What we receive without cost, we must give without cost
By Bishop Richard F. Stika
The Religious Sisters of Mercy have a picture at their motherhouse in Alma, Mich., that depicts a sobbing St. Peter being comforted by the Blessed Mother. In her hands, Mary holds her son’s crown of thorns. Though tears flow down her cheek, her gaze toward St. Peter is the same gaze Jesus gave him after he denied him three times — the gaze of mercy.
In this special Year of Mercy, Pope Francis calls us to behold the loving and merciful gaze of Jesus and Mary so that we might better be their eyes of mercy to others.
Given the dates of my two near-death experiences (both on Marian feasts), I tend to be watched over more closely by some when approaching any of the many solemnities of Mary that are celebrated throughout the year. Being watched over is not something we independent types naturally like, but when the ones doing so have the “eyes of mercy,” we understand that it’s all about love.
God is love, St. John tells, and mercy is the highest expression of God’s love for us. Christ, though he rejects sin, never rejects the sinner. But to receive God’s mercy we need to express it. It is not that God withholds His mercy if we don’t express it, but that it becomes sterile and dead in us when we don’t. How truly harmful it is to ourselves and to others when we do not “forgive those who trespass against us.”
Think of the difference between two bodies of water in the Holy Land. The Sea of Galilee receives its waters from the north and gives outlet to the waters in the form of the Jordan River. The Jordan’s waters are considered life-giving, its banks filled with fruit trees and nearby fields irrigated by it. And the Jordan’s waters also became the first waters of baptism. But though the Dead Sea receives the life-giving waters of the Jordan as its source, it has no outlet, and thus its name describes its condition.
So it is in receiving the gifts of God, and particularly that of His mercy. If we do not give as a gift what we receive from God, what should be life-giving instead becomes poisonous and sterile.
After His baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus marked the beginning of His public ministry by reading aloud in the Synagogue of Nazareth the words of the prophet Isaiah. In doing so, he described His mission of mercy and ours as well:
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn; to place on those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, to give them oil of gladness in place of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit. They will be called oaks of justice, planted by the Lord to show his glory.”(ISAIAH 61: 1-3)
We, too, are called to “bring glad tidings” to others, to heal and bring comfort and to lift up the lowly.
How do we become the eyes of mercy to others? Begin with regular confession, the greatest way to experience God’s mercy. Here, I repeat the words that St. John Paul II so often pronounced during his pontificate: “Be not afraid!”
Don’t be afraid to go to confession. Jesus awaits you in the confessional — it is the encounter of the misery of sin that afflicts our soul with God’s mercy. And in receiving God’s mercy, pray also for the gift of a merciful heart.
Bring yourself and your prayers as often as you can before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He thirsts for you, and wants to refresh you with His living water so that you, too, might refresh others with His love and mercy.
Put the corporal and spiritual works of mercy into action. For just as we are creatures of body and soul, so, too, must the medicine of mercy be applied generously to the areas of disease and wounds that are both physical and spiritual. Ask Mary, our Mother of Mercy, to teach and to help you.
Each New Year, I take up anew the prayer that is also my episcopal motto: “Jesus, I trust in you.” It was the simple prayer of St. Faustina, who Jesus called to be His special emissary of mercy to an ailing world. Take up daily the Divine Mercy Chaplet and pray daily for God’s “mercy upon us and the whole world.”
We are all called to be emissaries of God’s mercy, to be His loving eyes of mercy and to bring the divine remedy for the poison that afflicts so many in the world today.