Advent II (Jubilee Year of Mercy)
2015 – Cycle C
Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6
President François Hollande said at the time of the 13 November 2015 attack on Paris, “I want to say we are going to lead a war which will be pitiless.” A merciless war of revenge. An Australian citizen who had worked in Paris for 28 years and saw the bloody state of the city the morning after the massacre said, “I simple cannot see how mercy can be shown to these murderers.” Do you agree with these attitudes? Do you feel justified in thinking and feeling this way?
- In the shadows cast by the attacks in San Bernardino, Paris, Beirut, Mali, and elsewhere, many good people do feel justified.
- Under the specter of the ugly head of racism and the relationship between law enforcement and young black males from Ferguson to Chicago, many good people do feel justified.
- In the darkness to which many people have been engulfed because of sexual abuse, many good people do feel justified.
- In the gloom that surrounds people around the planet as we fear for our security, many good people think and feel justified in refusing mercy to the merciless.
Torn by extremes of emotion – anger, revenge, fear, family protection, mistrust, doubt; we are a world and a nation at war with its self. Where do we go for insight and guidance? It is into this state of affairs, Pope Francis has offered the world an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy beginning on 8 December 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Pope Francis invites all Catholics to reflect on the meaning of mercy, justice and compassion.
What is mercy?
A French woman, whose son who was about to be executed for desertion, begged Napoleon for mercy and to spare her son. “He does not deserve mercy for what he has done,” the great man said. The mother replied, “If my son deserved it, it would not be mercy.”
Mercy is a clemency that is freely chosen and given to the guilty. The guilt is not annulled and there may be a just punishment to be endured; but it is just that mercy is always greater than any sin. Mercy goes beyond the sin to the goodness of the person to take away the pain so that healing may occur. The guilty do not deserve it. They may not even ask for mercy. Mercy is our response to evil.
Consider Adam and Eve. They are guilty. They have eaten in direct disobedience from the tree that was forbidden by God. Because of their disobedience, the woman will experience pain in child bearing and there will be conflict between her and her husband. The man will find work difficult and hard and they both will die.
God’s response? God promises a hostility to exist between the offspring of the serpent and that of the woman and that a descendent of the woman will strike a defining blow to the heel of evil. Where the man and woman had sewn figs leaves to cover their shame; God makes them garments of leather to better protect and warm them. [See Genesis 3]
Consider Cain. He is guilty. “What have you done? You brother’s blood cries out to me…” If Cain tries to farm – the ground that received Abel’s blood will work against him. Cain becomes a restless wanderer on the earth. Anyone will be able to kill him at sight.
God’s response? To protect him, God puts a mark on Cain. “If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged sevenfold.” [See Genesis 4]
Consider King David in his adultery and murderous plot against Uriah, Peter’s denials, the woman caught in the act of adultery, the thief hanging on a cross next to Jesus; they all are guilty. David’s kingdom will eventually be divided and conquered, the thief will not be saved from being executed; yet each is responded to with mercy: “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” [John 8:11]; “Feed my sheep.” [John 21:17]; “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” [Luke 23:43]. It all runs against the grain of any rational thought and argument, a counter response that looks foolish and irresponsible. Mercy injures our sense of justice.
Is God, Jesus, the Gospels, and Francis asking too much from us?
Do we not need to consider that mercy is beyond logic; that mercy is a grace; and like all grace, God given. Mercy calls for a change in us.
Francis muses, “Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy.” Saint Pope John Paul II in his second Encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, writes: “The present-day mentality… seems opposed to a God of mercy,…The word and the concept of ‘mercy’ seem to cause uneasiness in humanity, who, …have become the master of the earth and have subdued and dominated it (cf. Gen 1:28). This dominion over the earth, sometimes understood in a one-sided and superficial way, seems to have no room for mercy… [Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, No. 2]
No room for mercy? Do you believe that? Consider that you and I are also guilty.
We are guilty of disobedience.
Guilty of murder (For what is gossip, anger, slander and judgement of another, if not, a type of murder?).
Guilty of denying that we have a relationship with Jesus by our silences when we should have spoken up for truth or to defend another person.
Guilty of stealing: stealing reputations, stealing the health of the earth for future generations through pollution, stealing from work.
Guilty of adultery. Adultery does not happen just between wife and husband but whenever we betray a person who is committed to us.
Guilty of plottings within our families, in the workplace, in the parish.
Like our ancestors in humanity and faith, we are guilty and we do not deserve mercy. How do you want to be dealt with?
The mother replied, “If my son deserved it, it would not be mercy.”
[See Misericordiae Vultus, Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, 11 April 2015 and Grace that defies logic by Fr. Daniel O’Leary, The Tablet, 28 November 2015]