Thursday, 24 March 2016

Dignified shame and a dignity that knows how to be ashamed: Pope Francis' Chrism Mass homily 2016

The homily given by Pope Francis at his celebration of the Chrism Mass can be read here. I do suggest reading the whole, as it is a rather beautiful read. One should perhaps read it in the context of a Jubilee Year of Mercy in which the Sacrament of Penance - or to use a title that has come again into prominence during this Year of Mercy, Confession - is to be seen as a very particular moment in which Catholics can receive God's Mercy.

I was very struck by the following passage, and by its leitmotif of a "dignified shame and a shamed dignity", a phrase I am finding very thought provoking though I am not sure I have fully grasped its meaning. I have added the italics below compared to the text on the Vatican website:
God does not only forgive incalculable debts, as he does to that servant who begs for mercy but is then miserly to his own debtor; he also enables us to move directly from the most shameful disgrace to the highest dignity without any intermediary stages.  The Lord allows the forgiven woman to wash his feet with her tears.  As soon as Simon confesses his sin and begs Jesus to send him away, the Lord raises him to be a fisher of men.  We, however, tend to separate these two attitudes: when we are ashamed of our sins, we hide ourselves and walk around with our heads down, like Adam and Eve; and when we are raised up to some dignity, we try to cover up our sins and take pleasure in being seen, almost showing off.
Our response to God’s superabundant forgiveness should be always to preserve that healthy tension between a dignified shame and a shamed dignity.  It is the attitude of one who seeks a humble and lowly place, but who can also allow the Lord to raise him up for the good of the mission, without complacency.  The model that the Gospel consecrates, and which can help us when we confess our sins, is Peter, who allowed himself to be questioned about his love for the Lord, but who also renewed his acceptance of the ministry of shepherding the flock which the Lord had entrusted to him.  
We live in a time when societies in developed countries, in the interests of overcoming "stigma" attached to behaviours at one time generally accepted as morally wrong, in effect lose a rightful sense of shame about those behaviours, a rightful shame that would discourage the wrong behaviour without persecuting its protagonists. In the context of the mother and baby homes in Ireland, for example, I wonder about the ecclesial and social attitudes which meant that young girls who fell pregnant were rejected by their families - was this a rightful shame or was it an unjust stigmatisation? There is a widespread acceptance of different sexual lifestyles today - does this not show a loss of a certain rightful shame that has accompanied the removal of an unjust stigmatisation that existed in the past? Pope Francis' phrase appears to me to capture something of the rightful sense of shame, whilst disallowing that of an unjust stigmatisation.

This appears more transparently in the Italian version of the phrase, where the word for shame might also be used to express embarrassment:
...quella sana tensione tra una dignitosa vergogna e una dignità che sa vergognarsi .... [... that healthy tension between a dignified shame/embarrassment and a dignity that knows how to be ashamed/embarrassed....]
In passing: I can already see the Catholic blogosphere erupting at Pope Francis' (obvious personal attack on its authors - not) expressed in these words addressed more immediately to priests:
We feel ourselves also trapped, not so much by insurmountable stone walls or steel enclosures that affect many peoples, but rather by a digital, virtual worldliness that is opened and closed by a simple click.  
I for one, a blogger who is not a priest, can understand exactly what Pope Francis is getting at as far as my own life is concerned. I suspect that his words speak, not only to me, but to others who write for the aether..... as should the words of a Pastor.

No comments: