A. In 1994, Pope St. John Paul II called the Church to observe “The Year of the Family”. A fellow priest, a good friend, was not impressed. In fact, he harrumphed, “So this year it’s the family, next year something else, and what good does it all do?” “O calm down,” I said, “Next year might be all about you!”
B. Indeed, the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis is truly all about us – it’s about me, and it’s about you, it’s about a world all in need of God’s mercy. Later this month, Pope Francis will solemnly conclude the Year of Mercy just as today we will end our observance of this special year of grace by symbolically closing “the holy door” at the entrance of the cathedral / basilica. Does this mean we’re shutting the door on God’s mercy? Does it mean we’re moving on from the mercy of God, and perhaps, entering into ‘a year of severity’ or ‘a year of being upset about many things?’
C. Hardly. . . . Just as the year of the family was called for by Pope St. John Paul II to remind us of the continual importance of strong and loving families, so too Pope Francis called the Year of Mercy to remind us that God’s mercy is always at the heart of the Church’s life and mission, that it should always be front and center in our spiritual lives, and that we should not only receive mercy but also dispense mercy . . . by forgiving those who wrong us, by being agents of reconciliation in our culture, and by extending ourselves in compassionate love to the poor, the sick, and to the vulnerable. In a word, the Year of Mercy was meant to incentivize us to avail ourselves of God’s mercy so that we could become a people of mercy “not for just a day, not for just a year, but always!”
II. The Need for Mercy
A. As you can imagine, I am often asked to pose for pictures with parishioners, with students, with the newly confirmed, and many others. Those photos only prove that I’m not photogenic but I do have a few favorites, and one of them is last year’s opening of the Holy Door, surrounded, as I was, by young people from this Cathedral / Basilica parish. On their happy faces the virtue of hope was traced. On their happy faces is written the challenge of creating a merciful world for ourselves and for the generations that will follow us.
B. Neither the gift of mercy nor the responsibility to create a compassionate society go away with the conclusion of the celebration of the Holy Year. No, the point of the Holy Year was to open our hearts more widely to God’s mercy so that we could, as individuals and as a Church, experience God’s mercy daily and, out of that experience of mercy, work to create a society of justice, love, and peace. This we owe to ourselves and to all those who will come after us.
C. Next Tuesday (or thereabouts), a long and difficult election cycle will also conclude. Let us contrast the harshness and incivility of this election year with the goodness and gentility of the Year of Mercy. As we see rancor on all sides, we may wonder not only about the outcome but at a deeper level we may wonder if it isn’t really selfishness, pride, and hatred that rule us. And how easy it is for us to be swept up in this tide – some just going along with it and others giving up hope for the future. But neither of these is really an option for us as followers of Jesus.
III. You’ve Got To Have Hope
A. On the day of our Baptism, the seed of hope was planted in our hearts – not a seed of optimism or wishful thinking but a virtue that enables us to trust in the truth and reality of the Lord’s mercy, even when everything all around us might seem to be falling apart. Only in a trusting heart does God’s mercy reign. Only a person filled with hope will be an agent of God’s mercy in this world of ours.
B. Don’t we see this in today’s readings? In the first reading we meet seven brothers who preferred to lay down their lives rather than to violate their faith. They could easily have saved their lives but chose not to do so because of hope. One of them put it this way: “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him . . .” Scripture tells us that “even the king and his attendants marveled” at the courage of these young men who were ready to die for their faith, so much did they hope, so much did they trust in God’s mercy.
C. In the Gospel, we meet the Sadducees who had no hope in the resurrection posing an absurd scenario of seven brothers each of whom, in turn, married the same woman, then died – until all seven had died. To trick Jesus the Sadducees asked the Lord to tell them whose wife she would be at the resurrection from the dead. Jesus doesn’t fall into their trap but instead gives us a glimpse of heaven where everyone is a child of God, intensely happy and at peace because they are united in the vision of the Godhead.
D. As hope in God’s mercy takes hold of our hearts, as hope in our own resurrection takes root in us, we begin to live differently. Instead of thinking of heaven as an earthly paradise in which to indulge our desires, we begin to see how eternity sheds its light on the world in which we presently live. We begin to see our lives not as a journey from life to death but rather as a journey in which we die to self so as to live forever . . . a journey in which we surrender our sins with unending trust in God’s mercy, a journey in which we stop putting ourselves at the center and instead serve the needs of others, including to be sure, family and loved ones, but also the needs of the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the vulnerable. Thus do we hope in God’s mercy! Thus do we become agents of God’s mercy.
E. For that reason, St. Paul urges us today not to fall into discouragement, not to see our situation, whatever it might be, as hopeless, but rather to become agents of encouragement in our world; let’s listen to him again: “Brothers and sisters: May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and has given us everlasting encouragement and good hope through his grace [–] encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word.” This is what we are like when we trust in God’s mercy. This is what life on earth is like when lived from the perspective of eternity.
A. The closing hours of this Jubilee Year remind us that pride and hatred do not rule us. Rather God’s mercy must reign, in our Church, in our hearts, in our families, and in the wider communities where we live and work and socialize.
B. To be sure, no amount of human folly or evil can conquer or cancel out God’s mercy. But it is up to us to be the Lord’s heart and hands by which God’s mercy is injected, so to speak, into the culture all around us, especially through the practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy – things such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, sheltering the homeless, consoling the bereaved, accompanying those who have left the faith and are having difficulty returning, by listening, trying to understand, offering words of wisdom, mercy, and love.
C. If we live in this way, then every year will be a year of mercy until we reach the unending jubilee of heaven where, with complete purity of heart, we will experience the triumph of mercy as with the saints and angels we behold the Triune God face to face. May the Lord bless us and keep us always in his love!