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home : opinion : perspectives

4/14/2016 9:00:00 AM
REFLECTION
Don't let the end of Lent be the end of the Year of Mercy
BY REV. ANTHONY BARRATT


Lent has been a special time for many of us in this Year of Mercy. As Pope Francis asked, "The season of Lent during this jubilee year should also be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God's mercy."

But, now that Lent is over and we are in the midst of the joys of the Easter season, our celebration of the Year of Mercy might run out of steam. This would be a pity, because Jesus' passion, death and resurrection -- the "paschal mystery" -- are at the very heart and possibility of God's mercy and love.

The holy doors at St. Peter's in Rome, our own Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany and elsewhere are powerful symbols of the jubilee Year of Mercy.

We might say that the paschal mystery is the key that opens that holy door.

We recently celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday (the second Sunday of Easter), another clue that mercy is at the heart of the Easter season. Also, the fourth Sunday of Easter is called "Good Shepherd Sunday;" we think of Jesus as the merciful shepherd who seeks out the lost.

In fact, the logo for the Year of Mercy shows Jesus carrying not a lost sheep but a lost person out of the darkness into light. Let's reflect on how Easter is very much a season about God's mercy.

Bible quotes
Jesus's death and resurrection are the revelation and living sign of God's love and mercy. Listen to this: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By His great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3).

In speaking about Holy Thursday and Good Friday, Pope Francis reminds us that, "while [Jesus] was instituting the Eucharist as an everlasting memorial of Himself and His paschal sacrifice, He symbolically placed this supreme act of revelation in the light of His mercy. Within the very same context of mercy, Jesus entered upon His passion and death, conscious of the great mystery of love that He would consummate on the cross."

The pope went on to say: "God's justice is His mercy, given to everyone as a grace that flows from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus, the cross of Christ is God's judgment on all of us and on the whole world, because through it He offers us the certitude of love and new life."

What sacrifice means
Sometimes, though, we may be puzzled by Jesus' suffering and death. Doesn't it show God to be a cruel Father, rather than a merciful one?

No! In fact, true sacrifice is an act of real love and mercy. The word "sacrifice" means "making holy." After all, we often make sacrifices for those we love, even huge sacrifices. St. John reminds us, "God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

In a recent interview, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave an insight into how Good Friday is a sign of God's great love and mercy. In the cross, he said, we perceive "what God's mercy means, what the participation of God in man's suffering means. It is not a matter of a cruel justice, not a matter of the Father's fanaticism, but rather of the truth and the reality of creation: the true, intimate overcoming of evil that ultimately can be realized only in the suffering of love."

Easter gift: forgiveness
Since Easter is a time to celebrate God's mercy and of continuing our Year of Mercy, let's focus on the many Easter or resurrection gifts that God so generously gives to us and how these are gifts of mercy -- gifts to be received and to be shared.

Start with the gift of forgiveness. A number of the resurrection appearances of Jesus are very much about forgiveness. On the Third Sunday of Easter, for instance, our Gospel retells the moving account of Jesus meeting Peter (John 21:1-19).

Peter had denied Jesus three times, but now Peter responds to Jesus' three "do you love me?" questions by saying each time, "Yes, Lord." We might say that Peter's forgiveness and restoration are sealed in this moment; he goes on to lead the Church.

The previous Sunday, we heard how the risen Jesus appeared to the Apostles and breathed on them, saying: "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:22-23). Through His death and resurrection, we now have that wonderful possibility of mercy and forgiveness that continues in the mission and ministry of the Church - especially through the sacrament of reconciliation.

Easter gift: indulgences
Pope Francis reminds us that indulgences are also great gifts made available as part of the fruits of Jesus' death and resurrection. He writes: "A jubilee also entails the granting of indulgences. God's forgiveness knows no bounds. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God makes even more evident His love and its power to destroy all human sin. Reconciliation with God is made possible through the paschal mystery and the mediation of the Church."

Easter gift: new life
Jesus' death and resurrection also give another great gift of mercy: the possibility of new life for us here and now and, of course, our resurrection when our life's journey is complete.

This gift of new life can be ours now -- even in desperate situations, for the awful events of Good Friday became the new life of Easter.

Famed evangelist Billy Graham put it well when he said, "Sin's masterpiece of shame and hate became God's masterpiece of mercy and forgiveness. Through the death of Christ upon the cross, sin itself was crucified for those who believe in Him."

Easter is such a wonderful sign, then, of God's mercy that brings new life and renewal and the hope of our resurrection. To quote St. John Paul II again: "The fact that Christ was raised the third day constitutes...a sign that perfects the entire revelation of merciful love in a world that is subject to evil. At the same time, it constitutes the sign that foretells 'a new heaven and a new earth,' when God 'will wipe away every tear from their eyes, there will be no more death, or mourning, no crying, nor pain, for the former things have passed away'" (Rev 21:4).

Above all, then, Easter is about God's love and mercy, which is more powerful even than sin or death!

Easter gift: peace
Another Easter gift of mercy is that of peace: a very practical and very necessary gift! When the risen Jesus appears to the disciples, His first words are, "Peace be with you" (John 20:19).

Hopefully, we have experienced that peace when we have received mercy or forgiveness, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation. After all, the words of absolution speak of two gifts: "May God give you pardon and peace."

We can also experience a profound peace when we let go and show forgiveness and mercy to someone who has wronged us or our loved ones. Many of us live busy and hectic lives; we can feel fragmented and pulled in every direction. The merciful, resurrection gift of peace can help restore our tranquility of spirit, which also gives us focus and keeps things in perspective.

The door is open
As we continue this season of Easter, rejoicing in the resurrection of Jesus, let's not forget that this is also very much a joy that celebrates God's mercy. Because of Holy Week and Easter, the door of mercy has been opened for us.

The gifts the resurrection brings are very much gifts of mercy. Let us happily receive these gifts, live them and share them with all those around us. A final word should be from Pope Francis: "Before His Passion, Jesus prayed with this psalm of mercy. Matthew attests to this in his Gospel when he says that, 'when they had sung a hymn' (26:30), Jesus and His disciples went out to the Mount of Olives.

"Knowing that Jesus Himself prayed this psalm makes it even more important for us as Christians, challenging us to take up the refrain in our daily lives by praying these words of praise: "for His mercy endures forever."

(Father Barratt is pastor of St. Ambrose parish in Latham. He holds a doctorate in theology and was a professor at St. John's Seminary in England before coming to the U.S. in 2004. Read other columns at www.evangelist.org.)





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