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Year of Mercy – The Power of Forgiveness


by Fr Duncan McVicar on 18/08/2016

Sharing mercy with others, will always include, in a very special way, the process of forgiveness. Mercy and forgiveness belong together. Forgiveness means my arms are open, my home is open, and most of all, my heart is open. When we forgive each other, we prove that there is a love present in our world, that is stronger than any sin or hurt. Jesus gets on this forgiveness thing, and He just won’t let it go. Everywhere Jesus goes, He either teaches about forgiveness or He offers it to someone. Zacchaeus. Peter. The woman at the well. The woman caught in adultery. When Jesus teaches His followers to pray, He tells them to ask for forgiveness and for the strength to forgive other people. Every place you open the Gospels, Jesus is sounding the bugle of forgiveness. The truth is obvious: Jesus, very simply, is all about forgiveness. So much so that His first sermon is just one word, “Repent!” as He makes it plain that we need forgiveness. And His last words are uttered to the Father from the cross on behalf of the soldiers below. In other words, forgiveness provides the first and last word of Jesus’s entire ministry. That alone teaches us how very important forgiveness is to our God. And how important it should be to us. Forgiveness will transform you and your relationships once you release its power into your life. You will find a new and higher level of living and of relationships. Read this inspirational text from Father Mike Schmitz, from Dynamic Catholic: Grudge holding is not one of our most attractive traits. For years, I carried around with me all the people who had hurt me or disappointed me. Like a wheelbarrow full of grudges, resentments, and wrongs to be righted. They went with me everywhere I went, as if I were some kind of supernatural scorekeeper who could track all the wrongs done and remember them in case they were needed at a moment’s notice. That is when I was forced to find the key. A key to let me out of the prison cell of past hurt and wrongs so that I could live in the present and move toward the future. I discovered that the key is forgiveness. One of the Spiritual Works of Mercy is to forgive willingly. How? Three steps:

  1. Acknowledge that there has been an offence. It is necessary. There is something to forgive.
  2. What has this person cost me. In front of Jesus add it up.
  3. Then say: I am not going to make you pay me back.

Mercy – know what you owe me, but I release you from your debt. In justice you owe me – mercy says I release you from your debt. You will be set free by becoming a person of mercy. “Forgiveness isn’t an event, it is a process.” Knowing that forgiveness is a process and not just an event reveals why it is so difficult to forgive. We want it to be over and done with in a single moment, but in reality it takes a serious emotional and spiritual commitment. While difficult, there are few skills more important in life than forgiveness. There isn’t a person on the planet that hasn’t needed to give forgiveness. To help us forgive, we need to be aware of two incredibly simple but transformative truths about forgiveness. The first is, order matters. The three-step process on how to forgive is incredibly helpful, but perhaps the most important part about the process is in adhering to the order. Here is the order:

  1. Acknowledge that there is something to forgive.
  2. Count precisely what an individual has caused you.
  3. Don’t say it’s ok or what they did doesn’t matter. Count the cost and then make a decision to release them of their debt.

Skipping one of these steps or trying to do it in a different order would be to your detriment. Think about it this way. About ten years ago, my dad decided to teach me how to change an electrical socket. He unscrewed the front casing and told me the first step is to pull the socket out from within the wall. The immediate result was a sharp electrical shock that caused my dad to jump back in pain. He looked at me with a sheepish grin and said, “first step, turn off the power!” Order seriously matters when changing an electrical outlet, and order seriously matters when trying to forgive others. The second truth is that forgiveness frees both the forgiven and the forgiver. Withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Those who are unwilling to forgive are burdened by an unshakable misery. This is a fate that robs us of the joy and the peace we so desperately seek. Go to Jesus, acknowledge the debt, count the cost, and forgive willingly. Remember, this is a process. Perseverance will relieve you and those who need forgiving of the burden you carry. Let’s look at the example of Peter, who betrayed Jesus. So how in the world did this Peter become the rock of the Church, Saint Peter? Because of one defining moment. A moment of extraordinary forgiveness. A turning point in which forgiveness unlocked the door of Peter’s past and prepared the way home to God’s future. Forgiveness turned the bolt and opened a new path. This defining moment of Peter’s life gives us insight into the very heart of God. A God who sees more in us than we see in ourselves. A God who is willing to forget the past and invite us into a bold, divine future. All by issuing a single power, the one most powerful word in the English language and the defining word of the Christian faith. Forgiveness. When Jesus returns to His disciples in His resurrected form, Peter and some of the disciples have been out fishing and are having a fish fry on the shore of the lake. When Jesus returns, He calls Peter over to the side. It is hard, perhaps even impossible, to imagine how Peter felt as he made his way over to Jesus. A walk of shame. With all the memories of his failures and cowardice still bouncing in his cranium, Peter stands before Jesus, his Lord. You remember the conversation: “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Feed my lambs.” A second time. “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Tend my sheep.” And again. A third time. Just as Peter had fallen asleep three times at the garden, and denied Jesus three times, now Jesus three times looks beyond the past and offers Peter a future. “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Feed my sheep.”  Say this prayer today: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy”. (From the Saint Francis Prayer)


