Dear Friends, Happy Advent and Jubilee Year of Mercy! This is the first in a series of reflections I'll be writing for Aleteia to commemorate the Year of Mercy. Enjoy! Also, "Miracle Man" is ON SALE! Please order a copy today at the link to the right! It, too, is a wonderful story about the power of God's incredible, redeeming mercy.
Blessings, grace and mercy to you and yours,
And so it begins. The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy—where the Church and the world will collectively ponder the face of God’s mercy, launching what Pope Francis has called “a tenderness revolution.” The year will culminate on November 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King, when “we will entrust the life of the Church, all humanity, and the entire cosmos to the Lordship of Christ.”* Wow.
While many of us wring our hands about a world gone mad with hatred and violence, the Vicar of Christ on earth challenges us to contemplate “The Face of Mercy” that we may reclaim God’s mercy for ourselves and for the whole world. As pundits alarmingly warn us to arm ourselves, close our borders, and close ranks so we won’t be caught off guard by those who threaten us, Christ’s visible spokesman dares us to disarm ourselves with love, to open our hearts to compassion and forgiveness, and to “allow God to surprise us”* during what he insists is an extraordinary time of grace.
In a world inundated with news of violence and escalating global conflict, many of us have come to dread surprises. Are we afraid to let God surprise us, too? And if we honestly reflect, what do we see when we contemplate the face of God? Do we see a Father who loves us relentlessly and passionately, who gazes at us with tender pity and reveals himself as “Abba,” “Papa,” “Daddy”? Or as Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) so pointedly posed the human dilemma, does God appear “as a menace...as the terrifying police guard who is inexorably bent on punishing us?”** For as Ratzinger insightfully concluded, how we view God has everything to do with how we respond to God.
As I recently reflected in prayer on how I perceive God’s face, my memory was jarred by an experience I had in the confessional many years ago. Weeping profusely as I lamented my own wretchedness and the hot mess of my life, Fr. John—an elderly priest known for his immense holiness—cupped my face in his hands and gently kissed me multiple times on the face and forehead without saying a word, meeting my sorrow with the soft brush of his compassion. His fatherly pity pierced me to the core, and twenty years later, I still remember that encounter as one of the most profound I’ve ever had with the tender mercy of the living God. Outrageous, surprising mercy met my utter brokenness that day, revealing the face of God through the heart of a holy priest.
In an incredibly beautiful description of God, Joseph Ratzinger wrote:
“God has a name, and God calls us by our name. He is a Person, and he seeks the person. He has a face, and he seeks our face. He has a heart, and he seeks our heart.”**
Is this how we see God?
As we begin the Jubilee Year of Mercy, it is fitting to ask ourselves: Will I let the heart of God penetrate my heart? Will I believe that God is mercy, not just theoretically, but for me? Do I trust that God’s love wants to meet me in my sin and brokenness to heal and transform me, and give me rest?
May we cry with the blind men of Matthew’s Gospel: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us!” And may our eyes be opened that we may behold the merciful face of God.
*Misericordiae Vultus, par. 5.
*Ibid. par. 25.
**Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God, page 19.
**Ibid., page 24.