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Dear OLPH,

Today we begin our second message series. To review, a message series seeks to link the homilies each week into a narrative arc, so that they form a larger whole. Think of it like a mini-series rather than a sitcom. We are trying to unpack the readings in a continuous unfolding of God’s message to us. Over the next several weeks we will be exploring the theme: Mercy and Our Response.

So first let’s ask the question: what is mercy? Compassion or forgiveness extended to another. In the scriptures, mercy is often shown as God’s fidelity to his promises even when his people are unfaithful. Our Lord keeps his end of the bargain even when we do not. Ultimately, we see this in Jesus’ sacrifice. The Father sent the Son to reconcile (to heal and reunite) a people that continued to be unfaithful to the covenant. In so doing, the Word becomes the instrument of salvation for all humanity. God himself in the flesh was faithful to a commitment we proved unable to keep.

St. John teaches us that “God is love,” (1 Jn 4:8) and when we seek to find the clearest expression of that love, we look to the cross: “Greater love has no man than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). Saint John Paul explained that mercy is a special facet of love: “Mercy is an indispensable dimension of love; it is as it were love's second name.” (Dives in Misericordia n.7) Mercy is the second name of love…love that!

Today in the Gospels we are exposed to three parables (Lk 15). Some typify them as the “lost and found” parables: lost sheep, lost coin, lost son. When we focus on that which is lost, we focus on sin, straying and going our own way. If, however, we attend to mercy, our gaze rests on the shepherd, the woman and the father. In each case, the protagonist goes in search of the lost, which helps us to recognize that it is our merciful Father who seeks our return.

In truth, God seeks to forgive us. He inspires us to return, all the while providing the remedy. He is the doctor; we are the patient; mercy is the balm for our wounds. Saint Patrick puts in terms of rock and builder: “I was like a stone lying deep in the mud; and He that is mighty came, and in His mercy, He lifted me up and raised me aloft and placed me on top of the wall.” Again, God is the actor, and we can imagine the wall as part of the building that is the church, since the church is built of living stones with Christ Jesus as the capstone (See: 1 Peter 2:4-8).

In order to receive the mercy of God we need to admit our need for the Lord to rescue us. And in this world of high standards, dare I say perfection or perfectionism (of which I am guilty) it is essential to put our hands up and cry out: “Jesus I am lost!” or “Lord I need you!” or “Show us your mercy, Lord!” or anything similar that is a cry of a heart in need. At the beginning of every Holy Mass we recognize our need for mercy, but do we do it from the heart? Venerable Fulton Sheen memorably puts it this way, “Sin is not the worst thing in the world, the denial of sin is. If I deny that I am a sinner, how can I ever be forgiven?”
The Lord never tires of extending mercy to us. May we never tire of seeking his merciful love! Stay tuned for the next installment on Mercy and Our Response.

In Christ,
Fr. Wilson

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