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Year of Mercy – “I will never forget you” Part IV


by Fr Duncan McVicar on 23/04/2016

Another example of the witness of mercy in the New Testament is Jesus as the Good Shepherd – If we look at the witness of the Gospel of Luke, particularly in this Year of Faith, we see that the whole Gospel of Luke is just one the hymn of praise, sung to the mercy of God. Luke praises God’s merciful love! This is the love and the mercy that is given to us in abundance, even though we haven’t earned or merited it. One of the symbols of this praise is the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Jesus shows himself as the Shepherd of merciful love who comes to the aid of the sinner and looks for those who are lost. How often does Jesus call himself the Good Shepherd? How often did he tell the story, for example, of the lost coin, or the lost sheep, or the lost son? God’s love and mercy reaches out to the lost and also reaches out to the poor and marginalized. Jesus introduces himself and presents himself as the Good Shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. He is the Good Shepherd who is always with the sheep. What does a Good Shepherd do? A good Shepherd protects the sheep, and leads them to good meadows and good pasture (Ezekiel 34:15f): “For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak” (Exekiel 34:12-16) The Good Shepherd is the one who gives his life for his sheep (John 10:11.15). The Good Shepherds knows his own, cares for them, loves them to the end and will always be faithful to them: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:11-15). Jesus, the Good Shepherd, continues to show and reveal and prove his endless merciful love in the celebration of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, we see the same realities over again. Jesus is always with us. We have a living God in our life, who knows about us, cares about us and is interested in us. We have Emmanuel! He is the God who is with us, who is in our lives and wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives. He is always with us, and we should always strive to be with him. He is also the one who brings us to good pastures. He gives us his own Body and Blood so that we can eat and drink. It is this good Shepherd who takes each and every one of us into his sacrifice of love to the Father: “So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (John 6:53-56).

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Year of Mercy – “I will never forget you” Part III


by Fr Duncan McVicar on 17/04/2016

The understanding and significance of mercy in the New Testament flows from the witness of the Old Testament – there is a powerful continuity at work. Some parts of the Old Testament are even quoted in the New Testament, regarding the reality and power of mercy. There are many texts in the New Testament that speak about the merciful love of God to his people: for example, we have the different parables that Jesus told to reveal to us how powerful the merciful love of God is: The parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32), the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7) and also the parable of the loss coin (Luke 15:8-10) are all wonderful examples. In all these parables the merciful love of God, our Father, becomes so clear and comforting. The Gospel of Luke, without doubt, is where the theme and the witness of mercy is expressed in a special way. For this reason St Luke’s Gospel is also known as the “Gospel of mercy”. In this Gospel, we have, for example, the wonderful song of Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:50), and the three Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Son (Chapter 15). Jesus does not only speak about the merciful love of God. His proclamation of God’s mercy is intimately connected with all that he does and says, and his own personal life. Because he wants to proclaim mercy everywhere and at all times, Christ heals the sick, he comforts the sad and he goes out of his way to encounter in love the sinner, and even goes out of his way to find the lost at every turn. At the same time, Jesus calls his followers to follow his example and be inspired and motivated by love and mercy. They should allow their own lives and actions to be guided by the gift of mercy. Jesus asks us to be merciful to each other. And he praises those and calls them blessed who are willing to give this kind of love to others: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7). Jesus challenges us to be truly merciful to each other and also to forgive each other. Naturally, the request to forgive each other in generosity does not cancel out the demands of justice. When we forgive, when we show mercy, it never means that we capitulate before evil, or before suffering or insults. Each time in the Gospels, for example, when forgiveness is talked about or explained, it always includes the message to put things right and to alleviate suffering, and even to perform atonement for the many hurts or insults that have been endured. For this reason, justice will always belong to the basic structure of mercy. However, mercy gives justice and much deeper and much more healing content. This expresses itself in the fullest way when we forgive each other. (more…)

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The Easter Tree


by Fr Duncan McVicar on 27/03/2016

A wonderful story from medieval times traces the wood of the cross on which Jesus died, all the way back to the Garden of Paradise, where God made grow “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” (Genesis 2,9) The great tree of Paradise is the “tree of life.” Seeds from the tree of life, so our story goes, were planted from age to age, until the time of Jesus, when a tree produced from one of its seeds provided wood for his cross. Once again, God offers new life through the cross of Jesus, his Son, and invites the human family to return to Paradise. Here is a story that may help us understand that, in spite of appearances, the cross of Jesus brings life and not death. Easter means that we believe after all our “Good Fridays”, Easter Sunday will come!

