TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Reflecting on God's mercy

It was good to be in the bush at Kilaben Bay today (Sunday) with about 300 other people who gathered to walk the Way of the Cross. At each of the fourteen stations, those gathered reflected on God’s mercy and the invitation to be people of mercy. The opening refrain invited us with the words, “Gather us in mercy, Lord.” The theme around mercy was taken from Ephesians 2:4 – God is rich in mercy.

Each year St Joseph’s High School Aberdeen brings a bus load of more than fifty students and teachers, enjoying a picnic lunch at the water’s edge and then all being part of one of the Stations, before heading back on the bus with a dinner stop at Singleton. St Joseph’s Primary Merriwa also joined us this year – a long trip for these young students and their parents and teachers who portrayed The Last Supper with meaning. And I know there is a bus coming from the Upper Hunter on Tuesday for the Chrism Mass.

I was in the Upper Hunter on Saturday to present a Unit in the Formation for Ministry Program which is being offered there at the moment. I enjoyed breaking open with them the Unit on Integrity in the Service of the Church. There is a real spirit of camaraderie among the parishes of the Upper Hunter and I love being with them. They share their pride and energy with me and are a reflection of the ‘Joy of the Gospel.’

Of course it was good to be with the other schools, young people and parishioners from around the diocese at the Way of the Cross and about six young people from St. Paul’s Booragul played the music and sang our last hymn – Kevin Bates’ “A Trusting Psalm”. The people of St Joseph’s Toronto and St John Vianney, Morisset worked hard to provide the hundreds who gathered with afternoon tea. Hospitality is a key ingredient to a good parish and each year that is our experience on Palm Sunday.

So the bush provides a great place to begin our Holy Week as a diocesan community. This year we also celebrated the significant improvement to the last three stations, courtesy of Jack and Jess Sobb. Jack was instrumental in beginning the Ecumenical Way of the Cross in 1967 and he and Jess were with us today (Sunday) to pray the Way. If you get the opportunity please go out to St Joseph’s Parish, Toronto, which can be found off Wangi Road at Kilaben Bay, make the Way of the Cross pilgrimage through the bush, sit and contemplate the last moments of Jesus’ life and reflect upon your own life as mystery.

I would like to share with you the introduction to this year’s Way of the Cross. I invite you to contemplate the invitation to mercy and the image of our Church as Mother Church as you journey through this Holy Week. It is interesting that the theme chosen this year for the Way of the Cross is in keeping with the announcement by Pope Francis a few weeks ago that there will be an extraordinary jubilee year beginning on 8th December this year and finishing on 20th November, 2016. This will be a Holy Year of Mercy, to highlight the Catholic Church’s mission to be a witness to mercy.

The mercy of God is a constant theme of the Covenant with Israel in the Old Testament. Jesus, as the New Covenant, gives God’s mercy flesh and bones through his actions and words. We hear of God’s great love – ‘rich in mercy’! Through this abundant and ever-flowing mercy we have been made ‘alive together with Christ’ (Ephesians 2:5).

Pope Francis gave an address in St. Peter’s Square on 10th September 2014 called Works of Mercy. In this address he refers to the Church as Mother Church and how this Church teaches us mercy. He says:

A good educator focuses on the essential. She doesn’t get lost in details, but passes on what really matters so the child or the student can find the meaning and the joy of life. It’s the truth. In the Gospel the essential thing is mercy. God sent his Son, God made himself man in order to save us, that is, in order to grant us his mercy. Jesus says this clearly, summarising his teaching for the disciples: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). Can there be a Christian who isn’t merciful? No. A Christian must necessarily be merciful, because this is the centre of the Gospel. And faithful to this teaching, the Church can only repeat the same thing to her children: “Be merciful”, as the Father is, and as Jesus was. Mercy.

And thus the Church conducts herself like Jesus. She does not teach theoretical lessons on love, on mercy. She does not spread to the world a philosophy, a way of wisdom.... Of course, Christianity is also all of this, but as an effect, by reflex. Mother Church, like Jesus, teaches by example, and the words serve to illuminate the meaning of her actions.

Mother Church teaches us to give food and drink to those who are hungry and thirsty, to clothe those who are naked. And how does she do this? She does it through the example of so many saints, men and women, who did this in an exemplary fashion; but she does it also through the example of so many dads and mamas, who teach their children that what we have extra is for those who lack the basic necessities. It is important to know this. The rule of hospitality has always been sacred in the simplest Christian families: there is always a plate and a bed for the one in need. Mother Church teaches us to be close to those who are sick. So many saints served Jesus in this manner! And so many simple men and women, every day, practise this work of mercy in a hospital ward, or in a rest home, or in their own home, assisting a sick person.

Mother Church teaches us to be close to those who are in prison. “But no, this is dangerous, those are bad people.” But each of us is capable.... Listen carefully to this: each of us is capable of doing the same thing that that man or that woman in prison did. All of us have the capacity to sin and to do the same, to make mistakes in life. They are no worse than you and me! Mercy overcomes every wall, every barrier, and leads you to always seek the face of the person. And it is mercy which changes the heart and the life, which can regenerate a person and allow him or her to integrate into society in a new way.

Mother Church teaches us to be close to those who are neglected and die alone. That is what the blessed Teresa did on the streets of Calcutta; that is what has been and is done by many Christians who are not afraid to hold the hand of someone who is about to leave this world. And here too, mercy gives peace to those who pass away and those who remain, allowing them to feel that God is greater than death, and that, abiding in Him, even the last parting is a “see you again”,

Dear brothers and sisters, this is how the Church is Mother, by teaching her children works of mercy. She learned this manner from Jesus, she learned that this is what’s essential for salvation. It’s not enough to love those who love us. Jesus says that pagans do this. It’s not enough to do good to those who do good to us. To change the world for the better it is necessary to do good to those who are not able to return the favour, as the Father has done with us, by giving us Jesus. How much have we paid for our redemption? Nothing, totally free! Doing good without expecting anything in return. This is what the Father did with us and we must do the same. Do good and carry on!

How beautiful it is to live in the Church, in our Mother Church who teaches us these things which Jesus taught us. Let us thank the Lord, who has given us the grace of having the Church as Mother, she who teaches us the way of mercy, which is the way of life. Let us thank the Lord.

It's easy to look at the things of this world to solve our challenges and obstacles in life, but when we submit our lives to Christ, His grace, mercy, peace and love will bring true fulfillment to our lives.

So through this Holy Week I ask you to pray for our church and for each other that we may be witnesses of the mercy of God.

Lord, let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in you.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.