Sunday, November 20, marked the end of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy which began on December 8, 2015. It was good for us to reflect upon and pray for the grace of mercy this past year because even though mercy is offered to us by God daily we seem to have a difficult time recognizing it and subsequently passing it on. We have great need for mercy, and yet we struggle with it because of our human weakness. It is rather obvious that the world is sorely in need of this grace and that we have a lot of work to do in this regard. But this past year helped us to see why we must never lose hope: God will never run out of mercy, and as a result we can turn to God and ask Him to supply it for us when we are not feeling particularly merciful. This is one of the reasons why having a year designated to the remembrance and practice of mercy was so important. But now that the Jubilee year is over, and the liturgical year is ending with the season of Advent about to begin, we must not stop thinking about, praying for, or practicing the virtue of mercy. It is not something that ever goes in or out of season: mercy is always in season.
This week we celebrate the national holiday of Thanksgiving. In the midst of all the food, friends and family, the most obvious part of our celebration is (hopefully) gratitude. Therefore, while giving thanks for the many blessings in our lives it would be appropriate this year to give thanks for the great mercy of God poured out to us without any limitations. It would also be good to give thanks for being able to tap into this incredible grace in our daily lives so that we can offer it to others. That we have been given the ability to act with mercy means that we have the ability to act as God acts, to act the Gospel way, the way Jesus acted during His life.
If we really reflect upon what it is, we see that like all grace, mercy is a great power. To have mercy is to have the power to withhold forgiveness, to lord it over the other, to say whatever I want to no matter the effect, and to choose to do the opposite because of the Love we have learned from Jesus. Mercy provides the ability to forgive, to reach out to those who are different, who hold different viewpoints or ways of thinking than we do, (those who might have different values than our own), and to see them and value them as they are, responding with openness and compassion in spite of differences. During His life Jesus never saw a pagan gentile, a woman, a leper, a person with a disability, a Samaritan, a Jewish official (Sadducee or Pharisee), a foreigner, a person rich or poor, a sinner or saint, from whom He withheld mercy simply because they were different than He was. The truth is that He is different from everyone, because He is perfect, given that He is both fully human and fully divine. And even though He knew that He would never receive the same mercy which He offered His people, Jesus never compromised the mercy He gave even while dying on the cross.
My reflection upon the end of the Year of Mercy began in Nazareth while traveling in the Holy Land last month. At the Basilica of the Annunciation I passed through a door which was designated as a Holy Door, often referred to as Doors of Mercy. These are doors which are ordinarily sealed shut and are offered as ways to make a pilgrimage (for locals) without having to go to Rome. There were doors designated as Doors of Mercy all over the world. It is not that the door conveys a grace: doors are metal or wood and to think they convey anything is superstitious. But what the demarcation of a Holy Door provides is a reminder and a call to prayer for the grace of mercy. Our gestures speak loudly, so to have special doors opened to remind us of mercy, encouraging our prayer and good works, sends a message that we can open the doors of mercy to others and that all are always welcomed to seek mercy before God. Closing the door does not mean we stop mercy, however. The closing of the door reminds us that we take out of that door what we entered in to seek. The closing of the doors is a symbolic gesture: mercy is always offered by God, always offered by the Church, and always a grace we ask from God to help us in our daily lives. Therefore the closing of the doors is a reminder of our gratitude. Pope Francis said: “[A]s we seal the Holy Door, we shall be filled, above all, with a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving to the Most Holy Trinity for having granted us an extraordinary time of grace. We will entrust the life of the Church, all humanity, and the entire cosmos to the Lordship of Christ, asking Him to pour out His mercy upon us like the morning dew, so that everyone may work together to build a brighter future.”*
The Jubilee Year was designed to end as the liturgical year closes and this is why it ended on the last Sunday of the year, the Feast of Christ the King. The following Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent: a new year, a new liturgical season, a deeper reflection upon our readiness for the King of Mercy to enter our world in a new way, through us. I cannot think of a year in my life when this was more needed. We have been given a wealth of mercy, and therefore we should continue to include reflection upon it during Advent and beyond. We might begin by asking ourselves how we are called through our words and deeds to bring the Lord of Mercy into the aching world in which we live. Or perhaps we can reflect upon how we can show gratitude to God by exercising the gift of mercy which He has given to us. You see, if we do not use the gift then we are not truly grateful for it. It is like receiving the gift of a sweater which matches little we own: ‘Granny’ made it and gave it to us, and we love her, so we wear it because we do not want to disappoint her. Then we discover that the sweater really is quite useful, and that even if at first the wearing of it was uncomfortable because of the opinion of others, we are growing in the understanding that it was a sign of love from ‘Granny’ which fills us with gratitude and inspires us to give of ourselves to others. While God’s mercy is greater than a sweater, the point is that the more we put it on, the more grateful for it we become because we recognize the great gift of love which it is. And the more we recognize the gift of love, the more we are inspired to share God’s mercy as it has been shared with us, and therefore we might be able to help the world to heal just a little bit at a time.
