Tag Archives: mercy

Mercy Comes to Your House

Zachaeus

Luke often tells stories of God’s mercy. Today we’re reading at Mass the story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho, a wealthy man whom Jesus called down from a tree and stayed with on his way to Jerusalem. His story is a lesson about mercy. (Luke 19, 1-10)

As chief-tax collector, Zacchaeus was an agent for Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee and Perea in Jesus’ day. Uncovering the ruins of Herod’s building projects in Galilee and elsewhere, archeologists point out that Herod built on a grand scale and lavishly, to impress his allies the Romans.

You needed money for building like that, of course, and that’s where tax-collectors came in. There was no dialogue or voting on government spending then. Herod told his army of tax-collectors, “Here’s how much I need; you go out and get it. Go to the fishermen along the Sea of Galilee and the farmers around Nazareth and the shepherds in the Jordan Valley and the merchants in Jericho and get what I need; I don’t care how, but get it.”

And so the tax collectors went out and got the money, keeping some for themselves. You needed to be tough and relentless for the job. It left you hard headed and hard hearted. An unsavory profession. The people resented them.

Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho, was the one whom Jesus called and the one he stayed with on his way to Jerusalem. Objections came, not just from the Pharisees and scribes, who usually objected to Jesus’ actions, but everyone objected.

The only thing Jesus says is: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” No thunderous warnings or stern corrections. Salvation has come and they sit down for a feast. You can hear in the story echoes of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, also from Luke’s gospel.

J

Notice, too, that Jesus doesn’t call Zacchaeus to follow him to Jerusalem, as the blind man cured by Jesus on the journey through Jericho does.  He does not call him to follow him as he did the other tax collector, Matthew. He doesn’t tell Zacchaeus to give up his job and get out of that dirty, complicated situation. No, as far as we can tell Zacchaeus was still chief tax-collector in Jericho after Jesus left, still taking orders from Herod Antipas, still part of a sinful world. But that’s where Zacchaeus will experience salvation, even there.

God’s mercy works in the real world and in real life.

Saint Jerome

jerome

St. Jerome, whose feast is September 30, was a scripture scholar who made the Bible better understood by western Christians through his translations from the Greek and Hebrew. “Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” he said.

He was born in 340 in Stridon, a small town on the eastern Adriatic coast, and received an early education in Rome where he was baptized in 360 by Pope Liberius.

Brilliant and eager for knowledge,  Jerome traveled extensively. In Antioch in Syria he had a dream in which he saw himself rebuked by Christ for wasting his time on worldly knowledge. Moved by the dream, Jerome withdrew into the Syrian desert. There he said he was beset by temptations and “threw himself at the feet of Jesus, watering them with prayers and acts of penance.” The picture above portrays him praying to be delivered from temptation.

For penance Jerome threw himself into the study of scripture. He began studying Hebrew under a Jewish teacher, which later helped him translate and comment on the Bible. We usually think of penance as giving up things; Jerome reminds us it can also be taking on things.

Ordained a priest, Jerome arrived in Constantinople about 380 where he studied the scriptures under St. Gregory of Nazianzen. Two years later, he returned to Rome and was given the monumental task of translating the bible from Greek into Latin by Pope Damasus. His translation, called the Vulgate, along with his learned commentaries and sermons, sparked a flowering of spirituality in the western church. Jerome won a devoted following, especially among Rome’s prominent Christian women eager to understand the bible.

Jerome had a biting tongue and was quick to find enemies. Some in Rome resented his caustic criticism and abrasive style. Because of their opposition, he left Rome in 385 for the Holy Land where he established a community at Bethlehem near the cave where Christ was born to continue studying the scriptures. Besides Jewish scholars, he utilized the great Christian library nearby at Caesarea Maritima.  Friends from Rome joined him, among them the noblewoman Paula and her daughter Eustochia, who founded a monastic community of women in Bethlehem.

St. Catharine Church, Bethlehem

St. Catharine Church, Bethlehem. Remains of Jerome’s Monastery are under the church

Besides scripture studies, Jerome continued to engage in controversies going on in the church, sometimes harshly.

