I have received many messages of love and support since my message last week, and I feel blessed to belong to a community that feels called, like Isaiah, Paul and the apostles in our weekend readings, and who holds the belief that even though we feel unworthy we share a common mission which is of God and from God.
During the week, I came across the following words about shalom which I think reflects some of my experiences of these past weeks.
A Dutch theologian Hoekendijk talked about 'shalomising' the world. Shalom is much more than 'inner peace' or the absence of war. Shalom is really 'social well-being’. It means that our destinies are connected - your pain is my pain; your gain my gain. We cannot have shalom without an awareness that our destinies are intertwined. So if I am incredibly wealthy and you live in a slum, then I cannot really have shalom until you share my wealth. If you live with injustice and I do nothing to change that, then I too suffer. I may pretend to have shalom - but I can't really because shalom is a social happening. It’s about living with integrity and dignity and enabling this for others. It is a love that will not gloat over the failures of others; will not judge and condemn.
In sharing the pain of the loss of our granddaughter, Ada, I have become incredibly aware that this pain has connected with the pain of others, and in the sharing of this aching, we have brought about a shalom which otherwise would not have been. Who would have thought that such deep pain can be responsible for peace, which in turn brings about mercy, grace and justice?
This reflection seemed to gel with some of Richard Rohr’s writings during the week as well. On Friday 5 February he wrote the following words as part of the theme for the week, Everything is Grace:
Mercy is not a virtue that you choose to put on one day. Mercy has to be your deepest way of seeing, a generosity of spirit that draws from your identity, your deepest dignity, which is love. It is basically a worldview of abundance, wherein I do not have to withhold, protect, or hoard myself.
I liken this deepest dignity, this True Self who we are at our core, to a diamond buried deep within us and constantly forming under the intense pressure of our lives. We must search for and uncover this diamond, freeing it from the surrounding debris of guilt and shame. In a sense, our True Self must, like Jesus, be resurrected. That process is not resuscitation of something old and tired, but a wonderful discovery of something always new--and already perfectly formed.
For the True Self, there is nothing to hate, reject, deny, or judge as unworthy or unnecessary. It has "been forgiven much and so [it] loves much" (Luke 7:47). Once you live inside the Big Body of love, compassion and mercy come easily. The detours of the false self were all just delays, bumps in the road, pressure points that created something new in the long run, as pressure does to carbon deep beneath the earth. God uses everything to construct this hard and immortal diamond, our core of love. Diamonds are said to be the hardest substance on this earth. It is this strong diamond of love that will always be stronger than death (Song of Songs 8:6).
All, absolutely everything, is now made use of in this great economy of grace. "Grace is everywhere," Georges Bernanos said both at the end of his great novel and at the very end of his life. Likewise, nearing her death, Thérèse of Lisieux said, "Everything is a grace!" Living from your core of love, you can now enjoy unearned love in yourself and allow it in everyone else too. This patient mining process will make you compassionate and forgiving with the unfinished diamonds of others who are on the same journey as you are. This True Self cannot find or know God without bringing everybody else along for the same ride. It is one great big finding and one great big being found, all at the same time. Surely this is the meaning of the Day of Yahweh, Dame Julian's "Great Deed," and God's Final Judgement.
You do not find the Great Love except by finding your True Self along with it, and you cannot find your True Self without falling into the Great Love. As you fall, you will discover that the meaning of the universe, at its deepest and final level, is only "mercy within mercy within mercy”.
So in these moments of our lives, we are helping each other to be formed as diamonds. This week Fr Richard Shortall SJ, our Missionary of Mercy (MOM), is in Rome to be commissioned by Pope Francis for this role.
He will have dinner with Pope Francis on Tuesday and then concelebrate Mass with him and another 700 Missionaries of Mercy. How amazing for him and for us! He will return to us next week to begin his travels and his presence around our diocese for the year. He will be a ‘MOM on wheels’ and will reside in a motorhome outside many of our churches, and be the person of mercy for those who come. Fr Richard has responded to the call, and I hope and pray that people will respond to the invitation to seek mercy, compassion, healing and forgiveness. Please consider this invitation for yourself and for others whom you know are hurting, and seeking the face, hands and heart of our good and gracious God. Our MOM is not just for Catholics, but for anyone who is seeking a moment of grace. The locations for our MOM can be found on our website or by phoning our diocesan offices. Because:
Yahweh, Yahweh, a God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and abounding in faithfulness. For the thousandth generation, Yahweh maintains his kindness, forgiving all our faults, transgressions, and sins. (Exodus 34:6-7)
In this passage are found five generous and glorious qualities that describe the heart and soul of Israel's belief. Somehow, against all odds and neighbours, they were able to experience a God who was merciful, compassionate/gracious, steadfast in love, tenaciously faithful and forgiving. This is the dynamic centre of their entire belief system, as it should be ours, and like all spiritual mystery, seems to be endlessly generative and fruitful, culminating in the full-blown − and literally unthinkable − concept of grace.
Thank you for allowing me to keep making sense of the ‘wood of the cross’ which we share. I know this mystery will keep unfolding for each of us, especially during Lent, and I also know that the joy of being a Christian is that we discover life and its meaning in community, by virtue of our baptism – we were signed with the cross, we were clothed in and enlightened by Christ, and we accepted the Gospel as our rule of life.
I hope each of us makes the most of this Lenten season, our Year of Mercy, our Missionary of Mercy, our 150 Year celebrations as a diocese and just being part of a parish community where grace, love and mercy are shared.