Vol. 167 No. 45 - November 05 - November 11, 2016
Pope Francis announced a Holy Year of Mercy which began on December 8, 2015, and will end on November 20, 2016. Many imagine that a Year of Mercy means that people can lift their arms up to the heavens, crying out for God's mercy, and a "tenderhearted" God will dole out gifts to satisfy the needs of His suffering people. This image may well come true for a number of God's people during this Holy Year of Mercy. However, after the closing of the door, God's Mercy is never shut, although it may appear so when we are confronted with the sine qua non aspects for receiving God's Mercy which can easily be misunderstood.
Sometimes, God's mercy disappoints us. The mother who weeps, "Why did God allow my son to die after I had prayed for him to live?" or the father of a large family who cries out to God, "Why did you allow me to lose my job, the only income we have?" The answer is that, often, God's mercy is counter-intuitive. He allows "bad" things to happen to us to correct us—often in ways we cannot see at the time—in order to bring us back to Him. Often, we do not think we even need correcting, but that is because we cannot see the sliver in our own eye—but God can. These moments represent the inscrutable side of God's mercy.
There is more to mercy than just receiving. There is also mercy which we are responsible for—giving mercy. Could it be that the primary purpose of the Holy Year of Mercy is to obtain God's help to be merciful to others? To understand what God considers merciful, we must recall the "works of mercy" as taught by the tradition of the Church.
First, there are the corporal works of mercy. These are acts by which we help our neighbours when they are in need of some material or physical thing: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; visit the imprisoned; bury the dead. These corporal works of mercy found in Mt. 25:31-46 indicate that compassion and mercy towards others will determine whether we go to eternal happiness, or eternal punishment.
Then there are the spiritual works of mercy. The spiritual works of mercy are compassionate acts which we should do when our neighbour is in need of some spiritual or emotional help. These are: counsel the doubtful; instruct the ignorant; admonish sinners; comfort the afflicted; forgive offences; bear wrongs patiently; pray for the living and the dead. These too have their source in Scripture. "Admonishing the sinner", for example, is based on Jesus' words in Matthew.
We receive from God those things we request when we knock at the door of Jesus' merciful heart. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. "Prayer knocks, fasting obtains, and mercy receives." says St Peter Chrysologus. Mercy is crucial. If you do not show mercy to others, you yourself prevent God to show mercy to you. He says that: "If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery," and "You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others."
So when God offers His divine mercy, there are consequences to accepting and rejecting His divine mercy. If the person accepts God's offer of divine mercy, the person is saved. But, if the person refuses His divine mercy, the person is punishing him or herself by staying out the face of His saving love even for all eternity. Rejecting God's Mercy occurs as we do not fulfil the condition of showing Mercy to others. Hence, never to be shut from Divine Mercy even after the Door is closed after November 20, 2016 would depend on our continuously showing compassion and love to all those who encounter us as we journey through life.
Adapted section of the article on Year of Mercy by Fr Regis Scanlon, O.F.M.Cap.
Every baptised person experiences mercy just as does everyone else. Without the living experience of showing mercy, paraphrasing what St Paul said on charity, even our words that were spoken would be like "a resounding gong," as a mere breath of sound... Mercy for us is inseparable from the face of Jesus who first made Himself known to us through the face of the families into which we are born, and then in the context of the Church that we have lived. After that, we learnt to know Him in Scripture, in the Sacraments, through the life of His witnesses, of the saints more or less known, that are present in history in every age. The depth of God's mercy is also spelt out for us through the teaching of the great ecclesial tradition, by theologians, teachers and doctors of the Church, and through the teaching of the Magisterium. This is necessary to have a vital experience of Divine Mercy.
The mercy of God is a fact that is manifested to us in many ways, so that the field of God's action is the entire world. It can be manifested with the gesture of someone who supports us or corrects us, or even with the fact that they remind us to live in the truth of our existence. In any case, mercy is an event through which my life is called with renewed strength to the good and to truth, with which I feel called to live. It recreates my life and re-energises me and puts me into relationship with Him, continuously opening me to the good of my brothers and sisters.
