Thursday, 2 December 2010

By Whose Authority?, by Albert P Holden


[By Whose Authority?, by Albert P Holden]

Life Has a Purpose

Without a purpose, life would become a mere existence, for it is purpose that makes life what it is. The people we admire, our country’s heroes, for example, became worthy of our admiration because they saw always before them the ideals after which they strove. The saints of God, too, the heroes of the kingdom of Heaven, reached the heights of sanctity because they strove, with God’s help, to attain the purpose for which they were created, the salvation of their soul. So, too, in a lesser degree, with everyone around us, if they are to be worthy of our admiration it is because they have a purpose to strive after. No one admires the person who is content to drift aimlessly through life. For them is experienced only a feeling of mild contempt.

If, then, it is expected of the ordinary man that he should have a purpose in life, should have some object after which he should strive, what then of the most perfect of mankind? What of the one who was not only the most perfect of the ’sons of men’, but who was also true God? Can we not naturally expect that He, whose coming was prophesied for thousands of years, whose coming began a new era in the world’s history, whose influence has molded the minds and thoughts of mankind for the last two thousand years, had some sublime purpose which caused Him to take upon Himself a human nature?

Christ’s Purpose in Life

We are not left in doubt as to what that purpose was which the Son of God came to attain. The prophet Daniel foretold of Him, that He would come that “Sin may have an end” (Daniel 9:24); and the angel said to Joseph, “and thou shalt call his name Jesus. for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21); again at the commencement of His public ministry, John the Baptist seeing Him coming exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Then as the ministry was drawing to a close, He Himself said to His apostles, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also.” (John 15:22-23)

Christ came as the Light of the world to enlighten darkness of mankind, and that darkness was sin.

How Christ Fulfilled that Purpose

The life of Christ, however, was not to be solely one of destruction. True, He came to destroy sin, but also He came to restore to health those souls which had been cured of that dread disease. A doctor could not count his work completed if he merely drove disease from the body. Only when the health is built up again is his work finished. During His lifetime, Christ referred to Himself as the Physician of Souls (Matthew 9:12). Yet, from an ordinary doctor is expected a definite way of curing ills. We do not expect him to work in any haphazard manner. So, too, with Christ, He had a definite way in which He worked the cure of souls, and this method can best be seen in the Gospel store of Mary Magdalen.

Christ, we are told, was at supper in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and at the end of the meal, as was the custom, the doors were thrown open that the poor might come in and gather up the fragments that remained. Imagine the surprise of everyone when amongst them was seen Mary Magdalen, a woman notorious for her sins, an outcast with whom no ordinary person would associate. They stare at her in amazement. It is obvious that she, since she is rich, is not there for the fragments of food. She purses her way through the crowd until she comes to where Jesus sits. As she passes, the guests draw their garments round them, lest they should be contaminated by her touch. As she comes to the place where sits the ‘Friend of sinners’ she hesitates a moment, then with her eyes blinded by tears falls at His feet. The crowd look on with dignified disapproval. She, however, is oblivious to them. With her tears she washes the sacred Feet, drying them with her hair, and anointing them with ointment. The Pharisees are scandalized and think within themselves: Surely this man cannot be the prophet he claims to be, otherwise he would know that manner of woman this is. Why, no decent man will associate with her, and yet here is this man who claims to be the Messias allowing her to touch him.

Christ, being God, read their thoughts, turned to His host, and said, “Simon, I have somewhat to say to thee.” And Simon, no doubt thinking that He would justify Himself, said, “Master, say it.”

“A certain man,” said Christ, “had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And whereas they had not wherewith to pay it, he forgave them both. Which, therefore, of the two loveth him most?”

Simon thought this an obvious question, and answering said, “I suppose that he to whom he forgave most.” And Christ said, “Thou hast judged rightly.”

Then, turning to the women, He said to Simon, “Dost thou see this woman? I entered into thy house, thou gavest me no water for My feet. But she with her tears hath washed My feet, and with her hair hath wiped them. Thou gavest Me no kiss; but since she came in hath no ceased to kiss My feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint; but she with ointment hath anointed My feet. Wherefore I say to thee: many sins are forgiven her because she hath loved much. But to whom less is forgiven, he loveth less.”

And He said to her, “Thy sins are forgiven thee…thy faith hath made thee whole. Go in peace.”

In this incident can be seen portrayed the method with which Christ worked the cure of souls. First, since sin is hatred of God, he demanded a sincere sorrow for it. Mary Magdalen showed this by her tears. then, if the sorrow were really sincere, it must of its very nature contain the resolution of never willfully committing sin again. If this were not present then the expression of sorrow would be mere hypocrisy. Christ saw that her sorrow contained this resolution. In other instances, as for example, in the case of the man sick of the palsy, he states the need of this requisition in the form of a command: “Go, and sin no more.”

There are two conditions, therefore, deemed necessary by Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Firstly, sorrow, and secondly, a firm purpose of amendment, that is, the resolution of never willfully committing sin again.

Christ Promises this Power to His Apostles

Christ knew that after three years of public ministry He would leave the earth. Being God He knew that so long as human nature existed, sin would abound, and the remedy which He had come on earth to establish was to exist as long as the disease of sin existed. To carry on His work after He had left the earth He drew around Him a band of followers whom He called His Apostles. To the chief of these, Peter, He first of all promised the power to forgive sins when He said to him, “Thou are peter and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I give to thee the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth shall be bound also in Heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth shall be loosed also in Heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)

Then later, He promises the same power of binding and losing to the rest of the Apostles. “Amen, I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in Heaven; and whatsoever you loose upon earth shall be loosed also in Heaven.” (Matthew 18:18)

In the former text after assuring Saint Peter that he is the rock upon which the church shall be built, Christ continues, “And I will give thee the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth shall be loosed also in heaven.”

