Homily for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King, Year C (19 & 20/11/22)

posted 21 Nov 2022, 01:05 by Parish Office

Perhaps because I’m the son of at teacher, one of the things that annoys me sometimes is when punctuation in e-mails is so bad that I have difficulty working out what some of the sentences mean. It’s a subject that annoyed Lynne Truss (not Liz Truss) so much that she wrote the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves. The title comes from a joke which goes like this:

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife annual and tosses it over his shoulder.

"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

I had a quick look at the book some time ago, and it says that the correct use of a comma was an area of dispute between Catholics and Protestants over today’s Gospel.

Lynne Truss’s claim is that, many years ago, Protestants favoured the version we heard today: “Indeed, I promise you … today you will be with me in paradise”, indicating that the thief would go straight to heaven. Catholics preferred there to be an extra comma: “Indeed, I promise you today, you will be with me in paradise”, in other words, I am telling you now, that you will be with me in paradise, but not saying exactly when the thief would arrive in paradise, leaving the option open for him to be in purgatory for a while first.

I had a look through a few different Catholic Bibles in the presbytery, the earliest going back to 1865, and they all had the supposedly “Protestant” translation, the same as we heard today at Mass. I’m not sure whether Catholic scholars had a change of opinion before then, or whether the idea of adding an extra comma is more fable than fact. But does Jesus saying, “today you will be with me in paradise” go against the doctrine of purgatory? Quite simply, no (notice I put a comma in there).

For one thing, Our Lord saying, “today you will be with me in paradise” could still leave the option open for a short stay in purgatory before the end of the day, which would have been 6 pm back in those days. Our Lord died at 3 pm. But secondly, as Catholics, we have a few more tricks up our sleeves, which could allow the good thief to go straight to heaven.

As part of the Last Rites, as well as the sacraments of confession, anointing of the sick and Holy Communion, there is something called the Apostolic Pardon. This is like a plenary indulgence, doing away with someone’s purgatory. There are two different options in the book, and the first one goes like this:

“Through the holy mysteries of our redemption, may almighty God release you from all punishments in this life and in the life to come. May he open to you the gates of paradise and welcome you to everlasting joy.”

So the words of Our Lord, “today you will be with me in paradise”, could be seen as a form of Apostolic Pardon.

Another option goes as follows: when we are sorry for our sins, we have to look at the reason, and the church divides the reasons into two categories: perfect and imperfect contrition, or sometimes simply called contrition and attrition.

Perfect contrition is where we are sorry for our sins because we love God above all else and are sorry for having offended Him. Attrition comes from more human motives; we are sorry simply because we have let ourselves down, or because of sin’s ugliness and the possibility of eternal damnation. If we are dying and unable to go to confession, perfect contrition does away with our purgatory, whilst imperfect contrition will leave some of it behind. So the good thief could have shown perfect contrition when he said, “Jesus ... remember me when you come into your kingdom”.

All this shows the importance of Christ reigning over our lives, which means that we need to put Him first and in control – He reigns on the throne, not us; thy kingdom come, thy will be done. Incorrect punctuation may not threaten our eternal salvation, because Christ is our salvation.

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