I attended Catholic school grades 1 through 8, and this of course meant wearing a uniform. In the lower grades it was a blue plaid jumper with a skirt.
That created a problem. Our play yard had a jungle gym, and some boys in the class took advantage of the situation to look up our skirts whenever we girls were on it. A few of us complained to the teacher about this unscrupulous behavior. Well, Sister came up with a not so brilliant solution: ban the girls from the jungle gym.
I’ll never forget going out to recess that day, and hearing some boys on the jungle gym sneering, “Nyah, nyah. Girls aren’t allowed. Nyah, nyah.”
I learned a lesson that day, although I’m sure it wasn’t one Sister intended:
Victims are punished.
Sinners are rewarded.
When you look at the world, doesn’t it seem that way? Take, for example, someone who cheats on a test. He gets an “A” but throws off the curve so that it lowers the scores of the students who actually studied. Victims punished, sinner rewarded.
I once saw an internet post from a young man who decried God for being, in his opinion, unfair. His wife, he said, had cheated, then divorced him and married the other man. Because the poster was Catholic and had no grounds for annulment, he was, he claimed, condemned to a life of loneliness while she got to be happy. What was worse, he said, was that she could repent at the last moment and make it into heaven anyway. The way he saw it, the victim was punished but the sinner rewarded.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux seems to have such a person in mind when he said in his book On Loving God “Whosoever loves his own prosperity only is proved thereby not to love good for its own sake, since he loves it on his own account.” This young man who claimed God is unfair sounds a lot, to me at least, like the older brother of the prodigal son.
Of course the wife was, quite literally, playing with hellfire. No guarantee existed that she would know in advance when she was about to die. And, even if she did, repentance requires contrition, something one living in sin for decades might have a bit of difficulty drumming up at the last moment. Even if she managed to be contrite, there would certainly be some recompense in Purgatory. Doesn’t sound like much of a reward to me.
Let’s say, however, that she would be forewarned of her death, repented of her sins, went to confession, and gained herself a plenary indulgence.
That would be terrific!
When you think about it, isn’t the husband’s complaint about his wife getting into heaven like that of the laborers who toiled all day in the vineyard? When the first came to get their wages, Jesus tells us in this parable, “they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’” (Matthew 20:10-15, italicizing mine)
Jesus doesn’t seem to have a problem with sinners who repent at the last moment getting into heaven, so how can I? As for victims, I am sure God is never outdone in His generosity.
By the way, the next day I was back on the jungle gym. Of course the boys tattled to Sister. To everyone’s shock, I was quite happy to raise my skirt in front of her and the entire playground.
I was wearing a pair of shorts under my uniform.