There was a term the pope used in his homily this morning that has stuck with me: “wicked nostalgia.” He is speaking about the problem of moving beyond the captivating (ie imprisoning) power of sin. He begins his reflection:
“It’s so hard to cut ties with a sinful situation. It is hard! Even in a temptation, it’s hard! But the voice of God tells us this word: ‘Escape! You cannot fight there, because the fire, the sulfur will kill you. Escape!’
In the last couple of days in classes I have been hearing and reading about the early Christian communities problem with sin.
In the earliest years of the church, baptism was the way to be released from the power of sin. But what happened when someone committed a serious sin after baptism? Often there was no choice but for the person to be expelled from the community of faith. They would then live a life of penance.
Then, over these first few centuries, it became possible for the sinner to be welcomed back to the community once after the prescribed years of penance became available. Note that this could happen only ONCE. If the person sinned again they lived the remainder of their life outside the community of faith.
In the 4th – 6th centuries the opportunity for a sinner to be returned to the community more than once became possible, but only after a period (often years) of public penance. And then, it was only the bishop who could lift the excommunication.
Well this is not a lecture, but rather an example of how the Christian community, in its years of great and rapid growth, took the problem of sin VERY seriously. Choosing Christ was a conversion towards real life in intimate relationship with God. Why would someone ever turn away from this?
So when I heard Pope Francis’ homily, I wondered if he had been listening in on our class. He continued with a deep awareness of how hard it can be to turn from sin:
“Faced with sin, we must escape without any nostalgia. Curiosity does not help, it hurts! ‘But, in this sinful world, what can we do? What is this sin like? I would like to know … ‘ No, do not! This curiosity will hurt you! Run away and do not look back! We are weak, all of us, and we must defend ourselves”.
This is where the pope uses the term “wicked nostalgia.”
We must not be naive nor lukewarm Christians, but brave, courageous. We are weak, but we must be courageous in our weakness. And often our courage must be expressed in escaping without looking back, so as not to fall into the trap of wicked nostalgia. Do not be afraid and always look to the Lord!”
And that last sentence is the key! We are not simply turning away from something. We are turning towards someone, indeed THE one who loves us beyond our imaginings and our hopings.
At the Pentecost Vigil the pope emphasised the fact that God is waiting for us, and especially for the sinner who reaches out for God:
“We say we must seek God, go to him and ask forgiveness, but when we go, he is waiting for us, he is there first! In Spanish we have a word that explains this well: primerear — the Lord always gets there before us, he gets there first, he is waiting for us! To find someone waiting for you is truly a great grace. You go to him as a sinner, but he is waiting to forgive you. This is the experience that the Prophets of Israel describe, comparing the Lord to almond blossom, the first flower of spring (cf. Jer 1:11-12). Before any other flowers appear, he is there, waiting. The Lord is waiting for us.