Thirty Third Sunday of the Year 2016
CLOSING OF THE YEAR OF MERCY IN THE LOCAL CHURCHES
Homily Notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Pro-Cathedral, 13th November 2016
“We gather at the end of the celebrations in the local Churches of the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. We thank God for the graces and the insights that this celebration of God’s mercy has brought to us and to many others.
On many occasions throughout this year Pope Francis has repeated that: “The name of God is mercy”. It is the title of a book that he wrote. It is not just a catchy title; it says something about the very essence of who God is. If we have difficulty in understanding that God’s name is mercy, then we will have great difficulty in understanding who God really is. If we have some name of our own for God, then we may well have ended up with a false God and not the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ.
The scriptures are full of references to God’s mercy and compassion. The Gospels are full of events and stories and parables about mercy. Wherever the words mercy and compassion appear in a parable then the reference is really to Jesus himself. “The name of God is mercy”.
The Gospel of this morning’s Mass might seem to put us off track in understanding God’s mercy. It seems to speak of a more frightening God, pointing to fearful times and events that are to come and to divisions and persecution which Christians will experience.
Yet despite these fearful signs listed in the Gospel reading, we are also told unambiguously by Jesus in the same text: “do not be frightened” and he warns us in particular to take care not to be deceived by those who say that they know when the signs of Jesus’ coming are imminent. The Gospel is Good News: it is not a Gospel of fear but a Gospel which makes us free.
We still have those who tell us that they have had revelations and that they know the time and the way in which Jesus will return with a vengeance. We often read or see on television false heralds of the end of the world, giving date and time and place, and interpreting any signal of nature as a sign of the “time of distress”. But these false heralds have inevitably had to come down from their prophecies and return disappointed the next day to ordinary life. They had misread the scriptures. They do not understand the teaching of Jesus.
Anyone who speaks about revelations of this kind is not speaking the truth about God. This is not something that I am telling you; it is the message of Jesus himself in our Gospel reading today. Saint Luke in our Gospel reading is telling us to turn away from fears and anxieties about the Lord’s coming and help believers to learn that they must not be looking for a special day of the Lord’s coming, but rather they should be looking at each day and learning to live always as if the Lord might come on that day.
In this Year of Mercy we have learned that we prepare ourselves for our encounter with the God of mercy by being merciful. “Be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful” has been another constant theme of this Year of Mercy.
God’s mercy goes way beyond anything that we might expect or anything that we deserve. Very often we think in the opposite sense and fail to recognise that God acts in ways which go way beyond human categories. We fail to remember that it is God through his mercy alone that can turn everything to the good if we love him. We try to put limits on what God’s mercy can do for ourselves. Even worse we try to put the limits of our small mindedness on what God wishes to do for others, especially those who have sinned or have failed or who do not fit into our way of thinking. God’s mercy can change hearts. I was struck by a homily of a Maltese bishop on the Year of Mercy which I read in these days and in which he stressed that “impossible is not a word in God’s dictionary”. God’s mercy can change even the hardest and most distorted heart.
Negativity and judgementalism and pessimism do not change hearts. Indeed they only provoke negativity and hostility as a response by the other and only drag ourselves into being even more deeply trapped in our own negativity and pessimism. Negativity and judgementalism leave people miserable in themselves and create distrust and disharmony in society. Mercy heals others and frees us ourselves and creates a caring society. The Gospel is Good News: it is not a Gospel of fear but a Gospel which makes us free.
The language that Jesus uses in today’s Gospel may seem frightening to us. At times our frustrations with the ups and downs of our lives can lead us to dejection and hopelessness. Jesus is reminding us that or lives and human history have meaning if they are directed in a particular direction, that of the realization of the plan of God.
As we conclude this Jubilee of Mercy we give thanks to God for all those who witness to compassion and care, tenderness and sensitivity in our society. I think of the love of spouses and parents; of the care of those who work for the homeless and the marginalized, the sick and the troubled; of the compassion of those who help men and women on the brink of hopelessness to see even a glimmer of light; of those who heal the wounds of those who are abused or broken. “The name of God is mercy”: wherever we encounter mercy we encounter God. “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Wherever charity and love are, God is there”.
The message of today’s Gospel is not a message of gloom but one of hope and of how we can realise hope within the realities of our day if we recognise the true signs of the times. It is a message that goodness can prevail and that goodness and love and truth will prevail if we respond to evil with goodness and if we respond to the effects of greed and selfishness with generosity and compassion.
The Jubilee of Mercy is a lesson to all of us of what the Christian life is about and about how we as Christians can bring the message of Jesus into the hearts of the society in which we live. Our world can be a harsh world in which people find it hard to hope, in which young people lose their way in life due to a fragmentation regarding where values are to be rooted.
The Year of Mercy offered us a guide regarding how we wish to build our own lives and identify the values we wish to be at the foundation of human association and solidarity. May we continue in our lives to seek to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful and may we bring the loving kindness of the Lord Jesus into the lives of those around us and to the society in which we live.