Sunday, December 06, 2015

Fr. Ray’s Mercy Equation: Recognition plus Repentance equals Reception

(Second Sunday of Advent (C): This homily was given on December 06, 2015 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Luke 3: 1-6.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Advent 2015]

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has declared the period from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016 to be an “Extraordinary Jubilee [Year] of Mercy”.  (Deacon Fran spoke about this in his homily last weekend.)  Normally Jubilee Years happen every quarter century (the last one occurred in the year 2000 under Pope St. John Paul II), but Pope Francis decided that we couldn’t wait that long.  He believes that we need one right now, ten years early (which is why it’s called an “Extraordinary” Jubilee Year).

And I think that the Holy Father is “right on” in his assessment of the situation.  You know, 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 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, you only have to do one thing: look at ISIS (the Islamic State)!  The violent, hateful actions of the terrorists associated with that diabolical organization are the violent and hateful actions of 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 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.

It’s fitting that on the Sunday before the Jubilee begins we hear about John the Baptist in our gospel reading.  In his baptismal ministry at the Jordan River, John functioned as a powerful instrument of God’s forgiving mercy.  As it says there, “John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Mercy was offered to people through John.  Mercy is offered to us through the Church, and especially through the sacraments of Baptism and Penance.

But it’s not enough to experience the offer of mercy; mercy also needs to be received.  The Pharisees and Sadducees, you will recall, came to the Jordan River to be baptized like everyone else.  And mercy was offered to them, just like it was offered to everyone else.  But John the Baptist recognized the fact that because these men lacked true repentance for their sins, they were in danger of not receiving the mercy that was being offered to them.  And so he tried to wake them up by saying to them, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”

Hopefully some of them listened.

Let me share with you now the formula for receiving God’s mercy.  It comes in the form of a little equation—an equation that I will probably refer to quite often during this Jubilee Year.  You could 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 has done for me by his passion, death and resurrection.  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.  It’s essential, but not sufficient.  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, 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!

(On that note, don’t forget there will be two of us hearing confessions on the next two Saturdays from 3:30-4:30.)

Let me conclude now with this thought:

Almost all the pundits on the cable news networks are constantly talking these days about ISIS, and the threat that that particular organization poses to us and to most of the rest of the world. 

What is it going to take to get rid of ISIS?—usually that’s the question they’re trying to answer.

From all indications, a strong military response is going to be necessary to accomplish the goal—and not just from our military, but also from the militaries of other countries throughout the world.

But getting rid of this one terrorist organization, as necessary as that is, does not address the problem at its root.  The terrorists of ISIS, as I said earlier, reject mercy: that’s a core tenet of their perverted philosophy.  But that means that EVERYONE in the world right now who buys into the same philosophy and rejects mercy is also contributing, indirectly, to the problem at its root—even if they have nothing to do with any terrorist organization.

They have what you might call the “ISIS mentality”—which is fueled by hate and by a desire for revenge.  This is the mindset, incidentally, that stands behind many acts of domestic violence and road rage, as well as some of the recent attacks we’ve seen in our country against police officers.

As individuals we don’t have the power to destroy the ISIS organization itself (unless we’re a member of the U.S. Military), but we do have the power to do our part to help destroy the “ISIS mentality” in our world—which is just as important.

We do that by first receiving the mercy of God ourselves—and then by showing that mercy to other people.

May that be our goal for the upcoming Jubilee Year—and every year thereafter.