The Easter Tree

In Paradise where life began a wondrous tree grew tall, that stretched its arms to the tiniest bird, and gave God’s gifts to all. And Adam and Eve in the evening shade together sang under the tree.

God sang along in their merry song, a song so light and free. But then one day a serpent came and the beautiful garden grew cold. The tiny birds flew far away and songs were no longer told.

The tree was cased in fiercesome ice, and cried to God on high: “O God, let me shelter your creatures again, let them sing in the evening sky.”

So an angel of God took a seed from the tree and gave it to Adam and Eve. “Take this seed from the garden tree, plant it and always believe. A tree one day shall open its arms to tiny birds again, and all the world shall sing for joy; and children shall sing their Amen.”

Before the flood, Noah planted the seed; from its branches he built the ark. He built it so strong all the animals came, to float on the flood mark. When the waters went down they blessed the tree, and God who showed them a way, And a child took a seed from the saving tree, to plant it another day.

When Jesus was born, Mary planted the seed on a hill near Bethlehem. “God’s peace, God’s peace,” the angels sang, “God’s peace is coming again.” On that day a tiny Child crushed the serpent’s head, and earth grew warm in the winter’s cold, around his manger bed.

They looked for a tree when Jesus died and they found it on Bethlehem’s hill. “Alleluia, Alleluia,” everything sang as he rose from the dead by God’s will. And the Easter tree rejoiced in song, the tiny birds as well. It bore a prize beyond all else, beyond what words could tell.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. because by the tree of the cross you have saved the world!

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Three Reasons For Hope


by Fr Duncan McVicar on 12/07/2015

It’s a conundrum. As citizens and conscientious Catholics, we want to (and should) keep informed of current events. That’s not easy. When our news overflow with examples of immorality, religious persecution, heinous crimes and devastation, we can feel discouraged, fearful, and even hopeless. But if we lose hope, we lose everything. Hope leads to apathy, and apathy leads to inactivity. Inactive Christians become monuments – they display nice words about God, but don’t carry those words into the world around them. We must not become monuments by succumbing to hopelessness. It’s human nature to feel overwhelmed from time to time, but it’s God’s nature to uphold you in his grace. Never forget that. No matter how bad things look from your point of view, God sees the world from an entirely different perspective. In that respect, there are three things to remember when you’re feeling hopeless. 1. God will not desert you. Oh, it may feel like it at times, but it hasn’t and isn’t going to happen, no matter what. True, Jesus instructed us to live and speak his message in the world, which means being a part of the world rather than hiding away from it. However, he also promised that he’d go with us. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28-19-20) Our Lord will not abandon you, no matter how tough things get – until the end of time. 2. You are a child of God. You received that gift at your Baptism, when you were incorporated into Christ, configured to him, and sealed with an indelible spiritual mark (character) of belonging to Christ. It’s a mark that can never be removed (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1272). You’re loved and cherished by God beyond your human comprehension.  Jesus has assured us of that. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Mt 10-29-31) Fear not, therefore, Jesus tells us. 3. God has overcome the world. The headlines may scream mayhem, but that doesn’t mean God’s lost his grip on you. He never turns his back on you, even when you turn your back on him. What’s more, there is no power greater than his. “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33) Even in the worst of tribulations, you have reason to be at peace in our Lord. Yes, pay attention to those worrisome headlines, but don’t become obsessed by them and slide into hopelessness. There may be reason for concern, but there is always a reason for hope. [From Marge Fenelon, USA - Picture: "Angel of Hope" by Carlos Schwabe]


