As we now approach the end of the special Year of Mercy, it is so important that we learn to understand our Lady and in a much more humane way, and to think about in much simpler and ordinary way. God has asked to be the Mother of all the Faithful, and he gave her a motherly heart and the eyes of a mother. If human mothers are able to achieve wonderful things out of love for their children and remain faithful to them no matter what, how much more should we be able to claim this for our heavenly Mother! For this reason, we can say with Saint Herman: “Turn your eyes of mercy towards us”. We honour our Blessed Mother as the Immaculate Conception in the teaching of the Church. Her purity can also become for us a great gift of mercy. She can instil in our lives and hearts the true spirit of the “Immaculata”. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “Blessed the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8) when we see God, what will we see? We will see a God who is full of love and mercy, and whose constant care for us simply never ends. We will see a God who is a loving Father, who wants to open the “floodgates” of mercy in our lives. However, we can turn this round and also say, “Blessed are those who see God, then they will be pure of heart”. Every Christian is called to live a chaste life, a pure life. The more we embrace the pure atmosphere of our Lady, then the more chance we have that we will also see God. The more we draw closer to God, and the more we cultivate a dialogue of love with him, then the more we will understand and be able to live out the lifestyle of purity. The more we see God in everyone and then everything, the more we speak to him every day in a dialogue of love, the more we are willing to do sacrifices every day from God, then the more we will be in possession of purity in our own lives. Our Lady reveals to us the new image of God, that is so important particularly for our modern-day times, God is not the God, firstly, of justice, or vengeance or punishment. He is, before anything else, the God of an endless love and boundless mercy. Father Kentenich spoke extensively about the “spirit of the Immaculata”: The spirit of purity is sometimes called the “spirit of the Immaculate Heart” or the “Immaculata-Spirit”. How do we live our lives, how do we develop a lifestyle that makes sure that an atmosphere of purity or a genuine and healthy spirit of purity really is present in our homes and lives? The spirit of the immaculate heart, or the spirit of purity should always be somewhere in our lives. It shouldn’t only be an atmosphere in our own homes, it should also be an atmosphere in ourselves. It is a question of lifestyle. If we allow this type of spirit to grow in us, and we reach out for the chaste life, then we will make the right choices and we will have a sure foundation to see things in the right way, and understand things in the right way. It is very important that each one of us develops a spirit of purity in their own lives. We have to find ways that we can be responsible for ourselves and fully responsible for our own life choices and for our growth in the faith. We are speaking about the need for a concrete training in purity. What is faith? It is finding God in everything and in everyone. Another way to describe this is “making everything a window to God” In other words, I can “see through” people as if they were a window and discover God in them, I can “see through” everything that there is and see God there – present and active. The basis of our understanding of ourselves and creation can be described in the image of a “window”. Everything and everyone on this earth is, without exception, a “window” to God. This means, that we should be able to “see-through” things and people and events and also our own feelings and even our own bodies, and see God. In other words, we try to understand ourselves and our own desires in the way that God sees them and in the way that God thinks about them. All creation has a value in itself. but it also has a symbolic value. If we want to lead people to a life to faith, it has to become our constant task, to refer always to the symbolic value of things. This includes, in a special way, the deeper meaning of sex and sexuality. Everything and everyone should be “transparent”–so that we can see God and worship God. If we apply this to our training for purity, then this means that anything to do with sexuality, or our bodies, or the understanding of our bodies or our sexual desires should all become a “window” to God. Without this basic understanding of the true meaning of sexuality, and how sexuality plays a part in our spiritual and religious lives, then everything we say about purity or leading a chaste life will not be understood fully, and will not be seen as a positive value. If we can “see-through” everyone and everything – including sexuality – then this means that we look deeper, and that we actually seek a deeper understanding. All of creation – and of course, sexuality in a special way – has a symbolic value, and a symbolic meaning. If we are going to have a successful training in