Translated by Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR
Our recollections for the year 2020 will move around the theme proposed by our Prior General and his Council for this year: “We are prophets of the Kingdom. Poor, social projects, periphery.” In each one of the recollections, in addition to the usual biblical and Augustinian meditations, we will propose a situation of poverty or periphery, as an invitation to reflect on it and pray for those who suffer the consequences of such condition. In this recollection of January, we are accompanied by the text of the Sinful Woman who anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her own hair (Lk 7:36-50). Seeing how this woman is qualified by St. Luke as “public sinner” (Lk 7:37), the situation of marginalization that we will propose is that of prostitution.
Enter into yourself.
Let us now dispose our hearts to live this day of recollection. Our daily occupations make us live, in many occasions, dispersed and outside our center, outside our own interior. In a moment of silence and recollection, let us set aside what distracts, preoccupies and disperses us, and we focus our attention on God, invoking the help of the Holy Spirit:
Lord, our God, shower your Holy Spirit upon our hearts; he is the love that comes from God and is God. By your Spirit, you have showered your love upon our hearts. We beg you that this Spirit illumines us, and grant that you dwell always in our interior, God one and three. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (trin. 15, 18, 32).
Your voice is my joy.
With heart well disposed, with serenity, I read slowly the following words of the Gospel according to St. Luke, savoring them and allowing myself to be touched by them.
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat at table. 37 And behold, a woman in the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was sitting at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with her ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “What is it, Teacher?” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 you gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she had anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much, but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (Lk. 7:36-50).
The Firmament of the Scriptures.
This is a text marked by continuous contrasts in which Jesus is the center. In the first place, the personalities: a Pharisee who fulfills the Law and is considered just, who invites Jesus to eat in his house (v.36), whose name, Simon, is mentioned (v.40), and on the other hand an anonymous woman, a public sinner. We underline “woman, public sinner” because it expresses the marginalized moral and social condition.
There is contrast in the parallel attitudes of the two personalities: the Pharisee does not comply with the legal and social prescriptions for the invited, since he neither gives him water to wash his feet nor greets him with the kiss of welcome. In contrast, the woman exceeds in these courtesies: she bathes the feet with something that expresses weeping itself and pain, her own tears, she dries them with her hair, and, furthermore, anoints the feet with a perfume. What calls attention is the absence of elements other than the person (towels, jars). It is the woman herself, what she is, as she is, who approaches Jesus. The outcome: Jesus forgives her sins (v.48).
In the center of the narrative is the parable of the two debtors with which Jesus directs the attention towards the generosity of forgiveness. He shall be more grateful who has received greater forgiveness (v.43).
In the middle of the action, surprising for the guests, since it is not explained how this woman could have access to the hall, there also arises the question about Jesus: “Who is this that even forgives sins?” (v.49) This question the Scribes and the Pharisees had already asked in a previous passage, when a paralytic was cured (5:21).
Everything is measured by the love manifested, because “she has been forgiven numerous sins, for the great love she has shown” (v.47).
The conclusion of the narrative is that faith is manifested in the love and it brings forgiveness of sins no matter what the anterior condition of the sinner, in our case, a marginalized person, despised and ignored. That is what attracts the mercy and forgiveness of our God, who is a merciful Father.
Commenting on this text of St. Luke, St. Augustine shows in the first place the great desire for salvation that the sinful woman has, being conscious of her own faults. That is why, this desire for salvation makes her daring to shamelessly intrude into a house where she was not invited and go straight to the feet of Jesus.
Our Saint notes that what the woman desired was to reconcile herself with “the tracts of Jesus,” that is, with the ways of God and with the footstep of God for her own life. The woman had walked the roads of sin and damnation, and she needed to return to trace back the paths of justice and holiness, together with Christ. Thus comments our Father:
(…) she approached not the head of the Lord, not the hands, but the feet; she washed them with tears, wiped them with the hair, kissed them and anointed them with perfume: the sinner made peace with the tracts of the Lord (Io. eu. tr.7,10).
Christ allowed himself to be touched by the woman, knowing that she was a sinner, in order that being touched by her, the touch itself may heal her: “he allowed her to touch him, that the touch itself may heal her” (Io. eu. tr. 7,10).
On the other hand, St. Augustine notes that the Pharisee who invited him, feeling secure in his apparent justice, not only condemns the woman, but also puts in judgment the prophetic quality of Jesus himself. That is why, the sinful woman merited to be cured by the divine physician upon acknowledging her sin, while the Pharisee, because of his pride does not allow the physician to act, he continues in his sin and his false justice:
“You are more sick, but you believe that you are well; you believe that you are forgiven little, even though you owe more. She, because in her there is no fraud, has merited the medicine”. What does “there was not fraud in her” mean? She confessed her sins (Io. eu. tr. 7,10).
The final invitation of St. Augustine would be not to feel ourselves just and secure from our own idea of holiness, thus, despising others. It is necessary to always manifest that we are sinners and “purify the foot prints of the Lord” in our lives.
The cry of the poor.