I am not naïve, and certainly God understands the world better than any of us: living mercy is not easy, and others do not always want to receive mercy from us or offer mercy back. Quite often living lives of mercy will get us hurt; after all, look where it got Jesus. However, (and this is important), if we offer mercy where none is offered, if we return good for evil, that is where love prevails and attempts to teach others how to behave. If we offer no love, how do we expect others to learn it? And even if they do not learn anything from us, we are called to imitate the one we follow: Jesus the Lord. We may not see justice lived and shared in this life, but we are called to work for it, not through violence, but through mercy. And we know that God will right all wrongs in the end. We will be judged on how well we loved, which includes how well we offered forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and generously sharing what we have with those who are in need. In the end we will be with Jesus in Heaven forever. We may not experience things going the way we desire them to be in this life, but we do need to trust in God, in His mercy, wisdom and power. And that means we need to cooperate with Him in sharing these graces. So as we end the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, the liturgical year, and also celebrate a holiday of gratitude, let us be reminded that mercy is the greatest gift we have received and which we can share. Let us remember that mercy is always in season. Thank God for that.
May we be filled with gratitude for the gift of God’s mercy! May we share what we have materially, but especially our mercy, compassion, and love, with those who are in need! May we choose the way of Jesus, the Gospel way of holiness, when we are in situations which challenge us! May we end the liturgical year mindful of that for which we long, the return of Jesus and our entrance into eternal life! May we begin the season of Advent with hopeful expectation, openness of mind and heart, and a spirit oriented to living in mercy! Let us meet in gratitude around the table of the Lord! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
NOTE: The next post will be on December 5.
* The quote from Pope Francis is from Misericordiae Vultus, the document (called a Bull) which declared the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. You can find the entire document by clicking on the following link: https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco_bolla_20150411_misericordiae-vultus.html
IMAGES: All of the photos are mine.
The first photo was taken in one of the gardens of the Boston Common in Boston, MA, this past September. I chose it because like mercy, beauty is a sign of God's presence. But I also chose it because roses are in season a lot longer than we often realize, but even when they are out of season, they are supplied from other countries where they continue to bloom. I think this is symbolic of how we share mercy with one another, especially when it is needed most.
The second photo is a stained glass window I saw while at Mt. Carmel in Israel. The church was a commemoration of where Elijah fled from Jezebel, the evil queen who sought his life when Elijah had done heroic deeds for the Lord. In what is my favorite Old Testament passage, Elijah prays desperately to God while running from Jezebel, asking God to take his life because he feels like he has failed and he is very tired from running. But God in His great love and mercy sends an angel, depicted here, to give Elijah food from Heaven which sustains him until he reaches safety at Mt. Carmel. I love the passage because God not only saves Elijah, but gives him a huge 'dose' of love and care, ultimately giving Elijah friendship, a companion to help him with his mission, and gentleness. (See 1 Kings 18 & 19)
The next two photos are from the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, in the Galilee region of Israel. The photo on the left is the exterior of the Basilica, and the photo to the right is of the very spot where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced to her that she was to be the Mother of God.
Next is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called Jesus Christ Holy Forgiveness. I chose this because the most difficult part of mercy and love is forgiveness. Only Christ the King of the Universe could offer this kind of forgiveness and mercy even after His own people nailed Him to a cross. I love this icon because there is great tenderness in Jesus' eyes, and truly in His entire face. I am not sure why, but His lips speak to me of mercy in this icon. I suppose the gentleness in Jesus' face is the same attribute of God which I love in the Elijah passage mentioned above. If you are interested in obtaining this icon or any others from the work of Fr. Bill, you can find this one at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/jesus-christ-holy-forgiveness-040-william-hart-mcnichols.html and the entire site can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/william-hart-mcnichols.html?tab=artworkgalleries
It is the time of year when we think of giving, so that is why I suggest that you might like to purchase an icon in one of many mediums such as a plaque or giclee to give as a gift. (Remember, I get no financial gain or remuneration for making an endorsement of Fr. Bill's work. I just love to share the beauty!)
The next photo is of the pail which is used to draw water at Jacob's Well in Shechem, Israel. It is how we got water out of the well, which indeed still functions. This is the spot where Jacob met his future wife, Rachel, whom he loved with the deepest of loves. The love of Jacob and Rachel is one of the most beautiful and poignant of all the love stories in the Old Testament. This is also the spot where Jesus, in great mercy and love, met the Samaritan woman (John 4) to whom He offered living water. Mercy is living water from Jesus!
