Friday, December 25, 2015

Have a ‘MERCY’ Christmas!

The quintessential Christmas man of mercy.

(Christmas 2015: This homily was given on December 25, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Titus 3: 4-7; Matthew 1: 18-25.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Christmas 2015]

Merry Christmas!

That, of course, is the standard greeting for December 25th and the surrounding days.  And we should use it—whether the “politically-correct crowd” likes it or not! 

Who cares what they think anyway?

But there’s another greeting we could share with people at this time of year that would be equally as valid and just as meaningful as Merry Christmas.  This is a greeting, by the way, that I think our Holy Father, Pope Francis, would especially like.

The greeting is: Mercy Christmas.

May you have a Mercy Christmas.

The Holy Father would like that greeting—especially this year—because, as many of you know, he’s declared the period between December 8, 2015 and November 20, 2016 to be an “Extraordinary Jubilee [Year] of Mercy” in the Church: a time for people to reflect on—and even more importantly a time for people to experience on a personal level—God’s saving mercy.

Now if you were here at Mass on the Second Sunday of Advent you’ll recall that I said I think the Holy Father is “right on” in declaring this holy year, because if there’s one thing our world is in desperate need of at the present time it’s mercy.  People need to receive mercy, and they also need to be willing to extend mercy to others.

And, as I said on that Sunday, this is not just pious talk.  There’s a lot at stake in all this.  We can either choose to heed the call of Jesus and the Holy Father by seeking mercy for ourselves—and by making the effort every day to show mercy to our brothers and sisters—or we can choose to do our part in helping to fashion a world without any mercy.

And if you want to know what that kind of world would be like, look at ISIS (the Islamic State)!  The hate-filled terrorists associated with that diabolical organization are people who live in a world without mercy—a world that they want all of us to be part of.

Needless to say, that’s a very dangerous and a very scary world to live in—which is why it’s so important for us to internalize this message of mercy during the coming year and put it into practice.

But what does this have to do with Christmas, Fr. Ray?

The answer is: EVERYTHING!

Which is precisely why wishing people a Mercy Christmas is so appropriate.

I hope it’s not news to anyone that God did NOT send his divine Son into the world because he saw how good and kind and pure and loving and selfless we human beings were.  He didn’t look down from heaven and say, “Wow, what a wonderful bunch; I think I’ll send my Son to them.”

No!  It was exactly the opposite!  He sent his Son as an act of MERCY!  He sent his divine Son into the world because we are sinners in need of deliverance: we need deliverance from the eternal consequences of the bad things that we freely choose to do in our lives!

St. Paul said it perfectly in the third chapter of his letter to Titus when he wrote, “The kindness and generous love of God our savior appeared, not because of any righteous deeds we had done but because of his mercy.”

Jesus was sent to us in mercy—and he came to bring us mercy.  Whether we actually receive that mercy, however, is up to us.  It’s our decision.

Now what do I mean by that?

Well, let me explain it to you this way, using myself as an example:

For me to receive mercy in my life, certain things need to happen.  In preparation for the Jubilee Year, I sat down one day and put it all in the form of a little equation.  I call it, “Fr. Ray’s Mercy Equation,” and it goes like this:

Recognition + Repentance = Reception

When it comes to God’s mercy, Recognition + Repentance = Reception

First, recognition.  In order for me to receive God’s mercy and experience its fruits in my life, there are certain things I need to recognize

  •   I need to recognize what Jesus Christ did for me by coming into this world 2,000 years ago, and by suffering, dying and rising from the dead.  In other words, I need to come to the recognition of what Jesus did to make mercy available to me.
  •   I also need to recognize the fact that I, personally, need mercy—that I’m not perfect—that I have things in my life that need to change.
  •   And, finally, I need to recognize the fact that I am capable of receiving mercy—that mercy is a possibility for me—regardless of what I’ve done.  Now that’s a tough one for some people, who’ve managed to convince themselves that they’re beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness and mercy—even though they’re not.

But recognition is not enough.  For the reception of mercy, repentance needs to be added to recognition.  Yes, I need to recognize what Jesus has done for me—and that I’m a sinner—and that I can be forgiven for my sins; but then I need to open myself up to that forgiveness and mercy by actively repenting of those sins.

The best place to do that as Catholics, of course, is in the confessional.  And if we’ve committed a serious sin, it’s not only the best place to repent; the confessional is also the NECESSARY PLACE to repent!

Recognition + Repentance = Reception

Which brings me, in conclusion, to the quintessential Christmas man of mercy, who helps to bring all of this together: Ebenezer Scrooge.

Some people might think that the story of Scrooge is first and foremost a story about greed—but that’s wrong.  First and foremost, it’s a story about mercy!

When it begins Ebenezer Scrooge has what can best be described as an "ISIS mentality”.  That is to say, he has no mercy—no mercy for Bob Cratchit; no mercy for Bob’s family; no mercy for his nephew, Fred; no mercy for the poor in his community and for the people who are trying to help them—no mercy for anybody!

He’s changed, of course, by the revelations of the three ghosts who are sent to him on Christmas Eve: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come.

That night, Scrooge receives mercy.  But it’s not magic or automatic.  He receives it because of his recognition and his repentance: he recognizes the sins of his past, and he recognizes the fact that he can receive mercy and be forgiven (although he’s not sure he will be).  And he repents: he expresses true sorrow for the evil that he’s done and for the good he hasn’t done.  Remember what he says to the Ghost of Christmas Yet-To-Come just before the spirit leaves him?  He says, “Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life.”

Out of mercy, he is given the second chance he desires.  And he responds to that gift by becoming merciful to others (to all those people he had been unmerciful to before).  And the change isn’t temporary; it’s permanent.  Scrooge becomes a man of mercy for the rest of his life.

Let me leave you now with this final thought:

The word merry means cheerful.  Well, as we all know, there are many people in the world each year who find it very difficult to be cheerful at Christmas because of the trials and difficulties that they’re dealing with in their personal lives.  Consequently, not everyone is able to experience a Merry Christmas.  But everyone, without exception—this year and every year—can experience a Mercy Christmas—no matter what they’re dealing with.

Which is great news, my brothers and sisters, because in the long run experiencing a Mercy Christmas is much more important than experiencing a Merry one.

And if you don’t believe me, just ask Pope Francis—or Ebenezer Scrooge.