MOSAIC Spring 2016 - Page 5

MERCIFUL LIKE THE FATHER Pope Francis asks us to return to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, particularly in conjunction with fulfilling the requirements of the Year of Mercy indulgence. Image ©AngiePhotos. Through this “most intimate co-operation of the Holy Spirit and the Church” (CCC, no. 1108), Christ truly makes himself present to believers under the veil of perceptible signs—the Sacraments. As she celebrates these signs in fidelity to her Spouse who gave them to her, the Church is continually renewed and rejuvenated by his love (cf. Zep. 3:17). “In the liturgy of the New Covenant every liturgical action, especially the celebration of the Eucharist and the Sacraments, is an encounter between Christ and the Church” (CCC, no. 1097). Again and again, until Jesus comes (1 Cor 11:26), the Bride is able to recline peacefully on the breast of her Savior, as did the beloved disciple at the Last Supper (Jn 13:23), and to drink freely from the flow of living water at its wellspring (cf. Jn 7:37; Rv 22:17b). Super-abundant Grace As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, so he says to everyone: “If you recognized the gift of God and who it is that is asking you for something to drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (Jn 4:10). But tragically, we live in a time when a majority of those dwelling in the materially developed and formerly Christian nations, including the greater portion of those who identify themselves as Catholic Christians, have recognized neither the gift nor the Giver; hence their response to the Sacraments is largely one of indifference. As disciples of the Risen One, sent forth to baptize all nations (Mt 28:19), we Catholics are not at liberty to accept the status quo. Our own baptismal identity (not to mention the Magisterium of all the recent popes) impels us to find new ways of breaking through the haze of cultural apathy and inviting all people to a life-changing encounter with the Lord. In the context of the New Evangelization, then, we must endeavor to change the perception that outsiders have of our Sacraments. Far from being unintelligible, archaic rituals, these are living and active channels of God’s super-abundant grace, leading to a fullness of life (see Jn 10:10). Each celebration of a Sacrament is an encounter with the mercy that all persons desperately need, whether they are conscious of it or not. Blood and the Water First, however, it may often be necessary in our conversations with postmodern people to overcome a false conception of mercy. When Christians affirm that the love of God toward mankind is merciful, we do not mean that love ignores or excuses sin. We mean that this love has the character of an undeserved response by the All-holy One to the unholiness of man. Christ did not find his Bride spotless and unblemished; he first had to “[give] himself up for her in order to sanctify her by cleansing her with water and the word” (Eph 5:25b-26). The Father’s free gift of mercy required the Son to “[become] obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8b). For the love of Christ to flow freely and abundantly upon us, his heart had to be pierced (Jn 19:34). The dual flow of blood and water that issued forth from the Savior’s side, in which the Fathers of the Church saw a prefigurement of Baptism and the Eucharist, is the only sufficient remedy for the misery of human bondage to sin. Mercy Must Be Accepted “Justification follows upon God’s merciful initiative of offering forgiveness. It reconciles man with God. It frees from the enslavement to sin, and it heals,” explains the Catholic catechism (no. 1990). But the merciful offer must be accepted; the gift must be received. No one can be reconciled to God, set free, and made whole without appropriating the grace of justification through the means that he himself established, namely, personal repentance, faith, and Baptism (Rom 3:2324; Mk 16:16; Acts 2:38). God “desires everyone to be saved” (1 Tim 2:4). Nevertheless, it is equally true, according to the unequivocal teaching of Jesus, that only those who recognize their need for divine forgiveness by humbly acknowledging their own sinfulness before God can actually be made righteous (Lk 18:13-14). “If we claim that we are sinless, we are only deceiving ourselves, and the truth is