Thursday, October 08, 2009
Homily for October 5th, 2009
God is merciful. He sends Jonah to preach to the Ninevites because He is genuinely concerned for them despite the fact that they are not His chosen people. God even spares the life of Jonah after he has been unfaithful to his call and thrown into the sea by his shipmates. God mercifully sends a fish to swallow Jonah so that he doesn't drown. In the gospel we hear Jesus teach us that the way to love one's neighbor is to be merciful to him.
Mercy. Misericordia. The word means to take the misery of another into one's own heart. Mercy is something that goes beyond justice, beyond legalism, and suffers loss in the hope to do good to one who is in a difficult situation. The priest and the Levite in today's gospel are not necessarily passing by the victim of the robbers out of spite. Rather, they think that the man is dead and are too concerned about becoming ritually impure and missing their turn at participating in the sacrifices of the temple of Jerusalem. In fact, their reason for avoiding the man on the road is based on following the law. Yet the problem is that they made the law of their faith the highest good and not the love of God and neighbor as their highest good. They forgot that God desires mercy and not sacrifices and that they should have stopped to bury the dead man if he was in fact dead. But they failed to take the man's miserable condition into their hearts and suffer the loss of time and even possibly the opportunity to serve at the temple by stopping and doing him the kindness of burying him, had he truly been dead, or caring for him as the Samaritan had done. So the priest and the Levite broke the greatest commandment while looking to observe lesser ones.
Mercy. If it were not for God's mercy, we would all be held strictly accountable for every one of our sins, and we would all be condemned to hell. But God's mercy triumphs over justice because His love moves him to take our misery into his heart and pour out goodness upon us by offering us forgiveness and love.
We are called to do the same thing, to be merciful to those in need and imitate God's love. And we can do this in various ways. We can feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, comfort the imprisoned, visit the sick, and bury the dead. We can also be merciful to others by admonishing sinners, instructing the uninformed, counseling the doubtful, being patient with those in error, forgiving offenses, and praying for the living and the dead.
But it is also important for us to do acts of mercy with the right intention in our hearts. We can correct sinners out of an attitude of pride and superiority, or we can do so out of a genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of someone. This is what St. Francis would do. He would plead with sinners to amend their lives because he truly knew that it was God's will to save all people and Francis would truly take the miserable condition of the sinner into his heart, having compassion on them and begging them to reconsider their ways. When we pray for the conversion of someone, do we do so secretly hoping that God will smite them, or are our hearts truly touched by the poor condition they are in and our prayers inspired by compassion?
Today, coincidentally is the feast of St. Faustina Kowalska, better known as the apostle of Divine Mercy. Through her intercession may we come to both trust more in the mercy of God, who in His great love for us offers us forgiveness of our sins, and to carry out acts of mercy toward others in imitation of our Father in heaven.