Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Lady in Red

After making our way through the metal detectors and other layers of security and finding our seats near the processional wall, the seminarian and I were looking through the mass booklet that talked about John Paul II, for whom this mass was being offered. It was my first evening in Rome.

“Oh my...” my friend suddenly gasped. “Is that her?!”

I looked up to see a large man in a suit forcing his way to a woman in a bright red jacket two seats down from us in the row ahead. She, like many others with seats against the processional wall, was already standing and leaning against it in preparation for the Pope’s entry.

“Who?” I asked as the man, obviously a security guard, began whispering to her.

“The crazy lady who attacks the Pope!” he answered, seeming to find it difficult to stand still. Benedict XVI, despite the controversy in the Church (one of the scholars at the conference I attended this weekend pointed out that “There has been scandal in the Church ever since the cock crowed”), is quite a loved man, and my friend received the attacks against him like attacks against his father.

Sure enough, it was her. We watched as the large guard finished his whispered conversation with her, removed her chair from against the wall so she could not use it to climb over, and wedged himself against her. Then we all continued to wait for the processional as before.

“They’re letting her stay?” I asked my friend.

“They have to,” he answered with a combination of laughter and anguish in his voice. “They’re not about to ban someone from attending mass if she wants to.”

“Even if it’s a known habitual Pope-attacker?”

“Yep. She needs the presence of Christ in her life as much as the rest of us, and it is not our place to say whether or not she is repentant. We have to let her come.” He continued to squirm uncomfortably at the thought of her leaping over the wall to attack the Holy Father. “But if she tries anything tonight, I’m not letting her near my Daddy!”

The Catholic Church is under a lot of heavy criticism these days for its eagerness to forgive. Certainly, the cases in question are quite different from a lone woman attacking a well-guarded 83-year-old man in public, but it was nevertheless beautiful to see the eager-to-forgive principle applied to physical assaults against the Pope as well.

Sacramental theology (not just a belief in seven or in two Sacraments, but a belief that the physical matter of the world and the spiritual substance are inseparable) will do that to you. Forgiving the lady who attacks the Pope does not merely involve wishing her well, and wishing her well does not merely involve positive feelings. Since the Catholic Church believes the Real Presence of Christ is in the Eucharist physically, they cannot ban her physically from the room. Forgiveness, in this case, involves a severe physical risk that no other tight security of a well-loved world leader would ever allow.

Benedict, in case you’re wondering, ended up just fine that night, and the woman left right after the processional, giving me the chance to take her seat against the wall for the recessional. I don’t know if she showed up for any of the other events that week, but I do know that as far as the Church is concerned, she is forgiven.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you withhold forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”
-John 20:23


Anne said...

What a wonderful story of love and forgiveness! I hadn't given that woman another thought after the reports of the attack first surfaced. How lovely that she is allowed to stay! I do love being Catholic! And, I love your friend's comment that he wouldn't allow anybody to hurt his Papa! So sweet! Heaven knows our sweet Papa is being hurt plenty these days!

NC Sue said...

I'm so glad you shared this story - it is a wonderful testament to our church.

Madame Rubies said...

Beautiful. I love this. Forgiveness.

Jenny said...

I too loved the words of your friend. We should all offer to protect our beloved "Papa" if all we can offer is our prayers.