Sin of the executioners

Question: On the cross, Jesus said, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). But if we don’t know what we do, how can we ever sin or be blameworthy for it?

Jerry Conlin, via email

Answer: Jesus is speaking to a particular situation, and we ought not generalize what he says here. The ignorance he likely refers to is that they do not know or understand his true identity. Do they really know that they were killing their Lord and Messiah? Likely not.

While it is true that the Lord gave many proofs of his identity by fulfilling Scripture and working miracles, along with the testimony of John the Baptist and the Father’s testimony in their heart, many of his accusers and condemners still did not understand or come to faith. Many considered Jesus a blasphemer and felt quite justified in their condemnation.

Now this does not mean that they are without any sin at all, and as Jesus said earlier, “If you do not come to believe that I AM, you will die in your sins” (Jn 8:24). Hence, while those who killed him and conspired to have him killed may be acting in some ignorance at the moment of the crucifixion, the Lord is still calling them to receive saving faith and come out of their woeful ignorance.

Ignorance and its relationship to culpability speaks to what a person could reasonably know and understand given their history, the condition of their heart and so forth. Vinceable ignorance is ignorance we could reasonably have overcome. Invincible ignorance is an ignorance a person could not have reasonably overcome at the time of the sin. And while the Church makes these distinctions, only God can know the true inner condition of a person and make this judgment. That is why the Church does not formally teach that specific people are in hell. Only God can see into the heart of a person to make that judgment.

Our true home

Question: What do we mean when we speak of “our exile” in the prayer “Hail, Holy Queen.”

Donna Lutkin, via email

Answer: Biblically, “exile” refers to the fact that, after original sin, Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden (cf. Gn 3:24). Hence, we are exiled from there and live in this “Valley of Tears,” another expression that occurs in the same prayer.

Since the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can also say that “exile” refers to the fact that we are not living in our true home. For Christ has opened the way not merely back to the garden, but to heaven. Heaven is now our true homeland. This sinful and suffering world is not our home, and thus our time here can be considered a kind of exile as we await our summons to “come up higher” to our true and heavenly homeland. Scripture says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20), and also, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1).

Finally, speaking of this world as an exile and valley of tears is a sober recognition that life in this world is often hard. And though we may ask God for certain relief, true and lasting joy can only come when we leave this exile for our true home with God.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.