinitarian economy of grace that the mercy of God the Father would be infused into Mary and Joseph through divine grace thereby placing Jesus in his humanity within the jurisdiction of divine mercy in the ministrations of his parents’ charity had they believed that Jesus had acted improperly through some erroneous misunderstanding of their own human intellects which were incapable of deciphering the divine purpose at work in his adolescent mind. On the other hand, Argentinians and South American progressive modernists sometimes speak emotively with a lack of precision and clarity which occasionally can open the progressive modernist hermeneutics of the Holy Father to some confusion and problems of translation. We await Father Lombardi’s clarification with prayerful and anxious piety and discernment.

  8. Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Actually, although it may have appeared that Jesus acted wrongly in wandering off to the temple without his parents’ permission, the correct answer is that Jesus was acting in his didactic role as God Incarnate and did not need to ask for his human parents’ permission to discuss the scriptures and teach the meaning of the prophets in His temple.

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