For Sunday, March 6, 2016, 4th Sunday of Lent
Pope Francis’ latest book, The Name of God Is Mercy, provides some wonderful reflections on mercy and forgiveness as we celebrate this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis tells us that “Mercy is the first attribute of God. The name of God is mercy. There are no situations we cannot get out of, we are not condemned to sink into quicksand.” This weekend we are presented with Luke’s incredible story of the prodigal son. Every human being can relate to some aspect of this parable as it opens us to deep reflection about all of the relationships that comprise our lives: our relationships with God, self, and others.
Regardless of what, if any, creed a person professes, all can agree that our world suffers from disordered relationships. It appears that after all these generations and centuries we still cannot figure it out. Power and domination, retribution and punishment, control and self-advancement, along with many other self-preserving philosophies detail how our daily relationships around the globe unfold.
In the midst of all of this craziness is a voice, sometimes uttered as a whisper, that is calling us to reconciliation, mercy, forgiveness, and love. We can all hear it, see it, and desire it. However, we are absolutely at a loss as to how to obtain it! Why? These realities that are in the very core of every human heart are not found in systems, ideologies, intellectual constructs, political maneuvers or positioning, or in wars. They are found in God. And only when we all figure out that our genuine happiness can only be obtained when all things—all political structures and ideologies, all nations, every people, all science, and all human endeavors and possibilities—see God and his mercy as their ultimate end, will we obtain it. As believers, we can hope and we can point to this, can’t we? After all, St. Paul reminds us this week that our primary ministry is the “ministry of reconciliation.”
This may not be something we can fully achieve in this life and perhaps God already knows that we may not. But, he puts the small examples and voices in front of us to light our way and provide reason to pause and wonder. Pope Francis tells us that “‘mercy’ derives from misericordis, which means opening one’s heart to wretchedness. And immediately we go to the Lord: mercy is the divine attitude which embraces, it is God’s giving himself to us, accepting us, and bowing to forgive.” Wow! This is nothing about power, domination, control, punishment, retribution, or anything else we associate with admitting our wrongs! It is not even God saying that we must bow down to worship him. It is quite the contrary! God bows to forgive us!
The prodigal son took a big chance but he bumped right up against his wretchedness and had nowhere else to turn. I am sure that what he met in his father may have surprised him. It certainly surprised his brother! (We’ll leave that for another reflection!) What the son met in his father is mercy. We can even go so far to say that what he met was unconditional, unreserved love! God’s name is mercy because mercy is love! And, the father’s reaction in the parable is God’s reaction to us when we go to him and square off our relationship with him and put him first: celebrate and rejoice! Then, what happens after that moment remains to be seen. If it is an authentic genuine return, we will encounter that next moment reconciled and live the rest of our lives and all the rest of our decisions with the proper perspective. We will always bring ourselves to taste God’s mercy. After all, the psalmist today reminds us of that as well: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”
Last week we mourned the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. He had his feet in two worlds, the secular and the religious. He felt the tension but moved forward with his relationships intact. We cannot figure our relationships out by simply giving a cordial nod to a belief in God’s merciful presence. Being a Christian is much more than that. It is not about associating with one church or another or whether one holds the letter of the law as stipulated by one’s faith. It is about an active, real relationship with God and a profound belief and acceptance of the faith that Jesus had it right when showing us the path of love and how to live with one another. Jesus showed us God’s mercy.
Our first reading from Joshua shows us what happens to the Israelites when they enter into their true homeland and the manna ceases. They are able to eat abundantly from the land they now occupied, the land they called home. We too shall eat abundantly when we come home to God. No longer will we be wandering, wondering where to find interior sustenance to fill our hunger or rest from the weary burdens of life. We will be focused, centered, and embraced by love, God’s merciful love. God’s name is love.
Pope Francis aptly quotes G. K. Chesterton: “When Man ceases to worship God he does not worship nothing but worships everything.” It seems that this is where many in our world have gotten themselves. Pope Francis also remarks that Pope Pius XII said, “The tragedy of our age was that it had lost its sense of sin, the awareness of sin.” Too many of the things we have created are used as cushions that keep us from experiencing the truth of our wretchedness, our sinfulness. It is harder today to “hit that brick wall” that can awake us. The simplicity of the day may have made it is easier for the prodigal son to do so. Pope Francis also states that humanity is in need of mercy “because humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them.” I would add that an even sadder possibility is that many human beings don’t even know that they are wounded or don’t want to know! This is the stumbling block and the reason why our ministry of reconciliation and commitment to preaching by our lives are so important. Many in our world need to learn what it means to be human and how to stay on course.
Have you thought of going to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation lately?
Rev. Mark S. Suslenko
Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”
You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:
let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.
Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.
We ask this through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy,
you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.
——Pope Francis’ Prayer for Jubilee Year of Mercy.