Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ministers of Mercy and Men of Mercy

This evening I got to give a brief homily at the seminary for its penance service.  The Gospel for the service was Matthew 18:21-35.

Brothers, in a week's time, we will approach and venerate the Wood of the Cross, upon which hung the Savior of the world.  Tonight we are afforded an opportunity to be certain that what we venerate with our lips next week, we also venerate within our hearts.

At our ordination, we hear the mandate to "Conform your life to the Mystery of the Lord's Cross."  We who will spend our whole life being ministers of God's mercy--a mercy that comes to us from the wounded side of the Crucified Christ--must also be men of mercy; men who show mercy; men who are conformed to the mystery of the Lord's Cross.

St. Peter knows that mercy requires a wound; that mercy is painful.  This is why he poses the question in tonight's Gospel.  "How many times must I forgive my brother who wounds me?"  Seventy times seven times is a lot of wounds.  It is also a lot of mercy.

St. Paul knew that mercy passes through wounds.  In writing to the Corinthians St. Paul says, "When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become and are now as though the refuse of the world, the dregs of all things."  (Put that on a vocations poster).  St. Paul, wounded repeatedly, conformed his life to the mystery of the Lord's Cross and allowed mercy to pour from his wounds.  Forgiving those who wound us is difficult, but there are no loopholes in the Gospel when it comes to loving and forgiving those who injure us.  Believe me, I've looked and there are no loopholes.

In a beautiful sermon on this Gospel passage, St. John Chrysostom says that when a brother wounds us, we ought to rejoice for ourselves and weep for our brother.  The more we are wounded, the more we are able to become like Jesus Christ who from the Cross forgave those who inflicted suffering upon him.  We ought to rejoice, says Chrysostom, because we are afforded the opportunity to show mercy.  But, says Chrysostom, we ought to weep for the one who injured us because that one has grown more distant from God.

Chrysostom says what we must never do is to drive the sword of hatred and vengeance into our own heart.  We think that this sword is directed at our foe, but really it pierces our own heart.  

Brothers, as we draw near to kiss the Wood of the Cross, let us not be like Judas whose kiss was a mockery.  Instead, let us conform our life to the Mystery of that Cross.  The mercy of God comes to us through the wounded side of Christ.  No wound, no mercy.  When we are wounded by our brother, let us conform our life to the mystery of the Lord's Cross.  Let us who are called to be ministers of mercy also be men of mercy, men after the heart of Christ; men who from our wounds pour out mercy seventy times seven times.

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