HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, November 20, 2016:
Pope Francis has frequently told a story which he says was the source of his vocation and spirituality. When he was a young man of 17, he was heading to the train in Buenos Aires one day for his school’s annual picnic and thinking of proposing to his girlfriend there. But, as he passed by the local church, he decided to stop in to say a prayer. There he met a young, friendly priest and decided to go to confession. Something happened in that confession which Pope Francis describes as an encounter with God who had been waiting for him. In that encounter he experienced unmistakably and powerfully the mercy of God for him and for all people. He knew from that experience that the only meaning his life could have would be to show everyone the mercy of God. In that moment, He felt converted. He felt called and he discovered a special vocation of mercy. He did not go to the train or the picnic that day. He did not propose to his girlfriend. His life and its course was completely changed in that moment. And, he tells us that because of that experience of mercy more than 60 years ago he adopted the motto as archbishop, cardinal, and pope “miserando atque eligendo” which is translated “having been shown mercy and chosen to show mercy.”
Today, as you may know, brings to a conclusion the Jubilee Year of Mercy called for by Pope Francis throughout the world. What an extraordinary experience this year has been, and what a reminder of how much we need more mercy in our lives and in our world. Even though the Year of Mercy is ending, God’s gift of mercy to us and our call to be merciful to others is never ending. It is the very heart of our Christian way of life.
The Pope said last year in one of his Angelus messages devoted to the topic of mercy, “I think we are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy.”
Extending mercy begins with realizing that we are first recipients of mercy from God. The Pope said, “It is not easy to entrust oneself to God’s mercy, because it is deep beyond our comprehension. But we must! We might say, ‘Oh, I am a great sinner!’ All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things! He forgets, He has a very special capacity for forgetting. Brothers and Sisters, God’s face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. That is His mercy. He always has patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us. ‘Great is God’s mercy.’”
The wellspring of God’s mercy for us is deep beyond our imagination. But, God wants us to live by showing that same mercy to others. Mercy is our common call, it is our vocation as followers of Christ. As recipients of mercy from God, we have plenty of mercy to offer to others. So, where do we need to show more mercy in our lives? Who do we encounter on a regular basis that we encounter with judgment who could instead be greeted with mercy? After all, they are no different than us – they are simply people in need of an encounter with a good and loving God that they meet through good, loving and merciful people like you and like me.
Pope Francis said, “In the past few days I have been reading a book that said that ‘feeling mercy changes everything’. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly the mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient. Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God’s love would make them white as snow. This mercy is beautiful.”
Feeling mercy changes everything. When we let God’s mercy change us – like it changed Pope Francis as a young man – and when we show that mercy to others, it will have the power to transform them too; to change them; to move them into a new way of being and interacting. Receiving mercy when they were expecting judgment opens people to new possibilities that include forgiveness and healing; possibilities that include the healing power of God in their lives. And couldn’t our world use more of this mercy, love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness and healing? Especially now?
Pope Francis said just today, “We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are considered the only way to resolve conflicts. We see how quickly those among us who are a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language or their social class. An enemy because they think differently or have a different faith. Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence. We are not immune from this and we need to take care lest such attitudes find a place in our hearts, because this would be contrary to the richness and universality of the Church. None of this makes us enemies; instead, it is one of our greatest riches. Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus constantly desires to enter the crossroads of our history to proclaim the Gospel of Mercy. Jesus continues to call us and to send us where our people dwell. He continues to invite us to spend our lives sustaining our people in hope, so that they can be signs of reconciliation.”
Let us be grateful today for the gift of this Year of Mercy, but let us also pledge to be more aware of the mercy God extends to us, and our call to be the very presence of God’s mercy in our world. This Year of Mercy has been a special time for the Church; hopefully a time when the merciful witness of believers – of you and me – might grow stronger and more effective. My friends, feeling mercy changes everything. And, offering mercy changes everything. Couldn’t we all use a little more mercy in our lives? Couldn’t we all extend a little more mercy in our lives?
May the Lord give you peace.