The last image is a photo I took while in Taormina, Sicily. It was on the wall of a cafe and I fell in love with the tile work, a prominent art form in Sicily. The image of all the jars of spices, nuts, sweets, chocolates and more, made me think of the plenty with which we often feast at Thanksgiving. May your Thanksgiving be sweet and filled with plenty of love and all that is good, and may you be filled with gratitude, as I am in gratitude to those of you who read my posts! Blessings!
I was blessed to be able to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, returning home only a few days ago. The trip is still very vivid and I am continuing to process everything we experienced. We visited many sites from Mt. Hermon in the north to the Dead Sea in the southern part of Israel. We stayed in Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem; we prayed at shrines in actual sites and at some which are commemorations of sacred events. But in all of it there was one overriding thought, or rather, one overriding reality. As beautiful as it was and as deeply grateful as I am to have gone, it became clear that there is only one pilgrimage that matters. It is a pilgrimage of the heart that is the most important of all, and one does not have to travel to the Holy Land to make this journey. That is because everything we need is found in the pilgrimage that begins and ends in the Eucharist.
The entirety of salvation history converges in the gift Jesus gave us when He left His own Body and Blood until He returns at the end of time. Jesus is the culmination of all the promises given by God because He is the one who saves us. If we look back to the book of Genesis we see that God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that they would be the founders of a great nation of His people, ‘a nation peculiarly His own,’ as one translation puts it. Even though these great men interpreted what God told them, often making mistakes by trying to do things their way rather than waiting for God to direct them, they still had hearts attuned to God. God kept His promises to them, made through a covenant.
After the nation of Israel was formed, the people found themselves in captivity and so Moses was sent to liberate them. Though they wandered for a generation, God kept them alive with bread from heaven, manna, a sign that all journeys begin and end in Him and He is all we need. In the end, God kept His promise to give them a fertile land. But as the time went on the people had continuous temptations to fall away from God and the result was many ups and downs, captors and hardships, prophets listened to and ignored, freedom and the lack of it, covenants agreed upon and broken (by the people, never by God), until God decided the time was right to send His own Son to save His people.
God then took on flesh, coming as a baby, clothed in humility and humanity. Jesus, born in a cave and ‘serenaded’ by the animals that lived there, protected by His loving parents and greeted by shepherds and kings, chose to come among us so that we could have even greater intimacy. This is not to say that previously people could not talk directly to God: we have always had this magnificent gift. But now our God had skin. He was fully God and fully human, namely Jesus, who came in the greatest act of love and humility ever. When it was His time, Jesus called men and women to follow Him so that He could spread His message of mercy, compassion, and love, and to teach us to spread the Good News also. Finally, He gave us Himself even more deeply than by simply walking among us: on the night before He died He left us His Body and Blood. He gave access to Himself in a way that is beyond comprehension. He died, resurrected, ascended, and sent us His Holy Spirit, and we continue to have direct physical contact with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. All journeys begin and end there.
While in Israel our pilgrimage guide spoke of a rabbi, a great Jewish scholar, who once said, “If I believed what you do, I would never leave the Eucharist.” This statement truly shook me because as much as I love the Eucharist, I realized how easy it is to take such a gift for granted. The gift of the Body and Blood of Jesus is offered to us daily, and yet it is easy to become ‘routine’ about receiving it, taking it without entering into exactly what it is we are doing and Who it is we are receiving. Therefore it is important to keep in mind the reality of this great gift. Though it is a blessing to do so, (and I highly recommend it if one can go to the Holy Land),* we do not have to make a pilgrimage to find Jesus because no ‘spot’ is holier than He is. While it was amazing to cross the Sea of Galilee by boat, be in Bethany where Lazarus was brought back to life, pray at the place where Mary was greeted by the Archangel Gabriel, touch the spot where Jesus was crucified, walk the Via Dolorosa, see the Garden of Gethsemane and other sites in Holy Land, there is one pilgrimage in which we can do all that without leaving home, and that is the pilgrimage found in the Eucharist. All the places we visited were places where important things happened, but they do not contain Jesus, nor did the place insure an experience of Jesus. As the saying goes, “if you go to Rome to find Jesus, you will not find Him unless you bring Him with you.” We do not have to go anywhere other than to the Eucharist to find Him whom we seek in the flesh: He is the bread and wine become Body and Blood.
