Monday, January 25, 2016

The Face of Mercy

3rd Sun OT Yr C 2016
Holy Spirit Parish/UK Newman Center

"Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.  These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith…Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father.  Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person, reveals the mercy of God."  (Misericordiae Vultus, par. 1)
On April 11th of last year, the Holy Father announced an extraordinary Jubilee Year and said that it would be a Year of Mercy.  Chances are you’ve heard about this.  You’ve heard about Holy Doors and special permissions for confessors.  You’ve heard about changes the Holy Father has made to streamline the annulment process in many cases to help hundreds of thousands of Catholics return in an honest and authentic way to the celebration of the sacraments.  You may know that there are special Missionaries of Mercy being commissioned soon in Rome to go share this good news and help to bring others back into friendship with God by helping to bring them back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  You may know of special indulgences and a special focus on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that Pope Francis is encouraging during this Year of Mercy.  And some of us might have heard all of that…and not have any real idea what any of it means.
And that’s OK.  Because what really matters is contained right there in those first words of the letter he wrote to announce the Year of Mercy to the universal Church and the whole world.  Those words I quoted just a moment ago:  Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.  Misericordiae Vultus – literally, in Latin – the “Face of Mercy” – the name of Pope Francis’ document on the Year of Mercy because they are the first words of the document in Latin.  In English, we have to rearrange the words for it to make sense, but in Latin the first words Pope Francis has to say on the subject: Misericordiae vultus Patris est Christus Iesus – Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.
You see – God has been merciful from the very beginning.  From the moment our first parents disobeyed Him, every man, woman, and child has deserved nothing but eternal separation from God.  But God wasn’t satisfied to let us wallow in what we deserved, and so right from the very beginning the Father has shown His mercy toward us.  But, we just couldn’t wrap our minds and our hearts around it.  The Father made covenants with us, and we broke them.  He gave us chances to learn the difficult lessons – and we learned them…for a while…but then we forgot.
On our worst days, we completely disregarded the covenant, and made God into our own image and changed His law to suit our preferences and serve our purposes.  Think Aaron and the golden calf.  Think Pharisees.  Think abortion, and gay marriage.  Think environmental abuse and financial extravagance.  On our best days, we see God’s law as something that shackles us and limits our freedom, and relate to God as if He’s a mean overlord who seeks nothing but to impose an arbitrary set of rules on our lives, forgetting that the laws of the covenant are designed to lead us to happiness and protect our bodies and souls for eternity with Him.  We bend the knee and bury our face before God in fear and shame, rather than out of love and worship.  Think today’s first reading.  Think of running to confession out of fear of hell, as opposed to running there out of love and a desire to become the woman or man God most wants us to be, the human person – fully free, free for love, free for life.
God had been trying to communicate His mercy to us since the beginning of time…but it just wasn’t working.  Eucharistic Prayer IV, which we’ll pray at this Mass (so pay attention to it later) puts it like this:  Time and again you offered them covenants, and through the prophets taught them to look forward to salvation.  But we just didn’t seem to get the message.  Covenants, laws, rules, practices – priests, judges, kings and prophets.  God’s mercy was perfect…but we were so fallen we couldn’t really understand it.  Until… Misericordiae vultus Patris est Christus Iesus – the face of the Father’s mercy of is Christ Jesus.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…He said in today’s Gospel…because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor…to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.  Jesus came for this – to help us finally get it – the Father’s mercy.  Jesus came so that by coming to know Him, we might finally come to know the Father’s mercy.
Friends – our parish community runs the gamut of belief and practice of the Catholic faith.  We are liberal and conservative. We are ad orientum and versus populum.  We are traditional and contemporary.  We are cultic and liturgical – and social justice and service oriented.  We are sinners and saints.  We are the mainstream and the fringes.  We are passionate, and we are marginal.  We are taking our faith seriously, and we are going through the motions.  We are people for whom faith is making a tangible, real difference in our lives – and we are people who are lukewarm at best and absolute pretenders at worst.  In short, we are God’s people – since the beginning of time and down through history, we are just like God’s people always have been.  And – just like them – we will never know anything about mercy other than fanciful words and futile efforts…until we come to know Jesus Christ, who is Himself the face of the Father’s mercy.
Our parish is doing many things to make this Extraordinary Year of Mercy change us, grow us, convert us.  Because Pope Francis is right – we’ll never ‘get it’ until we ‘get Him’.  And our efforts get started this Thursday evening with an opportunity to engage the amazing teaching Pope Francis has given us in Misericordiae Vultus.  I can’t encourage you strongly enough to be a part of it.  Together as a family of faith – one family of faith – even spread as far across the spectrum as we are – together as one family of faith, I exhort you and invite you to come be a part of our Thursday night gathering.  Let our efforts as a family of faith help you encounter God’s mercy…Jesus Christ – the One whom we’ve come to worship and adore this morning.

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