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Bishop Ellison preaches at kunkujang mariama

Dec 16, 2015, 12:44 PM | Article By: FR. EDU GOMEZ - Parish of the Resurrection, Brikama

Not daring to raise his eyes to heaven, he said: ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’. This man went home in peace with God... the other did not.  In this short parable, Jesus shows us the contrast between the prayer of the Tax Collector and that of the Pharisee.  And when Matthew, the tax collector, left his business and followed Jesus, the Pharisees objected to Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners.  And Jesus simply said: ‘I want mercy, not sacrifice’.  In other words:  our care and concern for the downtrodden come before offering gifts to God.

Today, we are about to launch the special ‘Year of Mercy’ from the 8th December 2015 to the 20th November 2016, as requested by Pope Francis.  Last year, our Holy Father appealed to all men and women of goodwill to contribute to a world-wide Hunger Campaign: One Human Family, Food for All. I take this opportunity to thank all those who contributed so generously to this appeal.  It was truly an outstanding response.

This year, we will open the special Year of Mercy three days ahead of the Pope so that we can gather together, as one family in Christ, around the Shrine of our Lady, Queen of Peace.  The theme this year will be more difficult to implement, I think.  ‘I want mercy not sacrifice’.  We are also celebrating the great solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in advance of the 8th December.  This feast reminds us how God did not abandon the human family to the powers of darkness.  No sooner had Adam given in to the temptation of the serpent that God stepped in at once to the rescue.  ‘Where are you...?’, He said.  And Adam replied: ‘I was afraid, because I was naked’.  And the dialogue went on.  In this way, God made immediate contact with the man who blamed the woman, who blamed the serpent.  The reality of sin had already begun to spread.  At that moment, God promised us a Redeemer whose mother would be the virgin named Mary.  In other words, even from the very beginning of creation, God poured out upon all of us the fullness of His mercy.

The goal of our pilgrimage today involves much more than coming to Kunkujang for a day of prayer.  It marks the opening day of a full Year of Mercy.  It is the start of a ‘spiritual’ pilgrimage or journey where we are invited to rediscover the wonders of God’s love and mercy.  These gifts can call us to look into the deepest corners of our hearts.  ‘Where are you?’  God said to Adam.  God knew where Adam was hiding – in the bush.  But He wanted Adam to come out of that bush, to face his Creator and then his own soul.  The Year of Mercy, for encouragement, for a renewed hope in spite of the ever present temptations of the serpent.  ‘Mercy is the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life’. (Pope Francis).  The eyes of the body can often tell us something about the eyes of my soul or heart.

Pope Francis has given us some concrete steps to guide our pilgrim journey for this year of Mercy.  The first and the most important step is: ‘Judge not and you will not be judged; condemn not and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven.  For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.  Judge not means: not speaking ill of other people, not judging by appearances, recognizing how much harm is done by our gossip and careless talk.  Instead, seek the good in every human person.  But this is not enough to express mercy.  Jesus asks us to forgive and to give ... to be instruments of mercy of God.  (I looked at a dictionary to see the difference, if any, between forgiveness and mercy.  Forgiveness = pardon, cease to blame.  Mercy = compassionate treatment of an offender.  The word compassion would seem to be deeper...?).  It means suffering with the person whose life that has been broken for a (long) period of time.

Forgiveness is not something that comes easily to most of us.  However, it is worth reflecting on the alternative?  My feelings have been hurt.  I begin to talk to myself! My pride has been hurt.  I need to prove that I was in the right!  ‘To make a mistake is human, to forgive is divine’.  In other words, to forgive is a gift from God.  Do I want this?  To be able to forgive my brother or sister is to set them free.  But it is even more important if I can succeed to set myself free from my prison of resentment, pride or the malice which I have been holding on to... keeping malice is like drinking poison and hoping that my brother or sister would just disappear out of my life.  Then it becomes a cancer of the spirit; like a cancer of the body, it grows and grows until it destroys.  Then my own life becomes a living death.....unless or until I can turn myself over into the hands of the divine physician before it gets too late.  Only then can I experience that inner peace and freedom that come from opening the door of my heart to those healing words spoken from the Cross: ‘Father, forgive them...for they know not’.

Jesus own disciples had to struggle and wrestle with this completely new teaching on forgiveness.  Remember that they had been taught a very different understanding from the Jewish tradition: ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’.  One day, Peter ventured to ask Jesus a clarification about this forgiveness thing: ‘how often do I have to forgive my brother who has offended me’?  He suggested the figure ‘seven times’ expecting that this would sould like an extremely generous offer! We can only imagine his frustration when Jesus replied: ‘No, Peter, not seven times.  But seventy times seven’! Jesus was simply saying – there are no limits, no boundaries.  In situations like this, I have often asked myself: were those disciples mad in wanting to follow Jesus under such conditions.  And how is it that Jesus never handed a red card to any one of these confused disciples?  And so with ourselves today: we continue to try living the high standards of the Gospel values.  We fall and get up again like the poor tax collector:  God, merciful to me a sinner.

It is no coincidence that Pope Francis decided to declare a Year of Mercy between the two Synods on the theme of ‘Marriage and Family Life’.  It was evident that even the first Synod was confronted with a whole range of challenges that modern families have to face across most of the world:  poverty, migration, unemployment, domestic violence, war and stress of all kinds – to mention a few.  The teaching of Christ and the Church about Christian Marriage – will always remain.  However, never before were the Cardinals and Bishops exposed to such burdens or realities from the reports that were given during the Synod.  In addition, the hierarchy of our Church is all male and celibates who have no experience of living the realities of marriage and family life.  Given such stressful circumstances, our Holy Father has clearly stated that ‘mercy’ should always be at the centre of the preaching of the Gospel.  Therefore we are challenged to make that mercy of God accessible and available especially among those in broken or second marriages.  However, there is a danger, with not having clear guidelines, that out of compassion and pity, pastors might begin to develop their own ‘ad hoc’ solutions to this very complex topic.  But this cannot be an excuse to disregard the importance of mercy.

Brothers and sisters, let us remember that the Year of Mercy theme also covers all of us and not just those in marital difficulties.  I wish to encourage Priests and Religious to avail of this golden opportunity to live the Gospel of Mercy.  Let us be instruments of mercy in our ministry as well as in our mutual relationships.  How can we prescribe a medicine that can be bitter to others, if we have not swallowed it ourselves.  ‘Mercy is the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks into the eyes of his brother or sister on the path of life’.  (Pope Francis).

‘Where are you’?  Let us all take time to reflect on the question that God put to Adam: and, on the words of the Psalm: ‘Be still and know that I am God’.  ‘The Almighty works marvels for me, Holy his name.  ‘His mercy is from age to age’. Our Lady, Queen of Peace, Pray for us all now and always.  AMEN.