The Eucharist is the food for our journey, but it is also the journey itself. Any relationship with Jesus requires that we take on the responsibilities that come with the gift. He calls us to be His disciples, which means that we are empowered by the Eucharist to spread the Good News through our words and deeds. If we believe, we are called to do the spiritual and corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the ill and imprisoned, have respect for and bury the dead. We are called to act with the same mercy which is given to us, which means to forgive those who have sinned against us and to pray for and reach out to our enemies, not just those with whom we are comfortable. If we believe, we are called to help the marginalized, give time, talent, and treasure to those who are without, to live with civility and respect toward all others, (not just the groups we like), and to value all life from conception through natural death. If we believe, we are to accept the gift of a relationship with God which means to pray regularly. To believe is to know Jesus is with us in our suffering; He understands it greatly since no one has ever suffered as much as Jesus did in order to give us every grace and blessing. To believe is to trust that we can ask questions when we struggle rather than blindly accepting something and never delving below the surface. All answers are found in Christ, even if we have to wait until we are in Heaven to fully understand. In short, our journey of faith begins and ends in Jesus and in the gospel He has taught. And all of that is contained in His Body and Blood which is offered to us in the Eucharist.
As the aforementioned rabbi implied, if we really believe, we should have a hard time tearing ourselves away from the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. But I think the opposite is also true: because we believe, because we do know that He is present in the bread and wine become His Body and Blood, we take Him with us. This is the one pilgrimage that is not a destination to which one comes and then goes. This pilgrimage is one where we arrive at the Eucharist to adore, worship, praise, plead with, rest in, and be amazed, but then we take His presence with us out into the world. We bring Him with us into our lives and the daily journey. If we do not take Him with us we have missed the greatest part of the gift. We take Him with us to adore, worship, praise, plead with, rest in, and be awed as we experience Jesus in the beauty of creation, in the people whom we encounter, in the needs which are pining to be met, in those who cannot find rest, and in those with whom we share the journey who are seeking Him even if they do not realize it yet. We become Christ to them, as they become Christ to us. Without the pilgrimage to the Eucharist, we cannot carry the Eucharist to those who may be lost and who need us to show them how to come on the pilgrimage with us. All the holy sites in the world are nothing without recognizing the pilgrimage to and with Jesus in the Eucharist which is offered to everyone. Everything is found in the Eucharist. I invite you to meet me there.
May we come to recognize the great gift given to us in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ! May we find spiritual food and drink in Christ, so that we have the strength to live the life of faith to which we have been called! May we become as Christ for others and let them become as Christ to us! And may we have the courage and the faith to make the pilgrimage to the Eucharist where everything we need may be found! Let us meet in the Body and Blood of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next entry is November 21.
* If one wants to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land I highly suggest that they do it with the Franciscans since they have custody of all the sites and are therefore very knowledgeable with both the history and the spirituality. Our trip was through www.franciscanpilgrimages.com. I cannot say enough about how fantastic the trip was.
Images: All the photos are mine.
The first is a photo was taken while we were on a small boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. It was amazing because I knew that what I was seeing, Jesus once saw. The Sea was like glass at this point in the crossing and therefore it was very moving to imagine Jesus walking on the water, such as was recorded in the Gospels. It was hazy because it was a hot day. I chose to use this photo because it was the spot I was most moved during the pilgrimage.
The second photo was taken in Emmaus, a place most pilgrims do not go because Emmaus sits in the middle of a Palestinian area which is not the safest place in the world. This life-size bas relief is above the altar in the Church of St. Cleophas. (Cleophas was one of the two disciples who were on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection and did not recognize Jesus until He broke the bread.) I chose this photo because it shows Jesus breaking the bread which He had blessed, and had become His Body. The account states that no sooner did He break and share the bread that He vanished. This is because He was already present in the bread and did not need to be present twice!
The third photo is of the spot where Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This holy site is now "housed" in the Church of the Nativity. You can see a pilgrim venerating the spot; the spot where the manger lay is about 6 feet away. I chose it because this photo was taken in the cave where the Word became flesh, the fulfillment of all the promises of God in Jesus, the Christ.
Next is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called The Black Madonna Your Lap Has Become the Holy Table. I chose it because without Mary, there is no entrance of Jesus in the world. Mary was the first tabernacle, so to speak: she had the Savior of the World within her womb for nine months. She brought forth the Body of Christ, whose blood was mingled with her own. Therefore it is she who is Mother of the Eucharist. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of this icon it can be found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-black-madonna-your-lap-has-become-the-holy-table-060-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
The next photo is of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, the building which houses the place where Christ's tomb is located. One can also visit Calvary, the spot where Jesus was crucified and died, within this site. It is one of the most amazing places I have ever been. It looks rather dingy and run down, and it is indeed getting a face-lift inside. The Edicule, the structure which was built around the tomb, is being refurbished, something which is long overdue. But also within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are found many of the altars and chapels used by the Armenian Christians, the Greek Orthodox, and the Roman Catholics.
The final photo was taken at Mt. Hermon in the far north of Israel. This photo is of the source of the Jordan River. Though it is crystal clear here, as one goes further south the river becomes green and mucky due to the runoff and residue from farming. I chose this because even with all the pilgrimage groups converging on this spot, it still maintained a feeling of peacefulness and beauty.
Heart Speaks to Heart