In 410 Alaric and his warriors sacked Rome.  Jerome, shocked by the invasion, provided shelter for Roman Christians fleeing to the safety of the Holy Land. “I have put aside my studies to help them,” he wrote. “Now we must translate the words of scripture into deeds, and instead of speaking holy words we must do them.”

He died in Bethlehem in 420. His remains were taken to the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. A doctor and teacher of the church, he recognized in himsel need for God’s mercy. Jerome is an example that saints are not perfect.

Here are excerpts from his writings:

“Lord, show me your mercy and gladden my heart.
I am like the man going to Jericho, wounded by robbers.
Good Samaritan, come help me.
I am like a sheep gone astray.
Good Shepherd, come seek me and bring me home safe.
May I dwell in your house all my days and praise you forever.”

“I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: Search the Scriptures, and Seek and you shall find. Christ will not say to me what he said to the Jews: You erred, not knowing the Scriptures and not knowing the power of God. For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.
 
Therefore, I will imitate the head of a household who brings out of his storehouse things both new and old, and says to his spouse in the Song of Songs: I have kept for you things new and old, my beloved. In this way permit me to explain Isaiah, showing that he was not only a prophet, but an evangelist and an apostle as well. For he says about himself and the other evangelists: How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news, of those who announce peace.And God speaks to him as if he were an apostle: Whom shall I send, who will go to my people? And he answers: Here I am; send me.”

Let us glorify Christ In whatever sufferings are ours in this life.

O God, you yourself are both our crown and our shield: May we always follow only you and never depart from you!

Do not put your trust in your sword, or in your own strength; but rather, put your trust in the Lord!

Every day Christ stands at the door to our hearts, longing to enter. Let us open wide our hearts to him, then, that he might come in, and dwell with us always.

God can only speak peace to his people when they hope in him with all their hearts.

God protects us as a Father, and as a hen guarding her chicks, lest a hawk snatch them away.

The shield with which God protects us is spherical, for it keeps us safe on all sides.

All Creation serves God as God ordains: all in Heaven obeys, all on earth obeys, but it is only unhappy man who alone who disobeys.

Every day Christ is crucified in us, for we are crucified to the world. And so Christ is crucified in us.

Happy are those in whose hearts Christ rises from the dead daily. And he will rise in us every day, if we who are sinners will but repent.

Happy the soul in whom God is always enthroned!

Let us never trust in ourselves, but rather, let us always trust In the mercy of the Lord.

Greater by far are the wounds Inflicted by the tongue than those by the sword.

When we give to the poor, let us give thanks to Christ. More than the poor man gives thanks to us, for the poor unknowingly do us a great service. Almsgiving atones for sins.

Quotations selected by Brent Cruz, Confraternity of the Passion.

The Quality of Mercy

The Prophet Amos. by August Done

We’re reading from the Prophet Amos this week at Mass. As he speaks to 8th century Israel his message is “one of unrelieved gloom,” one commentator says. Free from wars, Israel was far from gloomy. Its rich were getting richer and enjoying the “good life”, at the expense of the poor. The religious authorities said nothing. The only voice raised was the voice of a poor, uneducated farmer who cultivated figs, Amos.

Amos spoke for God: “I hate, I spurn your feasts…I take no pleasure in your solemnities…Away with your noisy songs! I will not listen to the melodies of your harps.” Destruction awaited a people unconcerned about the poor.

Still, God offers mercy to his people as we hear on Saturday in one of Amos’ most beautiful passages, echoes of which inspired Martin Luther KIng’s “I Have a Dream” speech:

“On that day I will raise up
the fallen hut of David;
I will wall up its breaches,
raise up its ruins,
and rebuild it as in the days of old…
Yes, days are coming,
says the LORD,
When the plowman shall overtake the reaper,
and the vintager, him who sows the seed;
The juice of grapes shall drip down the mountains,
and all the hills shall run with it.
I will bring about the restoration of my people Israel;
they shall rebuild and inhabit their ruined cities,
Plant vineyards and drink the wine,
set out gardens and eat the fruits.
I will plant them upon their own ground;
never again shall they be plucked
From the land I have given them,
say I, the LORD, your God.”  (Amos 9,11-15)

A beautiful definition of mercy. God comes to humanity at its worst, in its sham, its blindness, its evil, and raises it up again. Mercy does not depend on merit. It’s God loving us in spite of ourselves.

