PEOPLE and institutions that have lost touch with their brokenness and their humanity cannot offer moral guidance to anyone. As Jesus says in this weekend’s gospel “Can one blind man guide another? Surely both will fall into a pit?”.
The Post-Vatican II Church turned confidently towards the world, lifting up the light of the gospel message to a humanity that needed to hear it. The Conciliar document ‘Lumen Gentium’ spoke of the light of Christ being “brightly visible on the countenance of the Church”.
Today, some 54 years after the end of Vatican II, the Church it seems, has been knocked off of this lofty perch due to a seemingly endless series of sexual and financial scandals. With good reason, the people of today look at the Church and say “Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take out the splinter that is in your brother’s eye.”
Yet, this is precisely what makes our Church so very interesting. The Church has always struggled mightily with her humanity. Here in Trinidad and Tobago, nowhere is this struggle as apparent as in the drama of the pre-Lenten festival of Carnival which reaches a climax tomorrow and Tuesday.
Right next to the “beauty and creativity” we have long celebrated in our homilies at this time of the year is the winin’, grindin’, cussin’, fightin’, drug-taking and illicit sex which are also part of the Carnival mixture. Here are the actions of humanity at its best and at its worst.
Many have not been comfortable with this juxtaposition of the sacred and profane. ‘How,’ they ask, ‘can you take ashes on Ash Wednesday after participating in so much vice and debauchery (sexual sin)?’ But the Christian answer to the moral decay around us is neither fundamentalism nor religious rigourism. The ‘mixed bag’ that is our national festival invites us to ‘cast a wary eye’ on the human drive toward moral perfection.
Like the workers in the famous tale of the darnel and the wheat, (Matt 13:24–43), we risk damaging the wheat field by our attempts to erase all the ‘weeds’ from among us. Often in life, it is better to learn to bear our moral failings with grace than to attempt to completely eliminate them.
There is also for us on this eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time a lesson about compassion. We cannot as a society conduct a proper discussion on the dispensation of justice unless our thinking is shot through with compassion.
Without compassion it is ‘one blind person guiding another’. This applies to societies such as England, the United States, and Trinidad and Tobago, as they wrestle with the problem about what to do with former supporters or soldiers of IS (or ISIS) who wish to return home.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago, for example, we also require compassion as we discuss the thorny problem of criminal-justice reform. We are wont to say ‘if people were law abiding, they would never have any problems with the law!’.
Yet, we are blind to the fact that currently in the Remand Yard there are many persons with bailable offenses who have been stuck there for close to a decade. This is a violation of the principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
We are blind to the fact that such persons are fathers, mothers and breadwinners. We are blind to the terrible harm to their family life and the consequences for future employment as a result of the stigmatisation produced by their prison stay.
Lord, that we may see!