chastity, then it is always going to be a continuous issue, to help ourselves and others see the symbolic value of things, and also to see the symbolic value of sexuality. God uses everything and everyone to reach us. God uses everything and everyone to draw us to himself. God uses everything and everyone to share his Trinitarian life with us. It is as if all of creation is reaching out to us and leading us to God. It is as if all of creation is a messenger from God. There is nothing in creation that doesn’t lead us to God, if we see and embrace the symbolic value. God also wants to draw us closer to himself in our sexual lives. Our sexual life is not separate from God or from this reality. God draws us closer to himself through our sexuality for this reason, we must find ways to understand our sexuality in this light. We have to find ways to make our bodies, sex, and our sexual desires a “window” to God – transparent for God. Everything and everyone points to the Creator. Our sexuality also points to God if we understand it in the right way. Everyone and everything is God’s gift of love to each one of us. And this means that sex, our bodies and our sexual desires are also a gift of love from God. In them, and in all these things, God tries to prove his unconditional love for us. And when God shows us his love what does he expect in return? He expects our response of love, our answer of love. If we see everything in the light of faith, then we will understand that God’s gifts of love and God’s proofs of love are waiting for our loving response in return. Training in purity then begins with “seeing through” our sexuality and finding God. Let us turn to Mary Immaculate and say: “Mary, conceived with sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!”
All the mercy that our Blessed Mother reveals in herself, is a reflection of God’s mercy. Mary reflects God’s mercy, but she also inspires us to be merciful. If you and I truly want to be like Christ today and be as merciful as Christ is, then we have to become a truly Marian personality – someone who tries every day to love our Lady and to imitate her. Very often, when we speak about God’s mercy, we don’t have to try and always brings something new, very often just filling the known and traditional truths with value again and making them vibrant and relevant, can be a great source of spiritual nourishment and strength. One of the oldest prayers that we pray or sing on a regular basis is, without doubt, the “Salve Regina” – the “Hail Holy Queen”. The prayer was probably written in the 11th century, by a monk on the island of Reichenau, called St Herman Contractus (the term “contractus” probably refers to a severe disability). He was the son of Count Wolverad II von Altshausen. Being a cripple from birth (hence the surname Contractus) he was powerless to move without assistance, and it was only by the greatest effort that he was able to read and write; but he was so highly gifted intellectually, that when he was but seven years of age his parents confided him to the learned Abbot Berno, on the island of Reichenau. His iron will overcame all obstacles, and it was not long before his brilliant attainments made him a shining light in the most diversified branches of learning. Students soon flocked to him from all parts, attracted not only by the fame of his scholarship, but also by his sincere faith and his loving personality. In the first part of this wonderful prayer, Our Lady is addressed by using different attributes; “Hail holy Queen, Mother of mercy, hail our life, our sweetness, and our hope”. The Blessed Mother is revealed here in all her dignity as the Mother of God and the Mother of the King of the universe. In the second part of the prayer, our own personal guilt is described, along with our constant need for atonement and mercy. When we address Our Lady as the Mother of mercy, then we are describing her as a woman who is full of grace, and also a woman who is the Mother of Mercy itself – Jesus Christ. The Church teaches that Mary reflects God in a most powerful way. In fact, there is no one closer to God than she is. When we speak about God, and speak about his innermost attributes, then we speak about love and about mercy. For this reason, Our Lady reflects in a special way the same attributes of love and of mercy. If we wish to be merciful, then it means that when we see a need in others, there is an inner motivation in us to do something about it. In the prayer, we ask our Blessed Lady to “turn her eyes of mercy towards us”. How could we describe the eyes of our Lady. What do the eyes of a Mother look like? One way to answer this question is to have a look at the book of Tobit in the Old Testament. Beginning in the 4th chapter until 11th, we have a fantastic description of Tobias and his father and mother. Tobias has been guided by an angel to travel to a foreign land, a faraway land, and that he will find his future wife there. He has to go to Media, but he doesn’t know how to get there, so God sends him the Archangel Raphael to guide him and be his protector and companion, although Tobias doesn’t realise that he is an