We see mercy best as it’s exemplified in the Passion of Jesus. In spite of hypocrisy and injustice, God offers his love to heedless humanity and the promise of a kingdom.

Have mercy on us, O Lord.

Be Merciful, O Lord, For We Have Sinned

David penitent


Because Jesus is often called “Son of David” in the New Testament and so many of the psalms are attributed to David, we may tend to idealize the great king. David united the tribes of Israel and established a nation with its capitol in Jerusalem. Jesus himself appealed to David’s example when his enemies accused his hungry disciples of eating grain on the Sabbath.

Yet, the long narrative we read in the Book of Samuel today and tomorrow at Mass offers a darker picture of the famous king– he was a murderer and an adulterer. David had Urriah the Hittite, a faithful soldier in his army, killed so that he could have Bathsheba, his wife. (2 Samuel 11, 1-17)

Psalm 51 is the response we make at Mass after listening to the king’s sordid deed. Tradition says it’s David’s own response after he realized what he had done. The Book of Psalms calls Psalm 51: “A psalm of David when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

“Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
And of my sin cleanse me.”

The psalm, the first of the Seven Penitential Psalms, asks God to take away both the personal and social effects of our sin, for our sins do indeed have emotional, physical and social consequences. Only God can “wash away” our guilt and cleanse our heart. Only God can “rebuild” the walls that our sins have torn down and the lives they have harmed. Only God can restore joy to our spirits and help us “teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.” Only God can bring us back to his friendship.

In the scriptures, David is a complex figure– a saint and a sinner. He’s also a reflection of us all. That’s why our response in the psalm at Mass today takes the form that it does –

“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”

His Kindness Has Appeared

These are days to reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation. A decisive revelation of God, the Letter to the Hebrews says:

“At various times in the past and in various different ways, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son, the Son that he has appointed to inherit everything and through whom he made everything there is.(Hebrews 1, 1-2)”

What does Jesus Christ reveal about God? He is the Word of God who reveals God to us, St. Bernard says, and in him “the kindness and love of God has been revealed and  we receive abundant consolation in this pilgrimage, this exile, this distress.”

Before he appeared as human, God’s kindness lay concealed, Bernard says. “Of course it was already in existence, because the mercy of the Lord is from eternity, but how could we know it was so great? It was promised but not yet experienced: hence many did not believe in it. At various times and in various different ways, God spoke through the prophets, saying I know the plans I have in mind for you: plans for peace, not disaster…”

“What greater proof could he have given of his mercy than by taking upon himself what needed mercy most? Where is there such perfect loving-kindness as in the fact that for our sake the Word of God became perishable like the grass? Lord, what is man, that you make much of him or pay him any heed?”

“See how much God cares for us. See what God thinks of us, what he feels about us. Don’t look at your own sufferings; look at God’s sufferings. Learn from what he was made for you, how much he makes of you; let his kindness be seen in his humanity.”

“ The lesser he has made himself in his humanity, the greater has he shown himself in kindness. The more he humbles himself on my account, the more powerfully he engages my love. The kindness and humanity of God our Saviour appeared says St Paul. The humanity of God shows the greatness of his kindness, and he who added humanity to the name of God gave great proof of this kindness.”

Becoming One with Divine Mercy

Domenico Fetti (c. 1589-1623), Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

19th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)

Matthew 18:21—19:1

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. 

In the biblical world, seven signified perfection and completion, as in the seven days of creation in Genesis. Peter thought he was mirroring the divine mind by proposing to forgive up to seven times. Jesus leapt beyond the seven of paradise to the seventy-seven of the wilderness of Cain and Lamech:

“If Cain is avenged sevenfold, 
then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (Genesis 4:24).

The seven of Cain ran in the opposite direction of the original seven, and spiraled down the negative ramp. Jesus’ positive “seventy-seven” covered over a “multitude of sins,” as Peter would later write about divine love (I Peter 4:8). Forgiveness has no limit.

