14 Dec Our Salvation is at Stake
by Fr. David May
At first it sounded menacing: Pope Francis had published a “Bull of Indiction.” It seemed so unlike him to “indict” anyone, except for criminal organizations or those oppressing the poor. And a papal bull, I remembered from somewhere, is a document of some importance, marked with his official seal.
The title of the document, on the other hand, was reassuring: The Face of Mercy, as was the subtitle: ‘’Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy”.
“Indiction,” is a little-known word (at least in rural Ontario) meaning “proclamation.”
Beginning this month on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) and ending next year on the solemnity of Christ the King (November 20), Pope Francis is proclaiming, and wants the whole Church to follow suit, the heights and depths of the mercy of God.
He says that we need to contemplate the mercy of God in the face of Jesus Christ, not only as a well-spring of joy, serenity, peace and such, but also for the sake of oursalvation.
Hence, there’s a bit of urgency to the message contained therein if our (my)salvation is at stake! One might ask: is this a ploy to “sell” the latest edition of a Church holy year to weary believers, or is it really true?!
I realized after a bit of thought, that for me at least, it is true.
If you are familiar with the story of Jesus and the good thief of Luke 23:39-43, something like what happened between that man and Christ also once happened to me.
I didn’t end up in paradise (yet), but I did get rescued from the hell of bitterness over the suffering of the innocent … by a glance and a word from the Lord.
I have contemplated this revelation of Christ’s mercy over and over again ever since it happened to me almost forty years ago. Yes, for my salvation.
These days, spiritually speaking, I find myself at the same location as the thief: on a cross near Jesus.
But now I am watching him and listening to him “cry out” as he does in Mark’s gospel (15:34, 37) and in Luke (24:46). At first he cries out as did the psalmist in Psalm 22:20—My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
But later, as depicted in Luke, he quotes another psalm, this one replete with both struggle and trust: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (Psalm 31:5).
Both psalms, as a matter of fact, are eventually expressions of hope and trust in God. For various reasons, I need to let Jesus teach me what he lived at both points on his journey home to the Father. For my salvation.
Yes, the mercy of God comes in handy indeed when you realize that without it, something in your soul would spin out of control into chaos, moved by forces that cannot be humanly overcome without God’s help.
And a Jubilee Year of Mercy is a welcome deal with its promise and hope for extra graces along these lines for myself, my loved ones, those in my life I don’t love as I should, and the whole world.
Here’s one example from paragraph #16:
“A year of the Lord’s favor or mercy: this is what the Lord proclaimed (in Luke 4:16 ff.) and this is what we wish to live now.
This Holy Year will bring to the fore the richness of Jesus’ mission echoed in the words of the prophet: to bring a word and gesture of consolation to the poor, to proclaim liberty to those bound by new forms of slavery in modern society, to restore sight to those who can see no more because they are caught up in themselves, to restore dignity to all those from whom it has been robbed.”
I imagine there are plenty of people in this world who have no doubt of their need for God’s mercy. There are sinners who know they are sinners.
Lost who know they are lost. Poor who are aching for consolation, God’s consolation, any relief to their relentless struggle to survive another day. Those caught up in themselves who wish that somehow life could be different.
But not everyone is so aware.
In our world today, there is a growing number who see no need for God, grace, salvation, or mercy. They are fine taking care of their own affairs, thank you very much, and they don’t much appreciate being told by anyone else how these affairs might be improved upon.
Above all, they disdain all talk of, intimation about, thinking of, or daydreaming about, the transcendent dimension. All such effort they see as a kind of escape into unreality which is, to say the least, not to be encouraged.
It seems that such a line of thinking is all about power. This perspective would argue that we have the power within ourselves to transform the world and ourselves as part of that world.
Thus there is little talk of mercy for the weak, and in fact, the popes of recent decades have noted a waning of the practice of mercy in our contemporary societies. (#10, 11)
Nonetheless, Pope Francis, quoting Thomas Aquinas, notes that for God, showing mercy is not a sign of weakness, but of his omnipotence. (#6)
Of course, in human affairs, it is often the bully who is such because he is so afraid to show any weakness. On the other hand, it takes great strength of character to practice meekness and choose not to dominate others when one could do so.
Yes, there is a great but hidden power in crucified love, practiced as a work of mercy towards others, and a Jubilee of Mercy is no doubt a call to look for opportunities to practice such love with renewed gospel zeal.
The price of this? We have only to look at either the Child in the manger (as we will this month most especially) or the Man on the Cross.
The pope is implying that for its salvation, the world at this time needs desperately to touch again the omnipotence of God given as mercy and weakness, which alone has the power to change human hearts of stone.
The Lord will provide his followers with the discernment needed as to know how to do this, even in a world that hates weakness and/or any religion that promotes it.
Once again, this discernment will flow from contemplating Christ in the Gospels, the face of God’s mercy in our world.
What do we see him doing? Offering forgiveness to sinners such as Matthew the tax collector. Forbearing to consent to the punishment of one deserving it according to the Law’s demands (the woman caught in adultery). Pouring forth compassion for the sick, the possessed, the hungry, the grieving, a compassion that overflows in wondrous deeds of mercy and power for so many.
But Our Lord’s teaching itself is also a gift of mercy, offered for the salvation of those listening, which includes us today.
The words of the Sermon on the Mount, for example, may strike us by turns as either beautiful and inspiring, or daunting and even frightening. But they are given not simply to inspire or to challenge us, but to bring us the gift of salvation.
And so it is with every teaching, correction, argument, and conversation recorded in the gospels. All of this, too, the Lord will call us to draw upon, as the Spirit of Love and Truth leads us, for the sake of our own salvation and that of our neighbor.
And so we come again to the call to contemplate, to listen, to enter the silence of God, so that Mercy may speak to us and guide us in these troubled days.
For with the coming of Christ in the flesh, now and forever: Mercy and faithfulness have met, justice and peace have embraced. Faithfulness shall spring from the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven [Psalm 85 (84):10-11].
So we pray and so it will be, in the measure that Mercy has its way in our lives