The Face of Mercy

One of the beauties of the liturgical year is that Holy Mother Church uses special events to highlight an aspect of the faith; this time it is the whole year. The Holy Father opened the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy a little over a month ago on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The theme of the year can make things look new, different, fresh, and uniquely beneficial for our journey Home. For instance this year I look at today’s feast of the Baptism of Lord in a new light, with new emphasis; and it has, for me, become a hermeneutic of sorts, a key, for understanding this special year.

Today marks the end of the Christmas Season which has reflected on the birth of Christ and some events during His so-called hidden years. Last week, of course, we see the Magi come to do Him homage; but that was only one of three events we know about in his youth. With the exception of the event of Anna and Simeon at His Presentation Christ lived His life, more or less, hidden way. Even when Mary and Joseph found Him in the temple surrounded by an astonished crowd, it was only they who knew who He truly was.

But today, today we see Jesus rise from the river; rise from the Jordan in the midst of a great crowd of people. As He rose out of the water with God the Father proclaiming ‘Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.[1]; the crowd (and us) finally behold the face of mercy itself. The people of Judah are now becoming aware of ‘God among us’. No longer is mercy an abstract thought, an ideal, something to be meditated about, a goal to strive for; mercy has a face. It is true that from this face comes the ideal of mercy, the plan of a merciful life, a mercy-filled attitude; but mercy is first and foremost, as Father David preached about on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a person.

Brothers and sisters, as we dive into this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy let’s not forget that mercy is not something that we determine from our feelings or our intellect. It is not something that even the great and wise holy men and women throughout the history of Holy Mother Church have discovered from philosophical and theological reflection.

No, mercy is Jesus Christ; when we gaze upon Christ we see God’s mercy. This is the paradigm that this whole year should be viewed from: Mercy is Christ – all of Him. It is all too easy to allow clever arguments about mercy dictate how we understand it. It is all too easy to allow ourselves to ignore some teachings of Christ, to push aside truth, in favor of seeming kindness and call that mercy. But, that would be wrong – because that would be part of Christ and mercy is all of Him. So, let’s keep Him close to us; in our thoughts, our prayers, and our actions. His face will light our lives as we discern Him, discern about the true meaning of mercy. If we open ourselves to Him He will show us mercy in full. And maybe most importantly, let’s never forget that He will be our strength until He returns to us again.

On this last day of the Christmas Season – when we have celebrated the arrival of mercy among us; let me end with a quote from the great book ‘Imitation of Christ’; which for us, we can make a valuable prayer in our lives, especially in trying times:

How can I bear this life of misery
unless You comfort me
with Your mercy and grace?
Do not turn Your face from me.
Do not delay Your visitation.[2]

Merry Christmas

[1] Luke 3:22 (RSV)
[2] Imitation of Christ – Thomas á Kempis et al – Book 3 Chapter 3


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