Bringing closure to the Year of Reconciliation for the Diocese of San Angelo
By Bishop Michael Pfeifer, OMI
With the feast of Christ the King on November 26, 2006, we bring closure to the wonderful Year of Reconciliation of the Diocese of San Angelo which began with the First Sunday of Advent in December, 2005. As we close this Year which focused on reconciliation, healing and mercy, we “confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” from Christ our merciful and compassionate King. [Heb.4:16]
Mercy is at the heart of reconciliation
At the heart of reconciliation and forgiveness is God’s mercy and love. During this Year of Reconciliation through our preaching, teaching and liturgical celebrations, we have given special emphasis to opening our hearts to receive God’s forgiveness, healing and mercy as we seek to be reconciled with our God, with our neighbor and ourselves. A special focus has been given to the celebration of God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Because our God loves us, because our God is indeed rich in mercy, our God always wants to forgive and pardon us, and to bring us into a deeper spirit of reconciliation with our God, with one another, and ourselves. And, as our God pours out mercy upon us, then our God invites us to show mercy, love and forgiveness toward our neighbor. “Should you not have shown mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you?” This we should strive to do every day, every month and year of our lives, and not just during the special Year of Reconciliation.
The best way to celebrate the fruits of our special Year of Reconciliation is to pledge ourselves to be agents of God’s mercy and reconciliation for others as we constantly open our hearts to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness in our own lives.
Jesus Christ is our merciful King
It is most appropriate that we end the Year of Reconciliation on the feast of Christ the King because Christ, as our King, is constantly asking God the Father to show us mercy and forgiveness though the power of the Holy Spirit. And, our merciful King who is always willing to forgive us, is constantly inviting us to show mercy toward one another. Hence, it is appropriate that we end the Year of Reconciliation focusing on the theme of “Sharing God’s Mercy as we honor Christ our King”.
In Ch.25 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus Christ our King tells his disciples one of his most powerful parables about how the nations of the world—all people and each one of us individually—will be judged on the last day. Basically we are told in that
challenging Gospel that we will be judged according to the way that we showed mercy and kindness toward our sisters and brothers who are in need—the hungry and thirsty, the stranger, the immigrant, the imprisoned, the naked and abandoned, the sick and ill.
To be a true member of the Kingdom of Christ our King means that we are ready and willing to open our hearts to seek the forgiveness and mercy of our King, and then that we are totally willing and ready to bring God’s mercy and compassion to others as we humbly and courageously strive to give ourselves in a spirit of mercy, compassion, and justice to promote and build up the Kingdom of Christ the King here on this earth each day.
“Thy Kingdom Come”
Each time we pray the Our Father we say, “thy Kingdom come…” These are words that we have been repeating for twenty-one centuries. When we say this part of the Our Father, we are telling Jesus our merciful King, that we want our Father’s
Kingdom of peace, justice and mercy to come today, come now to our earth, especially to places where there is war, like in Iraq and Afghanistan, and where there is continued conflict in the land of Israel, the land of Christ’s life, death and
resurrection, and where there is tension and disturbance in our own country and in many nations of the world, and in our cities, in our parishes and our families.
“Thy Kingdom come…” means that we want Christ’s Kingdom of justice to come to our earth and to defeat corruption, discrimination, hatred, rejection and segregation, and we pray that there will be an end to the worldwide social and economic injustices and to pervasive moral degradation that is prevalent in our country and in many places on planet earth. When we pray this phrase, “Thy Kingdom come…” we are actually praying for a new spirit of love and mercy between spouses, between parents and children, between the bishop and his priests, between pastors and the people they serve, between members of different races and religions. When we pray that thy Kingdom come, we are praying that it bring new love and compassion for children born and unborn, for the elderly, and a new spirit of service, care and concern for the poor, the sick, the needy, the forgotten and the millions of marginalized.
In order for this Kingdom of peace, justice, love and mercy to come, we, as disciples of Christ, along with all women and men of good will, must be willing to pray, to sacrifice and suffer as we work for reconciliation and mercy for all. As Jesus taught us in another challenging parable, once we have been forgiven by our merciful King, we are to show forgiveness and mercy toward one another.
Jesus our merciful King is our shepherd and our savior. Like a kind shepherd, Jesus constantly seeks the lost, he heals the injured, he restores the rejected, he confronts evil and affirms good. All evil is utterly conquered and subjected to the power of God’s reign through Christ, our King. All goodness is wrapped in God’s embrace.
