“At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives. For this reason I have proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as a special time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective.” [Misericordiae Vultus no. 3]
Peace be with you! Dear Brethren, with these solemn words that proceeded from the mouth of our Lord Jesus Christ, I greet and welcome you all to the month of August in this special year as we unreservedly, approach and celebrate the unceasing mercy of God. While our focus is firm on the opportunities the summer period offer us in savouring the loving mercy of God, it is of immense importance that we acknowledge the majestic bearing this month has on our faith about eternal glory. Throughout the course of the Liturgical year, the Church has always set aside the months of May and October, to honour the Blessed Mother of God, nevertheless, this month holds for us, one of her special celebrations, namely, Her Assumption into Heaven.
The Assumption of Mary
In very unambiguous terms, the Assumption is a pure doctrine against materialism and moral corruption: when Our Lord took His Blessed Mother, soul and body into heaven since it was not fitting that the flesh that had given life to God himself should ever undergo corruption, he did honour to the poor clay of which our human bodies are fashioned. This gives a whole new perspective to the human body. If a human body is in heaven, that is, the body of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it implies that our own bodies or material existence is not just for this earth alone. It must be found worthy, pure and originally innocent to enter heaven. This dogma is therefore a great antidote to materialism and moral corruption because in Mary’s Assumption into heaven we see our own glorious destiny as fellow creatures like her, united to her Son. In other words, the Bodily Assumption of Mary might be considered to be more than ever relevant today when the human body is so often and so grossly degraded: not only by its abuse through the drug culture and by the exploitation and degradation of its sexual attractions, but by the whole hedonistic, materialistic culture in which we live, in which the body dominates the soul. Our mortal bodies, like Mary’s, are destined for their share in eternal glory. The Assumption therefore is the feast day of our hope, that where Mary is, we too shall be. Blessed be her glorious Assumption!
The Year of Mercy this Summer
The Year of Mercy is intended to be a unique time [for Christians] to become “stronger and more effective” witnesses to the Faith we proclaim, transformed both by contemplating the depths of God’s mercy and by imitating Christ in the world today. Just as God the Father demonstrates forgiveness of our sins through love, our understanding of and vocation to being merciful will recurrently include forgiveness of others’ failings. However, it is pertinent to note that the convocation of a Year of Mercy does not in the minutest way, make God more merciful or more inclined to forgive. To believe otherwise will not and cannot stand as a good Theological affirmation. The arguments for these are simple: firstly, drawing from the prophecy of Malachi 3:6, “for I the Lord do not change.” God is immutable, He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob [Ex 3:6] and the God of our Lord Jesus Christ [Eph 1:17]. Secondly, God’s mercy, of course, is ever present and ever abundant; “for his mercy endures forever” [Psalm 136], as His rich mercy was in the beginning, so it remains plentiful now and interminable endless. God is constantly turning his face towards us, and his face is always one of compassion, forgiveness and kindness. Ultimately, the Year of Mercy is to help us change our hearts and our lives so we can become conduits of God’s mercy in everything that we say and do.
Summer amongst other things is a great time to bond with the family; a time for both children and their parents to connect much more with one another than other opportunities presented to them. In an article published online (aleteia.org) on June 9, 2016 titled Press the family reset button this summer, the author gives in a clearly descriptive way, what summer is and means. The words read: “When we reset our cell phones or toys or big screen televisions, there is often a message to remind us that the device will return to original factory settings. I like to think that’s what we’re doing with our summer”. This family-summer-connection is of a special sort because in a way it calls to mind the original intention of the Creator, whereby the plural pronouns [that assert collective interest] are more dominant than the personal ones [institution of selfishness] as seen in the communal act of the first Family [The Trinity]: “Let us make man in our own image and likeness” [Gen 1:26].
