Friday, January 08, 2016

An Ocean of Mercy

By Colleen O'Sullivan
It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the town where Jesus was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”  Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.”  And the leprosy left him immediately.  (Luke 5:12-13)

We ask how long human evil will continue to sow violence and hatred in our world, reaping innocent victims.  How can the fullness of time have come when we are witnessing hordes of men, women and children fleeing war, hunger and persecution, ready to risk their lives simply to encounter respect for their fundamental rights?  A torrent of misery, swollen by sin, seems to contradict the fullness of time brought by Christ.

And yet this swollen torrent is powerless before the ocean of mercy which floods our world.  All of us are called to immerse ourselves in this ocean, to let ourselves be reborn, to overcome the indifference which blocks solidarity, and to leave behind the false neutrality which prevents sharing.  (Pope, Francis, Homily, January 1, 2016)

These are powerful words spoken by Pope Francis in this Jubilee Year of Mercy.  “A torrent of misery swollen by sin.”  Yes, as I look around, I can see that.  But, I suspect that somewhere, in some place, in every year, jubilee or not, there are torrents of misery to be found. 

Just consider the plight of that leper who seeks Jesus’ healing in today’s Gospel.  Whether he actually has leprosy or any one of a number of other skin ailments labeled as such in Jesus’ day, his life is one of abject misery and excruciating loneliness.  Lepers are quite literally consigned to the very furthest margins of society.  This poor soul and all the others like him are prohibited from living in towns or villages.  They are told to keep their distance from any other human beings.  A life lived without human contact, without the comfort of human touch, without the camaraderie of community isn’t much of a life.

As the torrent of misery sweeps by, I can see elderly people in nursing homes, memory care units or assisted living situations whose families have the means to put them there but lack the largesse of heart to visit   In the rushing waters are children isolated by bullying at school, women who ae victims of domestic violence, people who sleep on the streets or in their cars for lack of a more comfortable bed.  There are people of every color, ethnic origin, nationality, and faith crying out for a place to call home.  They are all “lepers” of a sort, condemned to be such by our lack of caring or our discomfort in the face of their suffering or even our harsh judgments on how they come to find themselves in such circumstances.

Then Jesus enters in and floods our world with his ocean of mercy.  By the laws of his day, Jesus shouldn’t be close enough to that leper to even notice him.  But Jesus sees him lying on the ground and speaks to him.  Jesus doesn’t worry about germs or disease; he sees a sick and lonely man, whose isolation would probably kill him before any disease could.  Jesus does the unthinkable.  He touches the leper. He heals him and gives the man his life back.

Jesus invites you and me, particularly during this Year of Mercy, to work with him, to be conduits of this ocean of mercy to the rest of the world.  We have had our sins forgiven on the Cross.  We have experienced new life through the waters of baptism.  We have the promise of eternal life through the power of the Resurrection.  You and I know what it is to be loved by God.  Jesus simply wants us to share all that with our neighbors here at home and to the farthest reaches of our world.

January is still young.  There’s still time to make another New Year’s resolution or two.  During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, what one thing can you do to share Jesus’ compassion and mercy with someone else?

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