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RELIGION LITURGY AND LIFE

3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT

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THE FIRST SUNDAY IN THE YEAR OF MERCY

This weekend we celebrate Gaudete Sunday which translates as rejoicing Sunday and we light the pink candle on the Advent Wreath. During last week  the beginning of the Year of Mercy took place on the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Tuesday. Pope Francis opened the holy door into St. Peter’s basilica and at the Mass for the feast day during his homily he said:  ‘ To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.  It is he who seeks us!  It is he who comes to encounter us!  This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy.  How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy (cf. Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 12, 24)! 

But that is the truth.  We have to put mercy before judgement, and in any event God’s judgment will always be in the light of his mercy. In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love, of tenderness.  Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved.  Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things.

In our Gospel reading we this weekend we hear John the Baptist John spoke to people in words they could grasp. Here was a man who cared nothing for comfort, money or fame, who could not be bought, and who could speak the truth without fear. John makes such a deep impression on people that word goes around that he might be the Christ. Again, that expectancy is a measure of John’s effect on people. John doesn’t claim to know who the Messiah is; all he knows is that he is not. That role is for someone else, someone greater and more powerful than John. And as we know that person was Jesus the Son of the Father who is the face of the Father’s mercy, the face of mercy that we should always contemplate.

These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him. Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God. We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: 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.

Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness. During the Year of Mercy we will have many opportunities to celebrate the Mercy of the Father as we begin the year we recall the corporal and spiritual works of mercy:

The Corporal Works of Mercy call us to:

  • feed the hungry
  • give drink to the thirsty
  • clothe the naked
  • shelter the homeless
  • visit the sick
  • visit the imprisoned
  • bury the dead

 The Spiritual Works of Mercy call us to

  • counsel the doubtful
  • instruct the ignorant
  • admonish sinners
  • comfort the afflicted
  • forgive offenses
  • bear wrongs patiently
  • pray for the living and the dead

 

While we remember these works of mercy we also think about what we as individuals and community are supposed to be and that is merciful like the Father which is the theme for the year of mercy. There will be time for pilgrimage and prayer there will be time for conversion of heart in the tribunal of Mercy that is confession. It takes imagination to be merciful, to seek out occasions of mercy, all of the time to take the initiative, not merely await the mercy of the Father but work to bring it about through the acts of mercy listed above. I often  remember the words of Shakespeare when he said “The quality of mercy is not strained” this does not mean that we must not strain ourselves, it means that true mercy does not recognize any limit, holds nothing back, and gives all.

Our Father in heaven gave us so much in Jesus his Son he continues to give us much in our own time let us not be afraid to be people of mercy that are a reflection of the Merciful Father. So in our Joyful liturgy this weekend we have the double celebration as we rejoice at the beginning of the year of mercy and we rejoice with John the Baptist as we look forward to the coming of Jesus the face of the Fathers mercy at Christmas. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. The Lord is near.

 

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