angel. Tobias speaks with his father and his mother and arranges with them that in a certain time he would return. However, the time is past already. And his mother becomes more and more restless and worried. So what does she do? She constantly opens the door and looks out, she leaves the door open to see if there is any sign of him. Near to their house was a small hill, and the mother climbs the hill everyday to try get a better view if her son is coming home. “Before he went out to start his journey, he kissed his father and mother. Tobit then said to him, “Have a safe journey.” But his mother began to weep, and said to Tobit, “Why is it that you have sent my child away? Is he not the staff of our hand as he goes in and out before us? Tobit said to her, “Do not worry; our child will leave in good health and return to us in good health. Your eyes will see him on the day when he returns to you in good health. Say no more! Do not fear for them, my sister. For a good angel will accompany him; his journey will be successful, and he will come back in good health.” Tobit 5:18-22) You see this is a wonderful description of the “eyes” of a mother. And through this story, we can imagine what Our Lady’s eyes must be like. Her eyes are looking out for us all the time. She also wants to know, like the mother of Tobias: “where is my child? Is my child okay? Is my child in any danger?” And the eyes of a mother will never completely be at peace until she knows where her child is, and also reassures herself that everything is fine. We see here, how mercy works. Mercy from Our Lady means that we are in need of mercy – that we are to a certain degree helpless. Sometimes we are physically helpless and sometimes we are spiritually helpless. For this reason the eyes of Mary, our Mother always look upon us, looking out for us, searching for us.Yes, Mother Mary, turn your eyes of mercy towards us…
If we look at God’s mercy and properly understand God’s mercy, then it gives us some concrete hints for being merciful towards others. Fathers and mothers in the family, for example, are encouraged to look towards God as a father, so that they can understand the meaning and framework of their own individual parenthood and what it means to be a father or a mother. However, these characteristics are actually applicable to every Christian. We all have to work on ourselves, and educate ourselves so that we can become “transparencies” of God’s mercy and be merciful towards other people. For example, we say that God is omnipresent. So it is the task of parents, for example, to be always “present” for the children. This doesn’t mean that they have to be physically present everywhere where their children are –this is impossible. But they should always be present for their children in the hearts. The children are always present in the hearts of the parents, and the parents are always present in the hearts of the children. Parents understand and know all the interests and needs of their children, and children understand and know the needs and desires of their parents. God the Father is all-wise. If we want to be like God then we also have to strive for a certain wisdom. Wisdom for example means that we know when to demand something from someone else, and when we have to leave things as they are. Wisdom means we get the right balance between saying something that has to be said, or remaining silent and wait for a better opportunity. Wisdom also means that we encourage in ourselves the ability to look for the good in people and to believe in the good in people even when we have been disappointed or hurt over and over again. Can we really believe, for instance, that God has placed something good in every single human being, even if they have done something very wicked or horribly wrong? God is also all-holy. This too is the first vocation of every Christian – to be holy and to try and discover what God’s will is for each one of us every day of our lives. All these different characteristics that describe the image of God are also the tasks and daily mission for each and every Christian. The attributes which we assign to God, are the same attributes which we have to develop and ourselves. When we experience the weaknesses and limitation of others, then we can always ask the question: have I got similar weaknesses? Do I have a similar limitation? This is the process of self-education. There will never be a time, when we are not called to work on ourselves and train ourselves more and more in what it means to follow Jesus Christ and reflect the merciful and endless love of God. Hopefully, we will all be able to say with time: “What is the greatest reality in my life? The greatest reality in my life is God the Father and his merciful and boundless love!”
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:
- Acknowledge that there has been an offence. It is necessary. There is something to forgive.
- What has this person cost me. In front of Jesus add it up.
- 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:
- Acknowledge that there is something to forgive.
- Count precisely what an individual has caused you.
