Sunday, April 3, 2022


April 3, 2022
St. Frances of Rome Church

Let the one among you who is without sin
be the first to throw a stone at her. In response
they walked away one by one,
beginning with the elders.
John 8

As some of you know, like many people today, I have had more than one job. I grew up milking cows, feeding pigs and chickens and loading lumber. I have loaded semi-trucks at a pickle factory. I have been a groundskeeper at a hospital, an orderly in an emergency room, a house painter, a garbage truck driver, a desk clerk, a bar tender and a campground minister for the United Church of Christ in a national park. As a priest, besides being a pastor of several parishes, I used to write for THE RECORD every week for 15 years. I served as one of the trustees on the J. Graham Brown Foundation Board here in Louisville, making large monetary grants to charitable and educational organizations all over the state. I traveled all over this country and eight other countries giving retreats to priests, bishops and seminarians. I was a campus minister at Somerset Community College down in southern Kentucky and here at Bellarmine University. I developed a major continuing education program, did spiritual direction, built a teaching kitchen and coffee shop and taught classes at Saint Meinrad Seminary over in Indiana. I published a few books, renovated several houses and was a volunteer in the Caribbean Missions among other adventures. 

One of the last jobs I had over at Saint Meinrad Seminary, before I retired, was to teach two classes a week to the guys who were about to be ordained priests in the spring. That class was entitled "The Transition Out of the Seminary and Into Pastoral Ministry." We covered most of the issues they would face in their first several months. Some have compared their transition out of the seminary and into parishes to that of leaving home, graduating from school, beginning a career, getting married and starting a family - but all at once. Some things we covered were of a very practical nature, like paying taxes and starting a saving plan for retirement, while other things were more psychological like dealing with the grief of going off and leaving their seminary friends after many years and the anxiety of entering a strange new community of people as a new priest.

One of the important subjects we covered was "how to enter a parish." I spoke of things like going in and establishing trust and building a bond with people before they even thought about correcting people from the pulpit. It seemed that some of them just couldn’t wait to get ordained so they could condemn other people’s sins! I spoke specifically about how unwise it is for them to say things in a homily like "you people" and how much better it is to say things like "we sinners." I warned them specifically about obsessing about condemning sexual immorality all the time. In my book, doing that always says more about the people doing the condemning than those they condemn! 

This is exactly the issue Jesus dealt with in today's gospel – a bunch of salivating religious fundamentalists who just couldn’t wait to have a poor woman stoned to death for committing adultery!  The last time I checked, it takes two to commit adultery. Since the text says she had been “caught in the very act of committing adultery,” I have always wondered where the man was and why they were not as eager to stone him! This story has three scenes. Let's look at them one at a time. 

(1)The religious authorities drag a poor woman into an open area where Jesus was teaching and make her stand there humiliated. She had just been caught in adultery. Yes, she was obviously used in the committing of adultery, but the religious authorities were also using her themselves - this time to trap Jesus in his speech so they could have something for which to condemn him! They thought they had a perfect trap because, on one hand, if he was too lenient, they could say "Aha! See! He teaches something different from Moses who told us that such women were to be stoned to death!" That could get him labeled as a heretic. If he were to be in favor of stoning her, then they could say on the other hand, "Aha! See! He is not as merciful and forgiving as he has been saying he is!" That would turn the crowds against him!

(2) In the second scene, Jesus realizes that they are using her to set up a "damned if you do and damned if you don't" trap for him, so he doesn't answer one way or another! Instead, he just stoops down and writes on the ground with his finger. What was he writing? No one knows, but some say he was simply making a list of their sins in the dirt. Once he had written his list of their sins, he stands up and says to those who were so anxious to stone the poor woman, "Let the one among you has never sinned yourself be the first to throw a stone at her!" With that he stooped down again and continued to add to his list of their sins. 

(3) Jesus did not have to say much after that because her condemners began to drop their heads, to drop their rocks, and to drop out of the crowd one-by-one. It even says, "They walked away, one by one, beginning with the older ones." I suppose the longer we live, the more sins we commit. This leaves Jesus and the poor woman there alone. He stands up and says to her, "Neither do I condemn you! Go, and don't commit this sin again!"

By saying that, Jesus does not wink at the seriousness of the sin committed, he merely means that we would all be better off if we spent more time being outraged at our own sins and less time being outraged by the sins of others. Rather than focusing on the woman's sin alone, by his actions Jesus simply says that everybody that day was in need of forgiveness. Jesus offered the grace and mercy of God to all equally - scribes, Pharisees, the woman, all who witnessed this event and all of us who have heard it read aloud again today. 

Fellow Catholics! Jesus spoke to us often about judging others. He told us not to judge, lest we be judged. He told us not to go around looking for specs of sin in other people eyes when we have a 2 X 4 sticking out of our own and that we need to remove that 2 X 4 first. He told us that the measure we use to measure others will be used to measure us! He told us to forgive and we will be forgiven. He told us that all we can see are externals and only God can see into the heart! Sin is real! Sin is destructive - to ourselves and to others! We need, each of us, to become as outraged about our own sins as we do the sins of others.

When I taught young priests of tomorrow, some of whom were so anxious to get out there and condemn sin, I would tell them a story from my early priesthood that I am reminded of every time I read this gospel. There was a radio preacher in the area where I worked who loved to be on the radio to rant and rave about "sexual promiscuity in our culture today." He even went so far as to host a huge bon fire in front of his church one Saturday where he invited people to bring what he called their “dirty magazines, obscene clothing and other filth." The fire that day was huge. The following Monday, he ran off with the church's teenaged organist! As Shakespeare said. "The lady doth protest too much, methinks!" Personally, I have always preferred how Billy Graham put it when he said, "It's the Holy Spirit's job to convict, God's job to judge and my job to love." 

Fellow Catholics! With what's left of this Lent, let us examine our own consciences, let us resolve to let go of our own sinful ways, let us rely on the mercy and compassion of God and let us offer that same mercy and compassion to our fellow believers who have also sinned!









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