Tag Archives: mercy

The name of mercy

Yesterday was the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus, a feast solemnly celebrated by the Franciscans and the Jesuits.

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The name, Jesus, “Yahweh saves,” was given by the angel Gabriel, as a sign that God had come among us, born of the Virgin Mary.

DSC00827The devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus was spread by the Franciscan reformer, Saint Bernardine of Siena (1380-1444). Reading one of his sermons this morning at Vigils, I was stopped by these words:

“Put aside, I beg you, any name implying political power, let there be no mention of vengeance, no mention of justice. Give us the name of mercy. Let the name of Jesus resound in my ears…”

The name of Jesus is not a word of power, of vengeance, even of political justice. It is the name of mercy. Our God, made flesh in a poor weak babe in an occupied land, brings mercy.

Each morning I begin my prayers with a form of the Jesus prayer, a prayer that is a mantra, repeated over and over.

The long form of the prayer, profoundly biblical, from the Orthodox monastic tradition, is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The shortest form is just repeating the name “Jesus.”

I have my own modified form, “Jesus, Lord, be merciful,” which I occasionally pray in Spanish, “Jesucristo, ten piedad.”

I don’t know when I began using this prayer, but it has accompanied me for decades. At times, I wake up praying the Jesus prayer. Many times, whether in church or just working, I find myself praying the prayer. I am not grateful enough for this gift.

But now what is important for me is the mercy of God. In the face of the violence and unrest here, in the fears of nuclear war and the abandonment of the poor in the US, the mercy of God should pervade us – and move us to be instruments of mercy.

Mercy in the midst of conflict

This morning in Plan Grande I’ll be baptizing a young man who will be married this coming Saturday. As I planned my homily I began to ask what it means to be incorporated into the Church, the People of God at this time and place.

To be baptized is not to join the church, to change one’s religion. It’s to be made – perhaps better, re-made – into a member of a People, a community, God’s people.

But what does this mean in light of today’s readings?

“Have no debt except to love one another,” Paul wrote to the Romans (13:8).

But love does not mean a life without conflicts. It means living in conflicts with love, maintaining relationships. Within the People of God, Jesus is present – where two or three are gathered together. (Matthew 18:15-20)

Within this community in Jesus, we are called approach problems, conflicts, sin – also remembering that Jesus is present and seeks reconciliation.

There are two aspects of the Gospel reading that struck me this morning.

First, the Greek manuscripts have two different readings. In some, the Greek says, “If anyone sins.” In others, it reads, “If anyone sins against me.” Quite different. But still, the message is maintain the conversation within the framework of the People of God.

Secondly, the text says that if someone doesn’t listen to the church, the People of God, we are to treat that person as the pagan and the tax-collector.

At first, this seems to say that we must reject the one who refuses to be reconciled or who refuses to give up his or her sin. But, in a footnote to a new Spanish translation of the New Testament (prepared under the auspices of CELAM, the Latin American Bishops Conference,, the editors remind us that we must look at how Jesus treated the pagans (Matthew 8: 5-13 and 9: 18-26) and the tax collectors (Matthew 9: 9-13) – with mercy!

We are called to always maintain the mutual love which we owe to all – even if they don’t want to be reconciled with us or if they persist in sin.

Within the People of God – Mercy, mercy, mercy.

To all – Mercy, mercy, mercy.

Owe no one nothing but mercy.

 

The welcoming mercy of God

Mercy within mercy within mercy…
Thomas Merton

Can we forget God’s mercy? Sadly, yes. Today’s lectionary readings remind us of God’s overwhelming mercy.

Moses reminds God of His mercy and the people are spared, despite their worship of the Golden Calf. (Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14)

David mourns his sins – adultery and murder of Uriah – beseeching God for mercy. (Psalm 51: 3-4, 12-13, 17, 19)

Paul recalls the mercy of God which embraces him, a blasphemer and a persecutor. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

Jesus shares three parables of mercy: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the father who welcomes the lost son. (Luke 15:1-32)

But what struck me this morning was the beginning of the Gospel:

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus…

I wonder if our churches are filled with sinners and our enemies, drawing near to Jesus.

Yes, we’ll say that we all are sinners. But what about those we despise as sinners – Trump supporters, Hillary supporters, Communists, terrorists, right-wingers, left-wingers?

Are they welcome as we come together to worship?

Or, even more importantly, do we seek them out as the Good Shepherd does?

Or are our churches full of satisfied sinners?

This morning, perusing Facebook, I came across this photo of a sculpture of Timothy Schultz. It’s almost too difficult to consider – but our God is a God of mercy within mercy within mercy.