- 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)
Mercy in our lives means that we see people in a different way. It means, for example, that we don’t just look at the outward appearances of people; we try to catch a glimpse of their hearts, and look a little bit deeper. If we really want to get to know people better and more accurately, then we have to look deeper into their souls. Jesus revealed the mercy of God in many ways. And his way of showing mercy is the only true measure for our ideal of Christian living. If we want to see people in a more positive light and in a better light, then we have to able to understand people more. People make mistakes, very often, because deep down they are searching for love, or they’re searching for happiness or fulfilment in their own lives. How many sins, how many false opinions, how many ideologies, how many prejudices are, at the end of the day, all about the search for happiness, or the search for a liberating love that has never been experienced. Christian, merciful love empowers us and makes it possible that we can look beyond peoples mistakes, and with a generous and open heart, see them in a positive light. If we are able to see other people in a better way, then we can also apply this to ourselves. Here we come to the beauty and the necessity of the Sacrament of Mercy – Confession. This is a wonderful short meditation from Father Mike Schmitz, from Dynamic Catholics, about forgiveness and confession: How hard is it to forgive others? We can’t forgive because we don’t allow God to forgive us. What is confession? There are things that you have done that has taken your heart from my heart. You have hurt other people. Give me another chance to love you, says God. Then we can give mercy to others. We can become agents of mercy. Several years ago, as I stood in line for the sacrament of confession about to confess for the umpteenth time a sin I couldn’t seem to quit, I began to fear that God’s mercy was running out. I didn’t doubt that God would pardon a person who turned to him after a life of the most heinous sins imaginable. What I did doubt was that he would continue to forgive me. How many times have I said, “I will never do this again,” only to return to that sin like a dog to its vomit (see 2 Peter 2:22)? At that moment, by God’s grace, no doubt, I was reminded of the incident in the Gospel of Matthew when Peter approached Our Lord with a question: Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22) Now Jesus did not mean that Peter was to forgive his brother 490 times and then no more. No, rather, “seventy times seven” signified perfection and consistency. It then occurred to me, if God’s forgiveness is not like that—perfect and consistent—then Jesus was commanding Peter to act in a way that was contrary to the nature of God. The truth is, God is infinite in all of his attributes. In fearing that God’s mercy was slowly evaporating, I was unintentionally making God in my image. If you have ever been tempted to doubt God’s mercy as I did, or if you’re tempted to do that now, please ingrain the following words from St. Claude de la Colombiere into your brain: I glorify you in making known how good you are towards sinners, and that your mercy prevails over all malice, that nothing can destroy it, that no matter how many times or how shamefully we fall, or how criminally, a sinner need not be driven to despair of [God’s] pardon. . It is in vain that your enemy and mine sets traps for me every day. He will make me lose everything else before the hope that I have in your mercy. Regardless of where you have been or what you have done, be at peace. The same God who forgave Moses the murderer, Rahab the prostitute, David the adulterer, and Peter the denier will forgive you. All you have to do is seek that forgiveness with a contrite heart. The only sin God won’t forgive is the one you will not ask forgiveness for. God’s mercy is infinite. His forgiveness is infinite.