In this as in the other text Christ uses the future tense to show that He is promising this power.

Dealing with the promise to Saint Peter, Christ promises him the power of the keys. In the language of the Jews, as in our own tongue, to give anyone the keys of a place meant conferring on them supreme power and authority, to come and go, open and shut, just as they pleased. Therefore, in giving to Saint Peter “the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven,” Christ gave him supreme power to govern His Church; to admit into it and to exclude from it, to impose and remit penalties. Such a power must of its nature include the forgiveness of sins. Saint Peter is promised the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, not just one or two. Now, nothing excludes man from the Kingdom of Heaven as positively as does sin. If, then, Saint peter lacked the power to forgive sins, he would not possess all the keys because he could not bind or loose, open or shut unconditionally, and God would not ratify all his official acts and consequently the words of Christ would be untrue. But the words of Christ, since He is God, must be true. The power of forgiving sins is promised, therefore, in the first place, to Saint Peter.

Later, Christ promises the power of ‘binding and loosing’ to the rest of the Apostles (Matthew 18:18). In order to give an added solemnity to His words, Christ prefixes them by the word ‘Amen.’ Only on very solemn occasions, when He had something of extra-special importance to say, does He use the word ‘Amen.’

Christ Fulfills this Promise

The promise which Christ makes to His Apostles in Saint Matthew’s gospel is fulfilled by Him when, after the Resurrection he miraculously appeared to them and said, “Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you.” When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23)

In this most solemn way, Christ bestows on His Apostles the power to forgive sins. A power which He had previously promised to them. Henceforth they are to be His ambassadors in the world. From the context is seen that Christ sent them to forgive sins in the same way in which He had been sent by His Heavenly Father, and not in a restricted sense.

This Power Implies Confession

Christ, during His lifetime, required two conditions for the forgiveness of sins. First, sorrow and secondly a firm purpose of amendment. Being God, He could read the hearts and thoughts of men, and consequently knew without being told what sins they had committed. With the Apostles, however, the case is different. They were not divine, but were ordinary men like ourselves. It was not in their power, except in special cases. to know the thoughts and read the hearts of men. Yet Christ had made them supreme judges in the spiritual world, with the power to give or withhold forgiveness. As in civil law a judge requires to have full knowledge of a case before passing judgment, so too in the case of sin, a transgression of the law of God. It was necessary for the Apostles to know the facts of each case before they could exercise their power as judge. What other way, since they could not read men’s thoughts, is there by that the person wishing to have his sins forgiven should tell them to the Apostles?

Therefore, it follows that the means established by Christ for the forgiveness of sin entails three conditions.

  • sorrow
  • a firm purpose of amendment
  • the telling (confessing) of sins to those to whom Christ said, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.”
This Power was Meant for All Time

The power of forgiving sins was not given to the Apostles alone, but to their lawful successors. Christ knew that the Apostles, being human, would one day die, but the Society which He had founded was to exist until the end of time. Observe the solemn words of Christ -

“As the Father hath sent me, so also do I send you.”

He sent them clothed with His own power and He had commanded them to go into the whole world, to all nations, even to the consummation of the world. It was manifestly impossible for the Apostles themselves to go into the world and to every nation. Likewise, since they were human they could not exist until the consummation of the world, and yet Christ had promised to be with His Church to the end of time.

From the very nature and purpose of the Church it is plain that the power to forgive sins was not merely a personal prerogative of the Apostles but was granted to them in their official capacity and hence intended, like the Church, to be a permanent institution. The Church, with her divine mission, her apostolic succession, and her infallible teaching authority is destined to endure for all time. The power to forgive sins must be available and exercised as long as they are sinners and that means to the end of time. Any church not claiming to have this power could not possibly call itself the true Church of Christ.

As long, therefore, as the world shall last (even to the consummation of the world), shall the power to forgive sins, as instituted by Christ, exist and be exercised.

Where is that Power Today?

So far it has been seen that Christ Himself forgave sins, that He bestowed this power on the Apostles and their successors and that the means established for the forgiveness of sins entails three conditions on the part of the penitent -

  • sorrow
  • a firm purpose of amendment
  • the Confession of sins to one to whom Christ said, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.”

It is an obvious fact that there is sin in the world today. If there is sin, then there is sin to be forgiven. Where then can be found in the world today the means laid down by Christ and fulfilling the three conditions which He deemed necessary for the forgiveness of sins?

The answer to this question is - ‘In the Catholic Confessional.’ A Catholic goes to confession because he realizes that sin is an offence against God, depriving him of His friendship. Realizing this, he is truly sorry. Thus he fulfills the first condition laid down by Christ. His sorrow being sincere, he makes the resolution never wilfully to commit sin again. Thus is fulfilled the second condition, viz., the firm purpose of amendment. Going to confession, he humbly tells his sins to the priest because he recognizes that to the priest has been transmitted that power of remission given by Christ to His Apostles when He said to them, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them.” He knows that the priest cannot possibly forgive sins of his own powers, for since sin is an offense against god, He alone can forgive it; but the priest is exercising that power which has been bestowed on him by God Himself. He is acting as the ambassador of Christ.

Thus in the confessional, or to give it its correct title, the Sacrament of Penance, is to be found a means for the forgiveness of sins which is identical with that established by Christ.

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