Fourth Sunday of Lent (B) - Blessed are the Merciful

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Blessed are the Merciful

Fourth Sunday of Lent (B)

Many commentators have tried to analyse the principal thrust of the pontificate of Pope Francis. There is no doubt that he has broken the traditional mould of popes as we have known them. He has chosen not to live in the papal apartments. He prefers to ride in simple vehicles. He wants to be among ordinary people. He shuns official protocols so that he can focus on his own priorities. He wants to engage with people who are suffering. 

So people are asking - what is at the heart of the mission of Pope Francis? What does he wish to convey to the world?

There is one word that is beginning to emerge in relation to the thrust of the preaching and actions of the pope. One word that may become the word to depict the mission of Pope Francis. That word is mercy.

There is little doubt that he himself emphasises the notion of mercy. He has spoken about mercy on many occasions. His first focus on the subject of mercy is to emphasise the mercy of God.

Pope Francis is, of course, in line with the revelation of God found in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. In a most significant moment of revelation God appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai and described himself in these words, “The Lord, the Lord, a God full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger, and rich in mercy and truth”. (Ex 34:6) Jesus’ engagement with people gave constant witness to this truth. God is a god of mercy and compassion.

In a homily last year Pope Francis said, “I think we too are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord's most powerful message: mercy”.
In fact I have just learnt that Pope Francis last night declared that next will be designated the Year of Mercy. This year is the Year of Consecrated Life, but last night in the homily during the Penitential Service of “24 Hours for the Lord” announced an “Extraordinary Holy Year” entitled a “Jubilee of Mercy”, beginning on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8.
He said, ”I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time,”
The Pope has spoken often that the mercy of God will never turn away a sinner who approaches him. He regularly encourages people to seek the mercy of God in the Sacrament of Penance. Thus, he says, “It is not easy to entrust oneself to God's mercy, because it is an abyss beyond our comprehension. But we must! ... ‘Oh, I am a great sinner!’ All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things! He forgets, He has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets, He kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: "Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more"” (Jn 8:11).

Pope Francis also wants mercy to be the face of the Church to the world. This has motivated many of his striking actions, like embracing a man covered with boils in St Peter's Square. He has said on many occasions that he wants a Church that is open to people. Thus he has said, “The Lord wants us to belong to a Church that knows how to open her arms and welcome everyone, that is not a house for the few, but a house for everyone, where all can be renewed, transformed, sanctified by his love—the strongest and the weakest, sinners, the indifferent, those who feel discouraged or lost.”

Mercy should characterise the face of the Church. This mercy is a simple reflection of the mercy shown by Christ.

The third aspect is that Pope Francis encourages each of us to make mercy the characteristic of our lives.  Pope Francis invites us as Catholics to make mercy a distinguishing feature of our dealings with one another and with the world around us. He says, “Let each one ask him- or herself today, ‘Do I increase harmony in my family, in my parish, in my community, or am I a gossip? Am I a cause of division or embarrassment?’ And you know the harm that gossiping does to the Church, to the parishes, the communities. Gossip does harm! Gossip wounds. Before Christians open their mouths to gossip, they should bite their tongue! To bite one’s tongue: this does us good because the tongue swells and can no longer speak, cannot gossip.”

Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy’. We all know we rely upon the mercy of God for the many ways we have failed during life. We know the freedom that comes from being able to receive Absolution in the Sacrament of Penance. This Beatitude reminds us that we will receive mercy to the extent that we show mercy.

Let us examine our conscience during this Lenten season on the subject of mercy: do I show mercy to others. Do I gossip and bring people down? Do I look to find fault and are quick to criticise? Do I give the other person the benefit of the doubt or always see wrong in what they say or do? Do I lack a willingness to forgive?

As we grow in having a merciful heart, we will be in the right place to receive mercy from God.


Archbishop Julian Porteous
Thursday, 12 March 2015