What do we mean when we want to become “channels” of God’s mercy to others? We’re going to look in the next weeks at four different aspects: 1. Becoming “windows” to God; 2. seeing people in a different light; 3. the power of forgiveness and 4. becoming different people. Firstly: Becoming windows to God – People today want to see God in us. The greatest treasure that people should find in us is hopefully God. We are all called, each in his own specific and individual way, to be “transparencies” of God’s love. If we don’t do this, then it is very hard for other people today to believe in God and to see the relevance of believing in God. So many people have lost their way and they cannot find “everyday bridges” that will lead them to an experience of the Transcendent. One such “bridge” is, without doubt, the role of parents and family in the home. When people experience the real love of a father, and the real love of a mother, then that builds a living connection to God, and makes faith in God much easier. But this reason, it is so important that modern-day parents take this mission seriously: They are called to live out and represent the merciful love of God the Father in their own homes. Their motherhood and their fatherhood towards their children should become like “windows” of God’s love for other people. When children look at their own mum and dad, then they should be able to imagine who God is and what he is like. When children experience a mother’s or father’s love towards them, then they can imagine how much God loves them. When children experience that their mother and father will always be faithful to them and never leave them no matter what, then they can understand what it means when we hear that God is eternally faithful to us, and will always keep his promises. The way we encounter each other, speak to each other and live with each other is the normal way of how we bring the compassion, the love and the mercy of God to others. Our daily living should reflect God’s love and mercy in our lives. Fatherhood and motherhood in the family are essential and their lasting value cannot be calculated. Every father, for instance, should measure his fatherhood on God’s fatherhood. Every father has to realise that the way he lives with his children, and the way that he loves his children, determines, to a great extent, how they will see God, and what their image of God will be, not only in their childhood, but also in their adult lives in the future. An example of this is in the life of Saint Therese of Lysieux. Her parents have recently been canonised by Pope Francis. In the thinking and in the experience of Therese there was no separation or division between her biological father and her heavenly Father. She once wrote: “I look at my father, and and I know that my father is looking at God, and in this way I learned to look at God”. She understood very quickly the merciful love of God and it became for her an easy road because she could experience in the love of her own father, how good and tender God must be. “If my father is like this towards me, and loves me and accepts me like this, then God must at least love me in the same way – although, in actual fact, I know he loves me much more”.
If we have received God’s mercy, and we believe in God’s mercy, then the desire will be alive in us to make that mercy available to others so that they too can experience it. We do this by becoming a “transparency” of God – in other words, people see the love of God alive in us and working in us. We become like a “window” to God. People look at us, and in fact they don’t see us alone, they also see God in us. This is the aim and ultimate destination of every Christian. This is what the first and greatest commandment actually means – to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbour as ourselves. The Year of Mercy highlights the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy as the “blueprint” for the life of faith. Pope Francis writes in his Book “The Name of God is Mercy”: Jesus sends forth his disciples not as holders of power or as masters of a law. He sends them forth into the world asking them to live in the logic of love and selflessness. What are the most important things that a believer should do during the Holy Year of Mercy? He should open up to the mercy of God, open up his heart and himself, and allow Jesus to come toward him by approaching the confessional with faith. And he should try and be merciful with others. Let us examine the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the traveller, comfort the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead. I do not think there is much to explain. And if we look at our situation, our society, it seems to me that there is no lack of circumstances or opportunities all around us. We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge. That is where we find our God, that is where we touch the Lord. Christ himself told us, explaining the protocol for which we will all be judged: “Whatever you did to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). After the Corporal Works of Mercy come the Spiritual Works of Mercy: advise those in doubt; teach the ignorant; admonish the sinners; console the afflicted; forgive offences; be patient with annoying people; pray to God for both the living and the dead. Let us look at the first four Spiritual Works of Mercy: Don’t they have to do with what we have already defined as “the apostolate of the ear?” Reach out, know how to listen, advise them, and teach them through our own experience. By welcoming a marginalised person whose body is wounded and by welcoming the sinner whose soul is wounded, we put our credibility as Christians on the line. Let us always remember the words of Saint John of the Cross: “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” It seems today, in the light of so many needs and so much woundedness in modern-day people and in modern-day society, this merciful love of God is so painfully needed and so urgently necessary. The first “profession” and the first vocation of every Christian is love: to do everything because of love, through love and for love. Every Christian should be “a place” where people can discover and encounter God and where God and his merciful love are made present and evident. Love has to permeate everything, and love should be at the heart of every Christian life. We are referring here to a love that is personal, that is warm and from the heart, that is willing to sacrifice and that perseveres for the welfare of others, putting them always first. The greatest power in heaven and on earth is the power of love, and love is also the best and most creative way to educate and form the human heart. In other words, we have to become “geniuses” of love, and we do this by allowing love not to remain some kind of theory, but to be the greatest motivator for what we say and do in our own personal lives.