Rich in mercy

As we have come to know Pope Francis better we have learned that the virtues of mercy and compassion occur time and again in his writings and remarks. A good example of this emphasis came about this past week when he addressed the Committee for Promoting the New Evangelization. “So many people have fallen away from the Church. . . . There is need of Christians who render the mercy of God visible to the men of today, His tenderness for every creature. . . .The New Evangelization cannot but use the language of mercy, made up of gestures and attitudes even before words” (Pope Francis, Address to Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, October 15, 2013).

   God, rich in mercy, because of His great love for us, brought us to life with Christ (Cf. Eph 2:4). We are the recipients of God’s mercy. As St. Paul reminds us, “It is precisely in this that God proves his love for us: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rm 5:8). When the eternal Son of the Father assumed our humanity, the steadfast, eternal mercy of God became visible.    Jesus makes mercy one of the principal themes of His preaching. Consider the parable of the Prodigal Son or the parable of the Good Samaritan. Think of Zacchaeus who climbs a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus and, to his surprise upon descending the tree, brings Jesus home with Him. Even tax collectors and prostitutes receive God’s mercy if they repent. And don’t forget the Good Shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep, or the woman who sweeps the house in search of the lost coin.

   The Gospel writer who particularly treats these themes in Christ’s teaching is Luke, whose Gospel earned the title of the “Gospel of Mercy.” The daily Gospel readings in our current cycle of readings are from St. Luke’s Gospel. Be on the alert to hear about the merciful Jesus who reaches out to all, even the outsider, those on the fringes of society who appear as outcasts and unworthy of God’s mercy.

   The early Fathers of the Church referred to the baptized as Christ-bearers. We are called to bear Christ to others, to proclaim the Gospel through the “language of mercy.” Our experience of God’s mercy, of His compassion and forgiveness, bestowed lavishly on us in our weakness and sinfulness, should prompt us to share this good news. God’s mercy truly is good news that should be shared. This is what happened to the Samaritan Woman. Upon meeting Christ and experiencing His mercy, she goes to her village and invites the people to “Come and see someone who told me everything I ever did” (Jn 4:29)! Are we as eager to share the message of Christ and His mercy with others? “It is for all of us to ask ourselves if one who meets us perceives in our life the warmth of faith, sees in our face the joy of having encountered Christ” (Address to Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, October 15, 2013).

   A faithful disciple does not hide his or her faith. Rather, a faithful disciple who has encountered the Lord goes out to encounter others. Jesus “went out” of his divine condition. “Though he was in the form of God . . . he emptied himself” and became man for us (Cf. Phil 2:6-7). Every Christian is called to go out to encounter others, to dialogue with those who do not think the way we do, with those who have another faith, or have lost their faith or grown weak in the faith or do not have any faith.

   The “door of faith” has been an important and rich image during this Year of Faith. The door is always open so that we can go out, bring God’s message of love and mercy to others and invite them to enter the door of faith and find their home in the maternal embrace of the Church.

   After the introductory greeting at each Mass, the celebrant prays, “Let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.” The sacred mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, made present at each Mass, requires that we consider our need for mercy. Perhaps it is only when we are in touch with our personal limitations that we can truly rejoice in God’s mercy and announce His compassion and mercy to others.

   Every Mass gives us a chance to start anew on the journey of faith and life. It gives us the opportunity to draw close to Christ, especially as He gives Himself to us through the sacrifice of the cross. It gives us the opportunity to imitate Christ, leaving ourselves behind in order to go out with Him to the outskirts and encounter others, announcing the good news of God’s mercy and love.

   Thirty-three years ago this November, Blessed John Paul II wrote a beautiful encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, Rich in Mercy. He told us, “. . . the pleas of human hearts, their sufferings and hopes, their anxieties and expectations” prompted him to write about God’s mercy. He raised an important question which I think is as relevant today as it was when the encyclical was written. Are we opposed to God’s mercy? “The word and the concept of ‘mercy’ seem to cause uneasiness in man, who thanks to the enormous development of science and technology, never before known in history, has become the master of the earth and has subdued and dominated it. This dominion over the earth, sometimes understood in a one-sided and superficial way, seems to have no room for mercy” (Blessed John Paul, II, Dives Misericordia, November 30, 1980).

   I hope this is not the case for us. I hope we have “room for mercy.” I hope we speak the language of mercy by our attitudes and gestures. With the psalmist I hope we announce, “With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption” (Ps. 130). I pray that through us the tender mercy of God is visible.

   If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.

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