Fantine is one of the characters in the novel Les Miserables, that Victor Hugo wrote in 1862. Fantine is a young orphan who is obliged to be a prostitute due to the adverse circumstances of her life. She is a Parisian girl of the working class and is impregnated by a rich young man who abandons her. The fact that Fantine has a daughter outside marriage, Cosette, brings her fatal consequences. Fantine, a loving and sacrificing mother, loses her honorable job when she was denounced a single mother, and she had to leave her daughter under the custody of the Thenardier, a pair of usurers who owns an inn. The loss of her job and the exploitation of the inn keepers leaves Fantine in absolute misery, having to sell her hair and molars, but still resisting prostitution, until she can no longer do so and need brought her to sell her body.
Fantine, a fictitious character, is the figure of many women who are obliged to become prostitutes since they are mothers in precarious and vulnerable situation, or young women with scanty resources who have to do it in face of the studies or serious illness of loved ones. Even more dramatic is the case of thousands of adolescents and youngsters who are deceived by the mafia of the so called “white slave traffic” and are forced to become prostitutes. The group of women obliged to become prostitutes is an actual drama, a serious crime, a form of slavery that generates much suffering and violates the human rights, the freedom and the dignity of the human person. There also exists a group of women and men who dedicate themselves to prostitution dazzled by money, with the hope for a better life or because they become slaves of their passions.
The Scelles Foundation presented in the year 2016 the first world wide information on sexual exploitation. These are the sad results: in the world about 40 and 42 million persons are prostitutes; of these, 80% are women or young girls, the majority, 75%, are between 13 and 25 years old. Nine out of every ten persons depend on a pimp. A good group are victims of forced labor in a big economic market, being the second black turn of monetary gains next to drugs.
The Olympic Games and the World Football are important sceneries of sexual exploitation. In the World Football of South Africa, the authorities calculate that some 40 thousand persons joined the 100 thousand who were habitually dedicated to prostitution.
The greater part of the persons dedicated to prostitution live in state of alert, with much fear of being badly treated; they have high risk of being beaten or assassinated; they are victims of monitoring, control and even pressure by their pimps; they are exposed to HIV; on occasions they are ridiculed as “clients” who are not paid for their services; frequently the receive psychological abuse. Those forced to sexual exploitation are usually threatened, beaten, jailed and manipulated because “supposedly” they owe great quantities of money to those who deceived them.
The case of Christina is one of thousands of youngsters deceived and obliged to become prostitutes. Christina was born in Romania and her life would have occurred without great problems if it were not because, at 17 years old, she had the misfortune of knowing Ionut. A little older than she, married and with one son, he made Christina believe that she was the love of his life. After having falsified her documents to let her pass as someone older, Ionut brought Christina to Spain to spend some vacations visiting some friends. Next morning after arrival, he brought her to buy things, and even though they are shorter clothes than she use to put on, Christina said nothing. Again in the house that supposedly belong to some friends, he ordered her: “put on this clothes and hurry up”. They took a taxi and, in front of the club, he said that he has no more money; on the contrary, she is the one to earn money for him, by prostitution. Terrified, Christina refused; but Ionut showed her, by beatings, who was in command there. The next morning, he brought her to another club, and on seeing that she continued to refuse, he decided to leave her enclosed and obliged her to constantly drink water with salt. Finally, he prevailed by brutal force, after various days of beating. Months later, Christina decided to escape. One day that she remained alone in the house, she heard steps and noise at the other side of the wall of the floor and she started to yell for help with the hope that someone could open the door that Ionut had closed with key. A couple freed her, and between shouts and whines, she narrated her story and they accompanied her to the commissary. From there she was transferred to the hospital to recuperate from the beatings and the problems caused by all the salty water that Ionut obliged her to drink. After high medication, she was transferred to an apartment of protection of an NGO. The process of recuperation for Christina was hard and long. It took her much to accept that the person she loved had made her a prostitute and beaten her brutally.
Your commitment and your response.
The Pharisee feels secure in his false holiness and thus despises others. In your relationship with your brothers in the community are negative judgments on them frequent? Do you need the sins of your brothers to feel yourself more holy depreciating them?
- The Pharisee saw and condemned the sin of the woman, but without recognizing his own faults. Do you frequent the sacrament of reconciliation, or are you only its minister, and you believe that you do not need it?
- The woman did not dare to raise her eyes to Jesus and that is why she anointed his feet. How do you welcome the sinners and those who feel marginalized in society?
- According to St. Augustine, the woman wanted “to make peace with the footprints of the Lord” (Io. eu. tr. 7,10). In your life, what tracts are there of the footprints of the Lord?
Lord, deliver us from loving you little as the Pharisee, who did not give you the kiss of peace, nor water for you to wash. Deliver us from being Pharisees, who love little and presume to have little to be forgiven. Make us know to acknowledge that not our strengths but your grace has freed us from committing grave sins. For that, Lord, we thank you and we beg that we be able to love much, because your forgiveness in infinite (s. 99.66: paraphrase).
“The woman rightly wiped the feet of the Lord with her hair, that are considered superfluous. Your superfluous things become necessary if with them you attentively treat the feet of the Lord, who are no other than the poor ones” (en. Ps. 140,8).