Today’s Gospel reminds me of the theme song of the movie Superman, entitled, CAN YOU READ MY MIND? St. Luke tells us Jesus was a guest for dinner in the house of a Pharisee. Imagine the host inviting Jesus to dinner only to size him up? Instead of enjoying his company he is observing whether or not Jesus would comply with religious prescriptions?
Actually, the Pharisee is keeping his reaction to himself. So you can imagine his great surprise when Jesus brings out exactly what’s in his mind. He probably said to himself, “How can this man know what I am thinking about? Can he read my mind?” Remember the Samaritan woman who felt the same way after talking to Jesus? In Jn 4:39, when she testified to her fellow Samaritans about Jesus, she said, “He told me everything that I’ve done!”
Our Gospel acclamation today has something to say in answer to that question, “Can one read what is in the mind of another person?” It is a quotation from Hebrews 4:12: “The Word of God is living and effective, able to discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart.” I would probably just paraphrase it a little bit: “The Word of God is living and effective, IT ENABLES US to discern the reflections and thoughts of the heart.”
This is a very relevant topic for us Filipinos, especially now that the future of our country rests on our capacity to discern the “thoughts of the hearts” of the people who are presenting themselves as candidates for positions of leadership in government. Their leadership will be most crucial in getting the nation back on its feet again after all the paralyzing social, political and economic traumas that we’ve been through in the past few years, including the trauma of this pandemic crisis.
In our first reading today, Paul is warning the Romans about those who “suppress the truth by their wickedness”, those who have become “vain in their reasoning… whose senseless minds have become darkened”, those who, “while claiming to be wise…became fools.” Paul speaks about the many factors that disable people from discerning the “thoughts of the heart.”
To put in one word what St. Paul is talking about, I’d say the word is CONSCIENCE. Paul is saying we have no excuse because God has given us the ability to “understand and perceive” his will and his actions in history. Although we may be at a loss sometimes about making correct decisions, the Lord guides us through our conscience, which always seeks to know, understand, judge and thereby decide accordingly. It is almost natural for people of faith to do so; they don’t just decide arbitrarily. The English term that is used to describe such people is CONSCIENTIOUS. Meaning, people who truly make an effort to follow their conscience.
It is in and through the conscience that we listen to the voice of God and the promptings of the Spirit with the hope of being able to make decisions that hopefully correspond to God’s will. Can the conscience go wrong? Of course it can. It is what happens when we are lacking in discernment.
And it is often after we realize our mistake that we feel the pangs of what we call “bad conscience” tgat can hopefully lead to repentance. At least, if there was a sincere effort to follow one’s conscience, the subsequent admission of one’s error in discernment makes the failure more asily forgiveable. In Tagalog, we’d say, “Patawad, hindi ko alam, o hindi ko sinasadya.” (Forgive me, I did not know, or I did not mean it.)
It can happen that in some people the conscience can become so calloused, it is practically taken over or replaced by ill will. This is the case when people can quickly rationalize even decisions which they know to be wrong. When people cannot even feel anymore any tinge of remorse or guilt for having done something so wicked, for having inflicted pain or caused others misery. It means they have lost their sense of accountability or responsibility for the consequences of their action, which is the surest sign of a dysfunctional conscience.
Does it ever happen that a conscience that was dormant for sometime can still get reawakened? Yes. Strangely, for some people, what brings about a reactivation of conscience could be a string of tragedies or misfortunes that they interpret as divine retribution, or what many people simply call “KARMA”. They begin to entertain the thought that maybe they are now paying for their past sins.
Some of them can become so paranoid, they can fall into severe depression and lose their sanity and may even turn suicidal. Remember the Judas syndrome? I imagine, for example, the people who have killed drug users in cold blood extrajudicially and rationalized it as an act of patriotism, or simply did it for the money or the sadistic pleasure of inflicting violence on their victims.
Even those who might think they have done a perfect crime can be suddenly gripped by the thought that somebody up there knows. They soon become their own worst enemies and suffer the terrible torture of anticipating punishment.
It does not take any supernatural mind-reading power to see what goes on in people who are crumbling inside, whose long dead consciences are suddenly coming back to life. When that happens, we must count it as grace. It is then that we realize what a precious gift it is to have a sacrament that offers forgiveness and reconciliation even to the worst sinner, that is, if they find access to it before they lose their sanity and flip into unreality or even seek to end their agony. As ministers of reconciliation our basic message at the confessional is: for Jesus, nobody is beyond redemption.