Our parish pilgrimage to the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens this past Wednesday was the highlight of the Jubilee Year of Mercy that Pope Francis opened last December 8th, and will close this November 20th. This trip gave many of us an opportunity to pass through specially designated doors of our cathedral and receive a plenary indulgence for the remission of any temporal punishment due to our sins. I’m grateful to Very Rev. Thomas Barrett, Rector of our Cathedral, for allowing us to participate in a solemn Mass and tour the chief church of our diocese; and to his sister, Irene Hey, our parish Director of Family Services, who arranged and coordinated this pilgrimage.
Recently, Pope Francis spoke to us the two verbs of mercy, stressing that for fulfillment in life, we are called to forgive and give. During a General Audience in St. Peter’s Square, while reflecting on Luke’s Gospel on mercy which inspired the Jubilee Year’s motto: ‘Be merciful as your Father is merciful,’ he stressed this is “not a slogan for effect, but a life commitment.” He recalled that in the Sermon on the Mount, which opens with the Beatitudes, the Lord teaches that perfection consists in love, and reminded those present that St. Luke explicitly explains that perfection is merciful love: ‘to be perfect means to be merciful.’ The Pope asked, “Is a person who is not merciful perfect?” “No! Is a person who is not merciful good? No!” he continued, clarifying that goodness and perfection are always rooted in mercy. “Of course, God is perfect,” the Pope said, noting that even if we humans are not capable of reaching absolute perfection, being merciful is all that God expects from us. “He urges us to be as He is, full of love, compassion, mercy.” “But I wonder,” he mused. “Are the words of Jesus realistic? Is it really possible to love as God loves and be merciful like Him?” Then he noted that if we look at the history of salvation, we see that the whole revelation of God is a ceaseless and untiring love for mankind, and that Jesus’ death on the cross is the culmination of the love story between God and man.
Francis admitted that only God can accomplish a love so great, and that, “It is clear that, compared to this love that has no measure, our love will always be at fault. But when Jesus calls us to be merciful as the Father,” Francis continued, “He does not think the amount! He asks his disciples to become sign, channels, witnesses of his mercy.” Jesus wishes that His Church be a sacrament of God’s mercy in the world, at any time and for all mankind. “Every Christian, therefore, is called to be a witness of mercy, and this happens in the path of holiness,” Francis said, urging: “Think of how many saints have become merciful, for they are left to fill the heart of the divine mercy.”
The Pope then said that we ought to ask ourselves: ‘What does it means for the disciples to be merciful?’ He responded that Jesus has already given us the answer that lies in living out two verbs: forgiving and giving. Mercy is expressed, first of all, in the forgiveness: “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” “Jesus does not intend to pervert the course of human justice. However, He reminded His disciples that to have fraternal relations, one must suspend judgments and condemnations. Forgiveness,” he noted, “is the pillar that holds up the life of the Christian community, because it shows the gratuitousness with which God has loved us first.”
“The Christian must forgive! WHY? Because he was forgiven! All of us have been forgiven. None of us, in life, had no need of God’s forgiveness. And because we have been forgiven, we must forgive.” Judging and condemning the brother who sins, the Pope said, is wrong. “Not because I do not want to recognize sin, but because in condemning the sinner, the bond of fraternity with him breaks.’ “We have the power to condemn our erring brother, [but] we are not above him: we have rather a duty to recover the dignity of a child of the Father, and accompany him on his journey of conversion.”
The Pope discussed how Jesus has given us a second pillar: ‘giving.’ Francis reminded them of Jesus’ advice: “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” Noting how God gives far beyond our merits, Francis noted that He will be even more generous to those on earth who were generous to others. “Jesus does not say what will happen to those who do not donate, but the image of the ‘measure’ is a warning: with the measure that we take, we can determine how we will be judged….” Merciful love is the only way forward.
“We must forgive, be merciful, live our life in love. This love enables Jesus’ disciples not to lose the identity received from Him, and to recognize themselves as sons of the same Father. But do not forget this: mercy and blessing; forgiveness and gift. In this way, the heart enlarges, it widens in love. Selfishness and anger, instead, make the heart little, which hardens like a stone.”
“So, what do you prefer?” Pope Francis concluded asking. “A heart of stone or a heart full of love? If you prefer a heart full of love, be merciful!”