Thursday, January 28, 2016


Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.

The world today is facing a crisis. Natural calamities, merciless killings, cut-throat competition rule the day. It is in this dark hour that the Holy Father Pope Francis has declared an extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. In this holy year the Pope wants to encourage all the faithful to experience God’s mercy and compassion and become channels of mercy to everyone around through life and action. The Pope writes, “I am confident that the whole Church which is in such need of mercy, for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time.”

“Your Mercy Towers To The Heavens” (Psalm 57:11)
The Mercy of God transcends all human understanding which has only been familiar with ideas of justice and love. Justice involves giving each one his or her due. One is first evaluated and given only what one deserves. Love transcends justice in that love involves a certain self-forgetfulness in giving oneself to the other. But even in love there is a certain reciprocity. One gives oneself to the other with an expectation that the other would reciprocate the love given. When the other does not care, there is a hurt that burns with pain. All the love seems to be lost when one is hurt and this could even give way to a longing to hit back at the other. Exactly as love is precious and dear the hurt is also deep and powerful. Love is idolized throughout every generation and in every culture and yet there is something greater. This is mercy. Mercy transcends love in that even when one is hurt one seeks out to reach beyond the hurt and bless the other. Mercy is giving undeserved love in the fullness of joy.

Jesus places mercy as the criterion for His disciples. He said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” (Matthew 9:13)  The context of this saying is very significant. Jesus chose Matthew the tax collector as His disciple. Furthermore, the Lord after this would proceed to his house for a banquet that Matthew had prepared where the scum of Jewish society that comprised of the ones labelled as sinners were in attendance – tax collectors like Matthew himself and prostitutes. These were the outcasts of the Jewish religious circles because of their shameful lifestyle. This gesture of the Lord was far beyond the comprehension of the Pharisees - a clear scandal in their eyes. They began to raise questions about the Lord even to His own disciples. Firstly that Jesus should include Matthew a tax collector into the inner circle of His associates and secondly that He should dine at Matthew’s house which was the hub of tax collectors and ‘less honourables’. Was it honourable for the Jewish Rabbi to accord such importance to a tax collector? The Lord wasn’t oblivious to the debate. It was in response to this attitude that Jesus would declare that what made one honourable was mercy and not sacrifice.

“God Delights In Mercy” (Micah 7:18)

Mercy in fact was what animated all the ministry of Jesus and His teachings. To reveal to us the mercy of the Father, Jesus related His signature parable of the Prodigal Son. It could be more rightly called the parable of the ‘Prodigal Father’ because the father is the central figure of this story which indeed traces how the prodigality of the love of the father defeated the prodigality of the sin of the son. The son had run away from the father after grabbing all that he would inherit in the event of his father’s death. He wasted his wealth in a foolish lifestyle that led him to utter poverty. For survival he had to take up a most unthinkable means of living for any Jew – that of caring for the pigs, an animal considered unclean. Literally he ended up in a pig sty. At one moment that we can call ‘the hour of grace,’ he rises up to return to the father’s house seeking admittance to serve as a hireling. He knew he deserved nothing by terms of justice and even by love which he so grossly violated. Could he hope for a place as a servant from his father? That was his hope. Here Jesus introduces mercy. The son was trembling to ask his father for a servant’s place. However the father enfolds him in mercy and restores him to all that he lost in his arrogance and foolishness. In the arms of the father he becomes a son.

The Face of the Heavenly Father is painted for us in bright vivid colours by Jesus who alone knew the Father. Jesus said “No one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Matthew 11:27)  True enough, if Jesus had not said this parable we would have never understood the magnanimity of the mercy of the Father.

The Pope is inviting the faithful to partake of this great Mercy of the Father. He writes, “It is indeed my wish that the Jubilee be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it be ever more effective.” He writes again, “I wish that the Jubilee Indulgence may reach each one as a genuine experience of God’s mercy, which comes to meet each person in the Face of the Father who welcomes and forgives, forgetting completely the sin committed.” Pope Francis is trying to impress on the Church the boundless mercy of the Father who waits to cancel every bit of our sin when we turn to Him. Hence the Pope emphasises that the Jubilee Year must be, “a true moment of encounter with the mercy of God.” He invites all the faithful to a real conversion which is to be expressed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

“How Great Is The Mercy Of The Lord, And His Forgiveness For Those Who Return To Him!” (Sirach 17:29)

