“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18).
Dear brethren, with a heart full of joy I welcome you all to this New Year, 2016. And, I urge you to rejoice and exult in the Lord our God, who by His mercy and goodness kept us through the year past and has brought us into the New Year. Our joy and thanksgiving is not only because of His mercy past but also for His assurance, through His Church, of the same unending mercy even in this New Year. We may have at various times in the past celebrated our entry into a New Year in different ways and for different reasons.
But, in this New Year the Church desires and calls our attention to celebrate because of that singular opportunity of a true moment of encounter with the God who is merciful, loving, who welcomes us and forgives our sins. The Holy Year of Mercy, which was declared by the Church on December 8, 2015, is meant to open our eyes to the burden that sin places on us all (for we are all sinners) so that we would yearn for relief by turning away from those sinful ways to be touched in a tangible way by the mercy of God who wants to be close to those who have the greatest need of his forgiveness. We all have in various ways and at various times sinned against God who made us and has been good to us. However, in place of the just punishment for sinners that we are, He chooses to show mercy and grant His forgiveness to all who are truly repentant of their sins.
While it is unlikely to think that any Christian would deny offending God through sin, not all truly believe they can be forgiven by the same God they have offended should they turn to Him with a penitent heart. Most Christians are weighed down by the guilt of their sins which they think are too grave to be forgiven by God. Are there any amongst us who are weighed down by the burden of sins committed? Are there any amongst us who consider their sins unpardonable or beyond God’s forgiveness? What sin could outweigh God’s mercy if the sinner truly shows a contrite attitude? For the psalmist says “A broken, contrite heart you will never scorn” (Psalm 51:17). It is to us all that He declares, “Come, let us talk this over, says Yahweh. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). God’s mercy is inexhaustible and His forgiveness readily available for those who turn away from their sins to seek Him. This is the hope that the Church presents to us all in this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, has shown He is a merciful God; that His delight is in a sinner turning away from his sinful ways to live (Ezekiel 18:23). This, we find in Jesus’ encounter with the adulteress and Magdalene (John 8:4, Luke 7:48-50), the repentant thief on the cross (Luke 23:40-43) and in his teaching in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), and in our time; his gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation is God’s gift to us through the Church. It allows us to draw near to the Father with the certainty of his forgiveness. He is truly merciful and extends His mercy abundantly upon those who appeal to Him with a sincere heart. We are encouraged to approach this Sacrament, especially during this Holy Year of Mercy, to obtain forgiveness and grace thereafter to remain in the path of freedom of God’s children. The essence of God’s mercy is, therefore, not for us to glory in sin, but to gain conversion of heart. Once converted by mercy, we come out of bondage or slavery of sin to the freedom of God’s children. Consequently, being forgiven means we should forgive others as well. This is what God expects of us.
That leaves us with an important responsibility. So it is not only about obtaining mercy from God. It is also about showing mercy to others who may have offended us just as we offend God. It is rather true that they who desire forgiveness from God must first forgive others. As Christ taught us “If you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either” (Matt 6:14-15). This is also our daily proclamation in the Lord’s Prayer “… forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
In truth, the Holy Year of Mercy calls us all to re-examine our relationship with God and with one another. It is about God as it is about our neighbours. If we have sought and received mercy from the Lord, are we not morally bound to show mercy to others? The moral duty of us all who have received mercy, is to be merciful to others; “shouldn’t you have shown mercy to your fellow servant the same way I showed you mercy” (Matt 18:33). This is what the Lord expects of us always and which if it never was part of us, the Church urges us to imbibe during this Holy Year of Mercy and live it throughout our Christian lives.
Let us turn to the true image of God the Father, Jesus, our model of mercy who not only taught but demonstrated all he taught. He had a reputation for being merciful and so people were constantly drawn to him. Whether it was the blind, parents who came on behalf of their children, the demon-possessed or lepers, all came pleading for mercy (Matt. 9:27, 15:22, 17:15; Luke 17:13). At all times, he responded with compassion whether it be the crowds who were "harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matt. 9:36), the leprous (Mark 1:40-44), or a widow accompanying the body of her only son for burial (Luke 7:13). By turning to Christ, we would obtain mercy; and empowered by him become to the world what he was to those who encountered him in the passages above.
My brethren, let us in this Holy Year of Mercy and afterwards strive to show mercy not only to those who have offended us but to any who is in need of help. We can do this by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned; and be sure to be rewarded by the Lord (Matt. 25:31-40).
We must be aware that just like we do not grow tired of asking God for mercy, we ought not to be tired in showing mercy to all who have asked for it and even those whose pride would not let them plead but who all the same need to be shown mercy. Like the Holy Father said, “Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always.”
Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos
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