The mercy with which Jesus invests our hearts, at times strongly, at times with tenderness, is a surge of goodness and of truth which urges us to change our lives for the better and to be open to those around us, making them feel close, like a neighbour. Mercy makes us continuously know that God is revealed in Jesus, who increasingly reveals us to ourselves and to others. And it teaches us to look, to love ourselves and others in that perspective of goodness and truth with which Jesus Himself looks at us.
Increasing our Footprints of Mercy
We can recollect our experiences of walking on sand. I remember walking on the sand, leaving behind my footprints (even though for a moment) filled me with joy! But every once in a while, a mighty wave came to the shore, and while I was busy enjoying that feeling, it magically erased the little marks I had just created. I kept going on and on, until I stepped a little farther from the waves and made a comparatively permanent mark before leaving.
Isn't that what we do everyday? We interact with random people, we go to work, we contribute trivially to something which in the long run feels like it has been erased as if it was never there. We lose ourselves in the ordinary, enjoying the glamour of comforts. Our small efforts are rendered useless as they get washed down by momentary waves which distract us. But once in a while, we get up, realising that there is at least one thing we should do that leaves a permanent mark. Similarly in our life, at times our footprints are washed away by our own anger, selfishness, unforgiveness, doubts, etc.
God’s mercy has no timetable…
And for each of us, Mercy will continue to "be the beating heart of the gospel" in the words of Pope Francis, when he inaugurated the Year of Mercy on December 5, 2015. And each time one of us reaches out to another human being telling him or her about the love, the goodness, and the infinite mercy of God for His children, we are carrying the Good News that the Kingdom of God is already present among us - wherever we may be.
This was the underlying theme in Pope Francis' homily at the time of ushering in the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and he went on to express his deep desire that during this year, each of us would make a sincere attempt to take the gospel to everyone, near and far away. To tell them that, no matter what, our heavenly Father is merciful without reservations, and is eager to forgive if we are ready to repent.
Come November 20, and we will bring to conclusion the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which has been celebrated world-wide with meaningful and solemn practices and pronouncements. This momentous Jubilee Year, declared by Pope Francis, has indeed given us an opportunity to fine-tune ourselves to see the "merciful face of the Father..." in and through His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. But surely God's Mercy is not time-bound and limited to our yearly commemorations. The flavour of this beautiful Jubilee must linger and continue to flow into all of our lives and always.
Being as I am on a year-long sabbatical, it has been a God-given opportunity to refresh myself in ways that, I hope, will energise my spirit and ministry as a priest of God. This year has given me ample time for prayer, reading, travel and rest, as well as to experience the life of the Church at large in foreign countries, in an attempt to revisit my vocation and my calling.
It is in the current parish where I serve in Toronto, Canada, that I was offered as reading material, the masterpiece by Henri J.M. Nouwen - The Return of the Prodigal Son - A story of homecoming (published by Image Books Doubleday, New York, April 1994). Wanting to refresh my reading habits and getting down to serious contemplation, I took up this book with a conscious intent of revisiting the Year of Mercy, and I have no regrets at all. Given below are a few reflections on my gleanings from this masterpiece. I had read this book during my earlier years of priesthood and ministry, but now, in hindsight (as it were), it spoke to me deeply and personally.
For many of us, our family is our world. We live in the family, for the family. We live with people – husband, wife, children and in-laws. We experience affection in our family. It may not be from all and at all times, and yet, we cannot deny drops of tenderness in our families. These tiny drops give us the strength to face the world and all its madness.
Let us also be realistic and acknowledge that life in the family is not a bed of roses. For some of us, it is the biggest cross. For most of us, the initial flame between husband and wife withers away slowly. Misunderstandings lead to tension, followed by confrontations or withdrawals. Often, we say or do things we actually do not want to. We know that we are hurting each other, and harming as well. Yet, we repeat them with relentless regularity. We do get disturbed when we are sober, but unable to understand the cause and feeling powerless to stop the flow, many of us get on the wrong track in desperation of momentary escape from reality like addiction to alcohol, affairs, TV serials, gossip and more. And we invariably and conveniently shift the blame on the other. If either the ego wins or endurance fails, then divorce tears the union.
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