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The Black Christ of mercy

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Today in Mexico and Central America we celebrate the feast of the Black Christ of Esquipulas, Guatemala, a shrine I have visited twice.

As I began writing this morning I heard a bus stopping by the school and went out to see what was happening. Sixty-seven people from Plan Grande are going to the shrine of the Black Christ in Quezalica, not too far from here. I’ve never been there but will probably go this year – since the church has been designated as one of the pilgrimage sites for the Jubilee of Mercy.

Cristo negroIntibucaThere is another shrine of the Black Christ in the diocese, in the city of Intibucá. I was able to see the image up close this past June during the diocesan youth assembly.

I vaguely recall that in El Salvador today is the celebration of El Cristo de las Misericordias, Christ of the Mercies.

I don’t know the full details of the stories of the many images of the Black Christ in Mexico and Central America (and in other parts of the world), but I do recall that there are images of the Black Madonna in Europe, mostly in France but including the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland.

Yet in many churches here in Honduras the images of Jesus and Mary are more like white Caucasians than ancient middle eastern Jews. I have even seen images of a white Lady of Guadalupe – who left her image on Juan Diego’s tilma as a morena, dark-skinned indigenous woman. Note this image of Christ the King made for the feast day in Dolores, Copán, in 2014.

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So often we have domesticated Jesus, making him more like a white, northern European, than the Semite that he was. We make Jesus in our own image and likeness.

Today is a good day to recall that Jesus is God incarnate in our history, in a specific time and place, and that he comes identified with the poor and the outcast.

Jesus Christ, born among us, let us recognize you so that we can recall your mercy in coming among us as a poor human.

 

God’s mercy and our shortcomings

A few weeks ago I came across this quotation from Thomas Merton, who died on December 10, 1968:

“But the man who is not afraid to admit everything that he sees to be wrong with himself, and yet recognizes that he may be the object of God’s love precisely because of his shortcomings, can begin to be sincere. His sincerity is based on confidence, not in his own illusions about himself, but in the endless, unfailing mercy of God.”

I struggle with accepting my limitations, my sins, my inadequacies. It’s so much easier to pretend that I am not perfect, but good.

But Merton is suggesting that the start of our life of faith is remembering what is wrong with ourselves – but not stopping there.

If I don’t recognize where I am wrong, I can end up thinking I am right and everyone else to wrong. I can find myself taking on a “god complex.”

A few months ago, I ran across these words of St. Thérèse of Liseux:

How happy I am to see myself as imperfect and be in need of God’s mercy.

Reflecting on these words, which mirror Merton’s, I wrote in my journal that morning. (This is slightly revised.)

How hard it is for me to acknowledge my errors, my failures! How difficult it is for me when I’ve made a mistake, when I’ve not done something as well as I think I could. How reluctant I am to face someone , to talk with someone, when I’ve not done something well or put things off. I am afraid of looking bad.
But St. Thérèse remind me that my imperfections could very well be the path to letting God’s love and mercy touch my soul, transform me, bring me to conversion.

Recognition of our sins and shortcomings, of our imperfections and errors, can open us to the mercy of God.

That too is at the heart of the Jesus prayer

Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of the Living God,
have mercy on me,
a sinner.

Jesus, the woman caught in adultery, and Pope Francis

Let whoever is without sin cast the first stone.”
John 8: 7

Today’s Gospel of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery is a critique of people who would judge and condemn others.

Sadly this is something we see too often in the Church. In the US, if might be expressed this way: She’s not “orthodox” enough; he’s just a submissive tool of the hierarchy. Here in Honduras I’ve seen cases where people who want to serve in the church are maligned for having danced or for having been a heavy drinker in the past.

So, Jesus in today’s Gospel warns us – not to cast the first stone, but to look within our hearts.

But the story is also a great example of God’s love for the sinner, the marginalized.

In the midst of all the stories going around about Pope Francis there is one that I think reveals what this message means.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he used to visit the villas de miseria, the poor neighborhoods of his diocese. He and the priests who worked there seem to aroused in the people the good news of today’s Gospel, that includes the sinner in God’s love.

It is said that once Bergoglio [now Pope Francis] was in these parts and he asked the faithful: “Is the Church a place open only to the good guys?” Choral response: Nooo!! “Is there room also for the bad guys?” Reply: Yesss!! “Is anyone chased away because they are bad? No, on the contrary, they are welcomed with more affection. And how come? Jesus taught us”.

If more of our churches would be like that poor church in Buenos Aires, we might have a real rebirth of the Church.

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For the whole article, click here.