How about a “Fortnight for Forgiveness,” an idea stemming from a few thoughts within Catholicism. First, there was news about Catholic groups’ lawsuit about a proposed government rule ensuring that employees of Catholic schools, hospitals and other non-religious companies have access to the same health insurance benefits as other corporations’ workers – including birth control (if the individual seeks it and has a doctor’s prescription). Interestingly, 182 out of 195 U.S. Catholic dioceses have not joined the suit.
Next, a wonderful 2011 book, Why Stay Catholic? Unexpected Answers to a Life-Changing Question wraps up its 50 surprising answers to its title with author Michael Leach’s proposal for a new Vatican Council.
Finally, as Catholics know, reconciliation is a sacrament, a priceless act that ties to many theologians and lay people embracing not retribution, but restoration. Detroit’s retired Bishop Thomas Gumbleton wrote, “The first thing Jesus asks of his church is to be a reconciling church, a forgiving church, a church who loves, forgives, reconciles and draws people back, not a church who condemns and drives away. Reconciliation means in our homes, our neighborhoods or wherever we are, but it also means on a larger scale in the world.”
Many Catholic bishops apparently think the church hierarchy’s cooperation with Right-wing extremism is too cozy. Anti-Obama zealots such as Baltimore Archbishop William Lori are talking about promoting a “Fortnight for Freedom” claiming “threats to religious freedom.” Other bishops are more restrained in working with the government for health benefits for workers at private enterprises owned by the Catholic Church.
Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, Calif., in an interview with the Jesuit magazine America, said, “I think our rhetoric has to be that of bishops of the church who are seeking to be faithful to the Gospel.”
Likewise, faculty at the Jesuit-run John Carroll University issued a statement saying, “We are all troubled that the bishops have chosen a path of continued confrontation.”
Leach writes, “The church, like the world, is polarized. Is it time for a Vatican III?”
A fortnight is 14 consecutive days, which seems to be enough time to have a “cease fire” in the hurtful war of words. One recalls former presidents and political foes George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton warmly cooperating in public service after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, and 2008’s Hurricane Ike. The Catholic Church could likewise lead in putting aside differences for greater goods.
Leach writes, “Preach forgiveness, no strings attached. No matter what we do or how bad we think we are, nothing can separate us from the love of God in whom ‘we live and move and have our being’ (Acts).
The author continues, “When Jesus saved the adulteress about to be stoned, he didn’t say, ‘Sin no more and I will not condemn you.’ He said, ‘I do not condemn you. Now go and sin no more.’ We first experience God’s love, and then our life changes forever. Forgiveness makes love, and love makes us forgive others.”
Conceding problems from the sex abuse scandal to dull homilies, Why Stay Catholic? looks at three goodnesses, Ideas, People and Places, and becomes an uplifting book. Leach writes, “Forgiveness becomes an almighty force that opens hearts, cleanses minds, and inspires our whole being. Just like the adulterer, the people are free to go and sin no more! Everybody starts from scratch.
"Forgiveness becomes the theme of the church,” he adds. “It forgives and asks forgiveness of those it has excommunicated: theologians who have dissented; bishops who said Latin Masses when told not to; and the hospital sister in Phoenix who saved a mother's life but was accused of abortion; every woman, living or dead, who has made the gut-wrenching, life-shattering decision to have an abortion. All free.”
Leach imagines what he calls “little miracles,” saying, “The liberal Call to Action group invites members of the conservative Opus Dei to their annual conference and asks some of their leaders to speak and dialogue. Mother Angelica’s Eternal Word Network invites Catholics it criticized to be guests and talk.”
Imagine: President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell go to a baseball game; folks from Race for the Cure and Planned Parenthood together visit wounded soldiers. Rush Limbaugh and Noam Chomsky help at a Habitat for Humanity project. Rachel Maddow and leaders of the Westboro Baptist Church ladle food to hungry kids.
You and someone who hurt you or who you offended go to a show. Me and a Tea Party friend share a pitcher of beer and common ground. Forgiveness helps people gain perspective.
As asked by the now-ailing Father Andrew Greeley – one of 15 profiles Leach includes – “What’s more important? Life after death or birth control? What is more important? God’s forgiving love or premarital sex?”
Bill Knight is a freelance writer. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University of Tri States Public Radio.