Seeing Jesus in the Faces of the needy and poor
Jesus our Shepherd-King tells us that he wants to be recognized in, and identified with, all people in need. Jesus strongly infers in the parable of the judgment of the world that judgment is levied not primarily according to religious fidelity, but according to whether we have recognized him in our neighbor in need, by feeding, clothing, housing, refreshing and consoling our neighbor. If we truly try to see Jesus in the faces of the needy and the poor on this earth, in the end, when we meet the Lord in judgment, it will be no big surprise on that day of days. Face to face with the Lord, we will be able to say—“Yes, I recognize you!! I have seen you many, many times before in the hungry, the thirsty, the ill, the stranger, the imprisoned, and the sick.”
As we bring to closure our beautiful Year of Reconciliation for the Diocese of San Angelo, and as we remember and celebrate in our own lives the mercy that Jesus our King has manifested to each one of us, we are invited to have a new appreciation for the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, and to make a new commitment to be people of mercy, people of compassion—we are invited simply to be good Samaritans. Our merciful King reminds us in the story of the sheep and the goats that our eternal happiness depends primarily on how we reached out and helped our neighbor with their basic human needs.
Hence, I propose that a way to continue to live out this Year of Reconciliation far into the future is to give new emphasis to living some special works that today perhaps have been lost not only in our terminology, but also in our Christian practice. I am referring here and recommending that we give much more attention to what we call the spiritual and the corporal works of mercy. Let me say a word about the seven ways we can live out the corporal and the spiritual works of mercy.
THE CORPORAL WORKS OF MERCY
First, we reflect on the corporal works of mercy which are rooted in Scripture and are an ancient expression of our love for God by caring for the physical needs of God’s children. These works embrace a compassionate way of life, a generous attitude toward those in need, whether near and dear to us or virtual strangers. These corporal works of mercy flow from what Jesus tells us in Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” [Mt.25:35-36]
Let me briefly suggest seven ways that we can live out these wonderful corporal works of mercy.
— Feed the hungry: We live this work by donating to charities that are fighting hunger, like Catholic Outreach, St.Vincent de Paul Society, Catholic Charities. Also by bringing canned goods to a food pantry or soup kitchen, or helping with meals to the elderly. Taking food to the food bank and family shelter, working with programs to care for the homeless.
— Give drink to the thirsty: For example, fix a leaky faucet. Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth. Support efforts to conserve water, and bring potable water to all people. Work to keep clean our lakes, rivers and streams.
— Clothe the naked: We can do this by dropping good, unneeded clothes at a thrift shop, shelter or aid agency; by donating old eyeglasses to groups that give them to those in need; by providing warm clothing to a needy family in the winter time.
— Visit the imprisoned: This means reaching out through community or church ministries to prisoners and their families, as well as to those who have been victims of crimes. Become a volunteer for our criminal justice ministry. Help those released
from prison to make a new beginning.
— Shelter the homeless: Volunteer at your church or community shelter or drop-in program. Donate basic supplies to them.
— Support low-cost housing efforts.
— Visit the sick: By helping a family that has a sick member by babysitting, making a meal, doing laundry or driving a sick person to medical appointments. Visit shut-ins and nursing home patients. Become a Eucharistic Minister to take Communion to the sick in homes and hospitals.
— Bury the dead: For example, plant a tree in someone’s memory. Comfort a bereaved family through such practical help as grocery shopping or driving them to visit the cemetery. Offer to help cover the cost of the funeral for a poor person, and to be a prayer presider at wake services.
Spiritual works of mercy
Now let me say a few brief words about the seven spiritual works of mercy. These spiritual works of mercy help us to touch the hearts and souls of people in need through our compassion, our care, and our concern. Just as God’s mercy brings hope and new life, we are called to bring that mercy to others through prayer, forgiveness, patience, consolation, or simply by our presence. Here is a list of the seven traditional spiritual works of mercy:
— To teach the ignorant – We have countless ways of living out this first spiritual work almost on a daily basis. Parents have constant opportunities to teach their children, and we all know people who need to be given the opportunity for education so that they can improve their lives. Henry Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
— To counsel the doubtful – We live in a world that is filled with doubt, a world where so many people have lost trust – trust in God, trust in neighbor, and trust in self. During life’s darkest moments, a person’s words of faith and kindness can shine through, encouraging others who are doubtful or lost hope to believe. There is an inscription found on a wall in Cologne, Germany following the holocaust which says: “ I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining. I believe in love, even when I do not feel it. I believe in God, even when God is silent.”
