“Jesus Christ,” Pope Francis writes, “is the face of the Father’s mercy… Merciful like the Father, therefore, is the ‘motto’ of this Holy Year. In mercy, we find proof of how God loves us. He gives his entire self, always, freely, asking nothing in return. He comes to our aid whenever we call upon him… Day after day, touched by his compassion, we also can become compassionate towards others (Misericordiae Vultus, #1, 14).
The night of our American presidential election I took a walk as the sun was setting. A pink ribbon cast across the full horizon of the western sky wove itself around the falling night clouds. The beauty of it lifted my angst set in motion by an agonizing political year. Shakespeare came to mind. “The quality of mercy is not strained … it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” I am worried we have lost the sense that mercy is blessing every which way we look upon it. I could only hope that the leadership emerging could model the Christ-leadership that indeed delivered us from the power of darkness.
This weekend, the Year of Mercy will come to an end and the doors opened in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome will close. As my friend said recently, though the doors close, mercy will live on always!
“The Jubilee year will close with the liturgical Solemnity of Christ the King on 20 November 2016. On that day, as we seal the Holy Door, we shall be filled, above all, with a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity for having granted us an extraordinary time of grace. We will entrust the life of the Church, all humanity, and the entire cosmos to the Lordship of Christ, asking him to pour out his mercy upon us like the morning dew, so that everyone may work together to build a brighter future. 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!” (Misericordiae Vultus, #5).
To embrace the readings today, we must be able to embrace the great ironies in Christological theology. For Jesus, who is Lord of all, never owned property, never held a position of authority in the empire or in the Temple. Jesus, who came from a small village called Nazareth, who was faithful to his call to come to earth and to reveal the Father’s intention for all humanity, this Jesus who only loved and reached out in compassion is found today abandoned and hanging between two criminals on a cross. He is jeered, sneered at, mocked, stripped, and tossed aside on the garbage mound called Golgotha. He is our King!
In the Letter to the Colossians, this King who hangs upon the cross is the image of the invisible God. To behold the face of Jesus is to see God. He is the firstborn of all creation and all creation came together in Christ. All things were created through him: the vastness of the cosmos, the sun, moon, and stars, the smallest insect and the bawling child. This beautiful autumn, too, belongs to Christ.
My heart beats, the city thrives, the family trusts, the couple loves, the business excels, the poor are not forgotten, the homeless are caravanned to shelters … Christ holds it all together. This rejected one, this seemingly powerless King is head of the body, the Church. He is the first to come forth from the grave and in Christ the fullness of all life dwells. In his body and through his blood, Christ has made peace with the world.
The scarred Christ is our saving Lord. There is the divine irony.
It is difficult for us in the United States to understand the self-emptying love that we witness in Jesus Christ. We who offer Toni, Oscar, YouTube awards to those who hold a kind of secular power over the public, ours is a culture of other kinds of power. We must work harder to understand what the Scriptures mean when they say: “He saved others, let him save himself.” The tough and powerful save themselves. Kings save themselves. Power and riches and glory belong to those who buy into the prosperity Gospel. It is a different mindset to see one pouring himself out for “other.” It is difficult irony to watch someone so filled with love that he will not fight back nor tease his way out of a rough spot. We simply must watch the King bleed.
Last year, the world was warmed by the little boy in the yellow striped shirt who wandered up where Pope Francis was speaking to tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square. Without fanfare the child hugged the pontiff and refused to be cajoled away. The pope patted the boy’s head by his side as he continued to deliver his talk on family life. Many sighed at the endearing scene, perhaps because the one whom we have given power to showed himself to embrace a child, the powerless one. One with power does not grovel to the little ones, one with power saves himself from embarrassment, and one with power is guarded by those who give him power. Francis modeled something different.
So did Jesus. Jesus loved children, the outcast, the marginal, the widow, and the orphan. He bothered to talk to them and touch them. It is what caused Jesus so much trouble in the end. The culture could not tolerate such love. It is why he went to the cross. It is how he saves, not himself, but us. It is why today we call him “King.”
Mary K. Matestic, MTS
“My Jesus, I am going into the wilderness today to speak only with You, my Master and my Lord. Let the earth be silent, and You alone speak to me, Jesus. You know that I understand no other voice but Yours, O Good Shepherd. In the dwelling of my heart is that wilderness to which no creature has access. There, You alone are King.”
—Prayer from the Diary of St. Faustina, 725.