“We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”
These words of Pope Francis, as presented in the document which announced the Jubilee Year of Mercy are just a few of the many wonderful thoughts he expressed back in March. He chose today, the Feast of Immaculate Conception, as the beginning of the Jubilee and thus, he offered this prayer to the Blessed Mother;
“My thoughts now turn to the Mother of Mercy. May the sweetness of her countenance watch over us in this Holy Year, so that all of us may rediscover the joy of God’s tenderness. No one has penetrated the profound mystery of the incarnation like Mary. Her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh. The Mother of the Crucified and Risen One has entered the sanctuary of divine mercy because she participated intimately in the mystery of His love.”
Recently, Maeve and I were in California visiting family. We went down to Hollywood for a meeting with a producer. It concerned our screenplay, and thanks be to God, it went very well. On the way back, we stopped at the Santa Barbara Mission and we prayed the outdoor stations. They were extraordinary mosaics, and the image above is a fine example.
Pope Francis writes eloquently on the subject of mercy, but in the image above, you can see what mercy is. Mary gazes on the face of her suffering son, and he in turn is consoled. We can only assume that he gains strength from her compassion.
“No one has penetrated the profound mystery of the incarnation like Mary,” the Pope writes, “Her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh.”
This Jubilee Year can be for each of us, a very special opportunity to grow closer to our Father in heaven. Indeed, the slogan for the “Year of Mercy” says it succinctly;
Merciful Like the Father.
May each of us open our hearts to our need for the mercy of the Father, and then, we can in turn can be merciful to others. As Pope Francis again exhorts;
“How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God! May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst!”
Pilgrims journey to holy places, seeking a blessing for their efforts.
On our recent trip to Ireland and England, Maeve and I visited beautiful old churches…
…the Father Patrick Peyton Memorial Center, and one shrine, Our Lady of Knock. Each was memorable in its own way. However, our encounters with people were as significant as any place we visited. You might say that we were pilgrims to peoples’ hearts.
When we got home, we made a list of the people we’d met; whether in restaurants, on trains, at B & B’s, indeed… wherever. The number was sixty-seven, and it included Maeve’s family…
… and taxi drivers – like Colm, a hilarious Dublin cabbie – fellow tourists, homeless people, wait staff, and innkeepers. Hoping to be a blessing to each, we usually established some kind of relationship with simple friendliness, and gave out a Scripture card before parting ways. We alternated between these two;
“You are precious in God’s eyes.” -Isaiah 43:4
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He did not spare his Son, but handed him over us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” -Romans 8:31-32
Sometimes, handing out a card bore immediate results. In Galway, Annetta, a Polish émigré who was our waitress, took our card and thanked us profusely. Moments later, I observed her holding back tears. We told her we would pray for her and she smiled widely. On the way back to our bed and breakfast, we struck up a conversation with Rob, a young tattoo artist, who was having a smoke outside of his store. We would never have even talked with him, if we both hadn’t sensed that we should. When we saw his openness to faith, we rejoiced for we knew that the Holy Spirit had prompted us.
At Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park, no Scripture cards were necessary. For it was there that we witnessed something so powerful, that it can best be described as “biblical.” Standing on his stepladder and projecting his impressive voice, a man proclaimed the Gospel fearlessly and with clarity for all within earshot. Maeve and I stood there, transfixed by his intensity and his focus.
In the gathering of listeners were three or four men, whose only interest was to heckle. They were relentless with their verbal barbs, evoking laughter at times. But this single-minded preacher ignored their abuse and persevered in his proclamation. Paul and Silas must have been cheering him on from their heavenly venue.
From our “earthly venue,” we certainly did! Moved by his words, I’d offer an occasional “Amen!” and Maeve, “Praise you, Jesus!” And once, when he was speaking of the joy that accompanies faith, I offered, “It’s the Holy Spirit!” – which he heard and repeated for all to hear. Being such supportive listeners earned us the attention of the opposition, and at least two of them directed their anger at us. One man snidely dubbed us, “the converted.” But we wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of a reply. We knew our purpose; to be a prayerful, supportive presence so that the preaching of the Word could reach those who were truly open to it. And there were folks standing with us, who were listening attentively. One was a Muslim woman, whom Maeve noticed and for whom she prayed fervently.
After about fifteen minutes, we ended up in a conversation with two young men. Will, one of the hecklers, was more interested in arguing than in listening, and soon left. Addie, a man from the Netherlands, was the exact opposite. He was genuinely interested in what we believed and why. When he asked a question, he listened intently and always followed with a remark based on our comments. He was one of the best listeners I have ever met, and I told him so. By the time he left us, we were gratified that we had been given a chance to witness to someone who had described himself as a “seeker.” Please say a prayer for Addie; that his seeking will end where it has for so many of us… at the feet of Jesus.
So many times we have heard a priest or a deacon say from the pulpit, “You may never be called to preach the Gospel on a street corner, but…” Well, that day in London, we were called to support a brother who has been called to preach. In an ever-increasing age of faithlessness, we may see more and more such people being raised up by God to do this important, yet thankless, task.
In the Jubilee Year, 2000, St. John Paul II wrote;
“Over the years, I have often repeated the summons to the new evangelization. I do so again now, especially in order to insist that we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardor of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost. We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of St Paul, who cried out: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!’ (1 Cor. 9:16).” -Novo Millennio Ineunte
Whatever the call that God makes to each of us, in some way or other, He seems to be asking this; that we be pilgrims to others’ hearts. Our journey in life causes us to cross the paths of so many fellow pilgrims. What particular way is Jesus asking you to share His love and truth?
You’re probably not ready to mount a stepladder to preach publicly, but you might be able to say “God bless you” instead of the clichéd “Have a nice day.”
May each of us allow the Spirit of God to use us to bring Good News to those who are thirsting for it and to bring the Bread of Life to those hungering for it. In this way, we shall answer the summons of St. John Paul II, the call to the new evangelization.