In order to experience the Mercy of God we need to turn to Him in repentance. The gospel events and parables make it very clear that only those who turn to the Lord in sincere conversion are prepared to experience the mercy of God. St. John records an event of the astounding Divine Mercy where a woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus for just judgment (John Chapter 8). According to the law of Moses, such women were to be stoned to death. Stones were readied. As the case was presented before Jesus of her heinous crime, the people had already taken the stones in their hands for what seemed the inevitable conclusion. Jesus however was determined to save her and turned the tables on the accusers, asking those among them innocent of sin to cast the first stone (for this too was the requirement of the Mosaic Law). Jesus had understood how repentant she was for the life that she wasted in sin. This repentance was manifested in the manner in which she addressed Him when He asked her, “Did not anyone condemn you?” She responded “No one, Lord.” What was determining was that she addresses Jesus as Lord. She was revealing to Jesus that she was seeking His lordship over her life. She was promising that her life will be subject to Him. This realization came to her because she knew the life of sin did no good to her. Her ways to fill herself with the pleasures of the world and the flesh only left her emptied of any worth. Her repentance enabled her to lead a life centred on Jesus.

I remember a particular man who had come for the retreat here on a wheel chair as he was partially paralysed after a stroke. He was known to be a ruthless businessman. His craze for money seemed to have left no trace of humanity in him. His sole aim in life was to earn more and more. Anyone who crossed his path was dealt with cruelly. When he imagined his brother had cheated him in the partition of the family property, he hired goons to do away with the sibling. His brother escaped the attempt on his life though his hand was chopped off. He felt no remorse. Instead his one frustration was that his brother was still alive! On the second day of the retreat, when he listened to the Word of God describing God’s Mercy, his heart began to melt in repentance. When he realised how merciful God was, he was struck by the contrast to his own hard-hearted nature. He made a sincere confession. Advised by the confessor, he telephoned his brother from the retreat centre and sought pardon from him, confessing his evil attempt to destroy him. Promising to meet him after the retreat, he expressed his desire to make whatever amends possible. The brother had already made a retreat some time earlier. Therefore he was mercifully disposed to his brother.

After this whenever I met this man he was always shedding tears overwhelmed by the mercy he encountered in God. His wife told me that she had never seen her husband crying or even remorseful. This experience of the Mercy of God led to the healing of his paralysis. He was able to walk without the help of anyone, though with a limp. God’s Mercy had brought about a total restoration – transformation of heart and healing of the body. He acknowledged that he had wasted his life in the blind pursuit of wealth and in the process had lost out on life and love. At the retreat he felt impelled to commit his time and money for the care of the sick and the homeless.

“Blessed Are The Merciful” (Matthew 5:7)

 The overwhelming experience of the Mercy of God enables us to be channels of mercy to the others - especially to the least of the brethren of Jesus. A heart opened to God will always remain opened to everyone in need and in pain. Jesus narrated the Parable of the Rich Man and Poor Lazarus. The rich man had no name because he represents the category of people who are lost to the Kingdom of God. He lived a sumptuous life not caring for the poor man dying of hunger. When the rich man died, he was buried in the depths of hell. His fatal error was that he did not care for the neighbour in need. God had deemed it his responsibility to share his wealth with the less fortunate. For that sinful omission, he had to pay in hellfire. In fact the real error was that he did not care to consider or meditate on the Mercy of God that had sustained him. He did not care to know God as a merciful Father. A search to mould his life in the knowledge of the merciful Father would have definitely led him to reflect such mercy in his attitude.

The Pope writes that the experience of the Mercy of God will become manifested in the witness of concrete signs of mercy in one’s day-to-day life. We can become more merciful in our response to the people in need as we gaze on the goodness of God. The Lord Jesus is indeed our model of merciful living. The Bible tells us that Jesus went about doing good to everyone - especially the sick and the abandoned. The Church directs us to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The corporal works of mercy focus on the physical needs of the less fortunate while the spiritual works of mercy are centred on the healing of spiritual and emotional life of the person.

A Christian living for himself, solely confined to the thoughts of his own comforts and security is a betrayal to his identity. Even those focused only on their spiritual accomplishments to further their name and securities are no different from the Pharisees.

In the Jubilee Year of Mercy we need to contemplate on the Merciful Heart of our Father God whom Jesus came to reveal to us. When our hearts are opened to the experience of God, mercy fills our heart. Our every relationship now works by the rule of mercy. And mercy triumphs over judgment.

Let Us Pray

Lord Jesus, you came to reveal the heart of your Father throbbing with mercy for us sinners. Let our gaze be turned and our hearts be opened to your pierced on the Cross. Filled with the mercy of your Father may we be transformed into channels of mercy. Lord strike at the roots of indifference in our hearts. Let the poor and the broken-hearted experience your mercy through us.