In the parable that followed Peter’s question, a servant who owed his master an exorbitant amount was forgiven the loan by his master. Then strangely, he turned around and imprisoned a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount, exacting full payment. What transpired between the master and the servant earlier? Lack of self-knowledge caused the servant to brush off his debt as of little consequence. Shallowness spawned ingratitude which choked compassion. 

He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’

The unmerciful servant was tying his own noose, failing to realize that he and his brother were one: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Every good or evil done to another is done to ourselves. Otherness and oneness, diversity and unity, are inseparable in a humanity stamped with the Triune image. 

The warning, “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart,” shows that we cannot separate our own good from that of our brothers and sisters.

The vehemence with which we insist on our own rights and privileges must be extended to our neighbors to be complete, seven, and seventy-seven.

-GMC

A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break

Byzantine icon, The Good Shepherd

15th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday (Year II)

Matthew 12:14-21

The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. 

What a rabble-rouser, this Jesus! Picking grain on the sabbath, and then healing a man with a withered hand—in the synagogue, of all places! How dare he lecture the authorities on “doing good on the sabbath”! Such were the thoughts fomenting among the Pharisees. Buried alive under the letter of the law, their hearts turned stone cold when confronted with their twisted ethic of prioritizing an animal on the sabbath over a human being (Matthew 12:11). 

When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place.

There was no point in contending or debating. The hearts of the Pharisees were dead set against him. Another word from him would only add kindling to the fire.

Many people followed him, and he cured them all, but he warned them not to make him known.

People were suffering, and so the work of healing and mercy must go on. Jesus acted according to his nature; he could not do otherwise. Love must prevail over all obstacles, even the threat of death. The nature of divine love, however, is unassuming: it acts but seeks no credit. Goodness is as natural, abundant, pervasive, and invisible as the air everyone breathes. What need was there for any special recognition?

This was to fulfill what had been spoken through Isaiah the prophet: Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight; I shall place my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.

The Spirit-filled servant prophesied by Isaiah flowed as gently as water over hard and sharp rocks, but just as invincibly—smoothing them over time and conquering them by love. Uncontentious and without fanfare, the lamb of God came to lead the weak and frail to victory in the valley of humility. 

And in his name the Gentiles will hope.

-GMC

Saturday 2nd Week

Lent 1

Luke 15

Scripture Readings
The story of the prodigal son, one of the longest in the gospel, is also one of the most important. It’s not just about a boy who goes astray, of course, it’s about the human race gone wrong.

“Give me what’s mine,” the son says boldly to his father, and he takes off for a faraway country, a permissive paradise that promises power and pleasure, in fact, it promises him everything.

But they’re empty promises, and soon the boy who had so much has nothing and ends up in a pigsty feeding pigs, who eat better than he does.

Then, he takes his first step back. He “comes to himself,” our story says; he realizes what he has done. “I have sinned.”

How straightforward his reaction! Not blaming anybody else for the mess he is in: not his father, or the prostitutes he spent so much of his money on, or society that took him in. No, it’s his own fault.

He doesn’t wallow in his sin and what it’s brought him, either. He looks to the place where he belongs, to his father’s house. It wont be an easy road, but he takes it. He starts back home.

His story is our story too.

How easily we leave your side,
Lord God,
for a place far away.
Send light into our darkness,
and open our eyes to our sins.

Unless you give us new hearts and strong spirits,
we cannot make the journey home,
to your welcoming arms and the music and the dancing.

Father of mercies and giver of all gifts,
guide us home
and lead us back to you.

Friday Thoughts: Just The Facts

by Howard Hain

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All human beings are creations of God.

God loves all His creation.

He wills the best for each and every part of it.

His will is the best.

You are one of His creations.

So is the person you hate.

So is the person you dislike tremendously.

So is the person who annoys you to death.

God loves us all.

God offers us forgiveness for being so unkind to His other creations.

He loves us so much He gives us the freedom to choose the wrong path.

He loves us so much He sent His Only Begotten Son to show us the right way.

Jesus loves us so much He sent the Holy Spirit to strengthen and accompany us.

God smiles.

All three persons smile.

They are One God.

God’s love is all powerful and infinitely kind.

God’s gift of freedom is a gift He intends for us to use.

God desires for us to choose to become like Him.


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