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They Won’t Let Me In Either


by Fr Duncan McVicar on 12/04/2015

It was a beautiful Sunday morning. People were filling the church to its full capacity! As they entered, each were given a bulletin filled with announcements, topic of today’s sermon, what songs they would sing and who to pray for. At the end of the line stood an older man. His clothes were filthy and you could tell that he had not bathed in days. His face was covered with whiskers, for he had not shaved for a very long time. When he reached the usher, he removed his tattered old brown hat in respect. His hair was long, dirty, and a tangled mess. He had no shoes on his feet, and wore only soiled black socks to cover the sores upon his feet. The usher looked at him turning up his nose at the old man and said, “Uh, I’m sorry sir, but I’m afraid we can’t let you in. You will distract the congregation and we don’t allow anyone to disrupt our Mass. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.” The old man looked down at himself and with a puzzled look on his face, he placed his old brown hat back upon his head and turned to leave. He was sad as he loved to hear the choir sing praises to the Lord. He loved to watch the little children get up in front of the church to sing their little songs. He carried in his pocket a small worn out prayer book and loved to see if the priest preached a passage from the Bible that he enjoyed. But he was respectful, and didn’t want to cause any commotion, so he hung down his head and walked back down the steps of the big brick church. He sat down on the brick wall near the edge of the church yard and strained to listen through closed doors and windows to the singing going on in the church. Oh how he wished he could be inside with all the others. A few minutes had passed by when all of a sudden a younger man came up behind him and sat down near him. He asked the old man what he was doing? He answered, “I was going to go to church today, but they thought I was to filthy, my clothes to old and worn, and they were afraid I would disrupt their Mass. Sorry, I didn’t introduce myself. My name is George.” The two men shook hands, and George couldn’t help but notice that this man had long hair like his. He wore a piece of cloth draped over his body tied with a royal purple sash. He had sandals on his feet, now covered with dust and dirt. The stranger touched George’s shoulder, and said: “George, don’t feel bad because they won’t let you in. My name is Jesus, and I’ve been trying to get into this same church for years — they won’t let me in either.”

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Eight Steps to the Risen Lord at Easter


by Fr Duncan McVicar on 05/04/2015

“Where’s Angela?” I asked. The rest of our family was slumped on the living room couch. Everyone shrugged. Curious, I went in search of my sister. I checked each room of the house. When I finally found her, she was intensely focused on something. She looked up, revealing the object of her attention—her prayer book. I started to notice that Angela “disappeared” about the same time each day. I wondered how she found time to pray: Between college, friends and  a part-time job. Angela’s one of the busiest people I know. So I asked her. “Well, every day I have to make the choice to spend time with God,” she said. “It’s not easy, but it’s worth it—prayer helps me to get to know God on my own, to have a real, personal friendship with him.” Angela had some great tips on how she formed her good habit. Here are eight of them. 1. Plan a prayer “appointment.” Write a specific time and location on your calendar, or in your planner. You might want to choose a time that corresponds with another daily activity: after you get up in the morning, right after school, or immediately after dinner. Try to avoid putting prayer off until the end of the day. “If I wait until bedtime, I usually end up skipping it because I fall asleep,” Angela says. 2. Choose your “tools”. Some basics include: i. A copy of the Bible or the New Testament; ii. A good prayer book; and iii.  the Catechism – you can get a pocket-sized copy in any Catholic Book Shop. 3. Start with prayer.Ask God to keep you focused and to help you understand what you’re about to read. “Sometimes, my mind just starts to drift. I tell God I’ve set aside this time especially for him, and that I choose to focus on him,” Angela says. 4. Use your Bible and your Catechism. Even if you use a prayer book with verses printed in it, read the passages in your Bible or Catechism anyway. “Prove it to yourself that it’s really there,” Angela suggests. “It helps you to think of that verse as part of God’s Word, and not as just an excerpt from some random book.” Plus, you might spot another meaningful message from the Catechism that wasn’t included in the prayer book. 5. Read it until you get it. First, read verse by verse—read each verse several times until you understand what it is saying, then move on to the next one. Then, go back and read the entire passage, putting its meaning all together in your mind. Even if you’re familiar with a passage, try to read it like you’ve never seen it before—don’t skim over things. God might give you an understanding of something you’ve never noticed before. 6. Don’t just read about our faith—do what it says (James 1:22). Make a list of personal traits (patience, kindness) or spiritual goals (witnessing, prayer) you’d like to work on.Try to find ways to put your faith into action. 7. Make a commitment. On a piece of paper, write these words: “I commit to spend time with the Lord every day for the next month.” Sign your name and tape the paper somewhere in your bedroom where you can see it. 8. And finally number eight: Don’t give up. Let’s face it: There will be days when you skip prayers. Just try to keep it a high priority and do it whenever you can. “God is not going to abandon you if you don’t do a prayer one day—he knows what our days and commitments are like, and he knows our hearts,” Angela says. “Any time that you spend with God, he can use it to teach you and to grow your faith.”

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