Tuesday, December 08, 2015

How Mercy ‘Prevents’

(Immaculate Conception 2015: This homily was given on December 8, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Luke 1: 26-38.)

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

Today we officially begin the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.  I would say that most people tend to think of mercy as a response that we give to sin and to hurtful behavior: Someone offends us in some way, and in the spirit of Christian charity we respond with mercy by making the choice to forgive the person.

And that’s true!  To extend forgiveness to another human being—especially if that person has not apologized for what he or she did to us—is an act of mercy.

Doing this, of course, is not easy—but the good news is that those who do make the choice to do it are promised an abundance of mercy for themselves.  Jesus said, “If you forgive the sins of others, your heavenly Father will forgive you.”  He also said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

But there’s another dimension to mercy that I want to focus your attention on this morning besides forgiveness.   And this ties in to the feast we’re celebrating in the Church today, the feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

Mercy prevents. 

That’s the lesson: Mercy prevents.  Mercy prevents (or at least it seeks to prevent) things that are not the will of God for people.

This is an idea that actually stands behind what we call the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  Hopefully we know at least some of these and are trying to put them into practice—as Pope Francis says we should, especially during this Jubilee Year.

First, the corporal works of mercy:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Clothe the naked
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Visit the sick
  • Visit the imprisoned
  • Bury the dead

Those activities—those works of mercy—are really all about prevention.  Most of us have probably never thought about them in that way before, but it’s true nonetheless.  Because what am I saying when I perform these good deeds?  I’m saying, “Because I love my neighbor, I will do all that I can to prevent him from starving to death, or dying of thirst, or not having enough clothes or a home. I will do what I can to prevent him from living in loneliness and from being abandoned; and I will prevent him from being disrespected in death.”

It’s all about prevention.

The same is true of the spiritual works of mercy, which are to …

  • Admonish the sinner
  • Instruct the ignorant
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Comfort the sorrowful
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive all injuries
  • Pray for the living and the dead

In performing these works with the right disposition of heart, a person is saying, “I will do what I can to prevent my neighbor from going to hell.  I will do what I can to prevent my neighbor from living in ignorance of the truth that will set him free and lead him to eternal salvation.  I will try to prevent people from losing their faith, and from falling into despair, and from experiencing a poor Christian witness from me, and from living without the support of prayer.”

The corporal and spiritual works of mercy are all about prevention.

Which is also what Mary’s Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother was all about!

Remember, the Immaculate Conception does NOT refer to the virginal conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary—which is what many people mistakenly believe.  The event that led to Jesus’ conception is called “the Annunciation” (which was today’s gospel reading).

The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother, St. Ann.  Here’s how Pope Pius IX defined the dogma: “the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin.”

Or, to put it another way, God, in his mercy and by a special grace, prevented Mary from contracting original sin.  God’s act was an act of “prevention”—and because of that act Mary became a fitting vessel for the Savior to come into the world.

God did not choose to prevent us from experiencing original sin (unfortunately!), but, by living our faith and performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy we can prevent ourselves—and others—from experiencing some of the negative consequences of sin.

And that’s a good thing.

Actually, that’s a great thing!