Very well, a time together can help make family members become aware how much they mean to one another but there is a greater realization that all families must be open to even as they put all their plans together for a happy summer celebration; the fact that they mean even more to God. A time together as a family to “gaze even more attentively” on the God of mercy and compassion and mapping out sincerely concrete means, can help a family wholly bask in this gift. Mercy brings to our wrecked, murky world the gift of a healthy, progressive vocation but even more graciously, it [Mercy] is our hope that sin will not overwhelm us because that is not what God wants for us. It is undoubted that the Jubilee of Families, one of the moments of the year-long Jubilee of Mercy, already took place on Sunday December 27, 2015, the feast of the Holy Family, but since “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning” [Lamentations 3:22-23] this summer period presents that moment for family renewal in the mercy of God.
I will like to offer three proposals [among many] which families can undertake in relishing the mercy of God that knows no bounds.
Go to Confession
It is the Church’s intention that during the Jubilee Year many people will receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, [or Confession] offers us an important way of getting closer to God; to be forgiven of our sins. As Pope Francis puts it “it is an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best”. In the confessional, God generously offers his forgiveness to all who request for it with a frank heart and an unaffected determination of amendment. He obliges no recompense nor sacrifice. In its place, all God demands is that we make that movement towards him. Our movement in this time of super-summer-family-connection should not be on an individual basis but seeing that the intention is to link-up with God as family unit, we should set aside a day when we make that pilgrimage to where Jesus is waiting to forgive us.
The seventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel offers a beautiful account we might have to consider. You remember the story. A Pharisee invites Jesus to dine with him, and Jesus and others accept the invitation. A sinful woman in the city learns that he is at table in the house of the Pharisee. She brings an alabaster flask of ointment, wipes his feet with her hair, and anoints them with oil… Look at the amazing courage of this woman who when she ‘learned’ where Jesus was, conscious of her many sins, makes the journey to meet Jesus. In this period, wherever we are, when we ‘learn’ of the times for the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Penitential service, it will be very well of us to make that journey to meet Jesus there that we may encounter his mercy.
Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet
At the closing paragraphs of Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis points to St. Faustina Kowalska as a “great apostle of mercy” [No. 24]. This comes to be, considering that the devotion was entrusted to the Polish nun in 1935, by God. The Divine Mercy Chaplet, is encumbered with so many promises and graces: great mercy at the hour of death, great mercy for the dying, grace for sinners, grace for the world, but to mention a few, adding up to show the immense mercy of God who hearkens to our pleas, “For the sake of [Christ’s] sorrowful passion.” The hour of Christ’s death [3p.m] is the hour of mercy, the opening of the ocean of mercy for all to drink and be filled with. The summer period is not a time to relax from prayers no matter how splendid the moments may be and the words of St. Paul awaken us to this awesome act as he says: “pray constantly” [1 Thess. 5:17]. Paul is not referring to non-stop chatter, but rather an attitude of Divine consciousness and surrender that we carry with us all the time. Every waking moment is to be lived in an awareness that God is with us and that He is actively involved and engaged in our thoughts and actions. Ask mercy together as a family at this very sacred hour of the day.
‘SEE’ to a Work of Mercy
“It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy” [Misericordiae Vultus 15].
Back to the story of Luke’s Gospel chapter 7, when the woman wipes Jesus’ feet with her hair, and anoints them with oil, the Pharisee who had invited Jesus sees this happening and says to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” After engaging Simon in a story, Jesus turns to him and says, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment.”
N… do you SEE this woman, this man? Jesus asks each of us. He saw those that others did not, could not and would not see. So many of those people are still with us today; “for you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them…” [Mark 14:7] Do we see them?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church [no. 2447] explains “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbour in his spiritual and bodily necessities.” It will be of utmost value to learn together about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and decide as a family on one work of mercy to try to do together during the “Summer” Jubilee of Mercy in order to see to the demands of the needy. To see in this light is not something passive but concrete because mercy is simply love’s response to suffering and need.
As I bid you all a happy summer vacation, I once more draw to our hearts the great truths that there is a greater realization which all families must come to terms with: God desires you more than you can imagine, the fact that you all mean even more to God. This time together as a family amplifies for us the opportunity to “gaze even more attentively” on the God of mercy, embrace it and in the end become refined beings because the mercy of God is mercy indeed perfectly refining us from all the lees of corruption.
God bless you.
+ Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos
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