The Church has in recent times laid heavy emphasis upon the gift of ‘Mercy’. St John Paul’s interest in, and promotion of, the life of St. Faustina has also prompted many to adopt a particular devotion to the Divine Mercy. Central to this devotion is the chaplet in which appears the phrase:
“[F]or the sake of His sorrowful passion; have mercy on us and on the whole world”
A good deal has been written about the unqualified and unconditional nature of God’s Mercy. In “The Quality of Mercy” Bishop John Arnold observed:
“My concern is that we rediscover an appreciation of that personal love that God has for each of us and how we may strengthen and celebrate that personal relationship. One of the most important resources that we have is in the Sacrament of Reconciliation which could, if we allow it, be a major contributory factor to the way we respond to the invitation to the Year of Mercy.”
In what now seems more than an age away, catechesis presented ‘confession’ not as a mere step on the way to participation in reception of Holy Communion, but, as a fundamental component in our relationship with God Himself; one which required repetition. There was at that time, a shared, and unchallenged, understanding that reception of Holy Communion was a privilege; not a right. Moreover, it was a privilege which had been purchased for us at great price. There was no suggestion that the Eucharist was anything other than an encounter with Christ Himself; an encounter for which preparation was required. Put simply: participation in the Eucharist was the summit of a continuing (i.e active) relationship with Christ; having previously participated in an act of reconciliation, heard and digested the Word of God, professed our faith and affirmed our belief in the Real Presence. Each was to be seen as an expression of communion and unity. However, it was a given that Eucharistic participation in the Body of Christ was an expression of our own personal relationship with Him.
In the Gospel according to John, we encounter the person of Jesus as one who enters into dialogue with those whom he meets and, in particular, those who come to Him. The calling of Philip and Nathanial, the wedding at Cana, and the discussion with the ‘woman at the well’ are familiar enough. So, too, is the account of the woman caught in adultery. They each represent the same pattern: dialogue through which relationship, revelation and recognition flow.
When challenged on the nature of discipleship [Jn.7:31-43] Christ observes:
“If you were Abraham’s children, you would do what Abraham did…”
In the readings at Mass yesterday, we were reminded of two defining characteristics of Abraham: communication and persistence. This is Abraham, our father in faith, who sought to hear the word of God and keep it. His ability to do so was fundamentally dependent upon the cultivation of a relationship with God Himself.
In the course of an outstanding homily, I recently heard an Irish Priest refer to Abraham as ‘a chancer’. That is to say, one who pushed his luck. The priest went on to say that we each of us are to some degree ‘chancers’ seeking to communicate with God when it is convenient, or, otherwise suits our purpose. What was lacking, he said, was “the gift of gratitude”.
In his "Principles of Ethics", Antonio Rosmini referred to ‘gratitude’ as a feeling which:
“[O]riginates from the knowledge of a good received.”
Such ‘knowledge’ is not the accumulation of facts and figures. It is the stuff of life. It cannot be acquired without the ‘three Rs’ of relationship, revelation and recognition.
It is through our relationship with Christ that we seek to fulfil the universal call to Holiness. It is within that same relationship, as a member of the Church, that we come to an understanding of His continuing work of revelation. Through both, we are, by the Grace of God, brought to an appreciation of our need for, and dependence, upon Him.
This recognition demands an interior honesty. Such honesty removes any doubt as to the immeasurable gift of God’s Mercy, demonstrated so graphically in the passion, death and resurrection of Christ Himself.
This same honesty calls to mind the wisdom of the Centurion [Matt. 8:5]. During the Eucharist, immediately before reception of the Blessed Sacrament, we make his prayer our own. Often presented as illustrating the Centurion’s understanding of the authority of Jesus, it also demonstrates an unconditional act of surrender and submission to that same authority. In his entreaty, the Centurion invites Jesus to exercise authority over his own home, his personal jurisdiction, and all who were accountable to him. The Sacrament of Penance provides us with that same opportunity.
In this sacramental encounter we not only call to mind our sins, but also surrender our will to the authority of Christ. We bear witness to our need of Him in the demonstration of contrition. Through the act of contrition, we affirm our desire to restore our relationship with Him; the same relationship we have- through sin-ignored, taken for granted, or abandoned. In this sacrament, the ‘three Rs’ are affirmed as the rubric of our response to His call. We participate in the sacrament – like the Centurion – from the knowledge of a good received before it is requested. So disposed, in gratitude, we relinquish our role as ‘chancers’.
For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, indeed.
Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom- pray for us.