— To convert the sinner – is the third spiritual work of mercy. Knowing that we have fallen away from God at some point in our lives through sin, many of us may feel uncomfortable with this work of mercy. We need God’s mercy because we are all sinners, but we are invited by God to also be agents in the conversion process of sinners, of our neighbors, beginning with our own family members, who perhaps have lost their way in life. Harsh judgments or condemnations only harden hearts rather than change them. We need to recall the words from the famous hymn, “Amazing Grace” – “Amazing grace, [how sweet the sound] that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”
— To bear wrongs patiently – is the fourth spiritual work of mercy. We have countless opportunities to live this work almost daily. As regards bearing wrongs patiently, the famous Leonardo da Vinci guides us as how to live out this work: “Patience serves as a protection against wrong as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you—grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and then they will then be powerless to vex your mind.
— To forgive enemies – is the fifth spiritual work of mercy. When we forgive, we begin to understand what God’s forgiveness and mercy are all about. The inspiration needed to live this work of mercy is given to us by the powerful teaching of Jesus in another parable that He told us [Matthew 18:21-35] when Peter asked Christ, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? …as many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Then Jesus went on to tell the powerful parable about the servant who pleaded for mercy with his master, the king, because he was not able to pay his debt, the huge amount he owed. The master was moved to compassion and forgave him the entire debt. Then, when this servant found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount, he seized the servant and started to choke him, demanding “Pay back what you owe.” The fellow servant pleaded, but the first servant did not show pity and compassion. When news of this was brought to the master, he was very disturbed. The master brought back the servant who had been forgiven and levied upon him a severe punishment: “You wicked servant! I forgave you and your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant as I had pity on you?”Then in anger, his master handed him over to the torturers.
— To comfort the sorrowful – is the sixth spiritual work of mercy. Our world is filled with sorrow, with people who are in deep grief, many of whom have given up on life or who are tempted to take their own lives. Again, almost daily we meet people who are in sorrow because of the death of a dear one, because of the loss of a family member through misunderstanding or hurt, or because of a divorce or some other tragedy. A glimpse of a little bud of compassion that miraculously blooms in a desert of pain or sickness, may help a neighbor to discover hope and meaning in suffering. Oliver Wendell Holmes said,
“There is no better exercise for the heart than reaching down and lifting someone up.”
— To pray for the living and the dead – is the seventh spiritual work of mercy. Each day we should take some time to pray for the living, members of our families, members of our parishes, members of our community, people we work with, people we go to school with. And, we should also always pray constantly for our beloved deceased. The greatest power in the world is prayer power, and it is our belief that this power can not only touch the lives of the living, but also in God’s design help those who have gone before us so that they can enjoy the fullness of eternal life.
As we end our Year of Reconciliation, mercy is the key word. Mercy expresses the highest form of love that God has for us as God’s creatures. One of the special Beatitudes as given to us by Jesus is “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” [Mt.5:48] In Matthew’s Gospel we are told to be perfect like our heavenly Father is perfect. When Luke comes to this same topic in his Gospel, instead of using the word, perfect or perfection, Luke has Jesus saying to us “Be merciful, just as your Heavenly Father is merciful.” [Lk 6:36] Luke is telling us that the height of God’s perfection is found in God’s mercy.
When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan: A man was assaulted, robbed and left or dead. Two respected religious people passed by without helping. Then a third person, a Samaritan who was rejected, who
was looked down upon by others and considered to be a heretic, stopped and provided assistance. He bandaged the victim, got
him to an inn, and paid for his care. Then Jesus asked his questioner which one was the neighbor. “The one who showed…mercy.
Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” [Lk 10:37]
As we end our Year of Reconciliation, Jesus is telling us to go and do likewise every day of our lives. This is where we
will find our true happiness in this life and in eternal life. To help us fully comprehend the mercy and forgiveness that
Christ our King wants to give us, we need to stand with Mary at the foot of the cross and contemplate the mystery in her
heart of sorrow, anguish, and suffering and apply it to our lives.