Our Gospel reading today is a continuation of last Sunday’s reading. You recall that in the beatitudes Our Lord invites us to tread the path that He became for us, and through His own example we are strengthened and encouraged to live as He did. Today Our Lord explains by means of concrete examples how it is that we live by this new and demanding logic: Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Lk. 6:36). This exhortation to mercy is an echo of the fifth beatitude recorded in St.
Matthew’s Gospel: Blessed are merciful for they will obtain mercy (Mt. 5:7); confirmed by the very last words of our reading today: For the measure you give is the measure you get back (Lk. 6:38). It is impossible to do this without the aid of divine grace and without our own intimate knowledge and appreciation of God’s mercy.
Mercy is a word often heard in our worship. Kyrie eleison or ‘Lord have mercy’ is one of the most-often repeated phrases in the liturgies of the Church. Its origin of course is biblical. In the Gospel of St. Luke that we are reading this year, it appears in the parable of the publican and the Pharisee (18:9-14) in which the despised tax collector cries who out ‘Lord, have mercy on me a sinner’, is contrasted with
the smug Pharisee who believes he has no need for forgiveness. Indeed, what sense does this cry for mercy make in the absence of a humble acknowledgement of our sinfulness and our need for God’s grace? I have alluded to the disturbing trend in many parishes of omitting the penitential rite of the Mass. This is both a violation of liturgical law, which priests are bound to observe and a dangerously erroneous approach to the Mystery of Christ the Messiah who came to call sinners to repentance and revealing the Father to be rich in mercy (Eph. 2:4).
Mercy. The word for it in Hebrew is hesed; perhaps best translated as steadfast or loyal love. It describes how God relates to us, His people: genuinely, immutably, and loyally. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Lk. 6:36). In exhorting us to relate to others in this manner, merciful, just as [our] Father is merciful, Our Lord exhorts us to make our own the qualities we most often associate with deep friendship: loyalty, fidelity, love. Sacred Scripture speaks beautifully of friendship. A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter. He that has found one has found a treasure (Sir. 6:14). A faithful friend is the medicine of life; and they that fear the Lord shall find him (Eccl. 6:16). Because we fear the Lord; that is, because we acknowledge
His sovereignty and power and believe in the name of His Son, we have found such a friend in Christ Our Saviour who is for us the medicine of life because He is both the Word of Truth and the Bread of Life.
He has said: You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (Jn. 15:14-15).
If it is truly an awesome thing that we can know the mind and the heart of God; it is even a greater thing that we can become His very friends. This is at the heart of our discipleship and when our friendship with Our Lord is steadfast, faithful and loyal we truly become His friends; and we ourselves become capable of good friendships. As we worship, so we become. St. Thomas Aquinas observed that there is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship. We rightly speak of the Saints as the friends of God; and as we become familiar with the manner of their life we discover also that their great capacity for profound and loyal human friendships was the result of their friendship with God. We can safely conclude that those who truly love God and who worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23) more perfectly possess the qualities that define true friendship.
In less than two weeks we shall begin our observance of the holy season of Lent, our yearly, communal response to a call for deeper conversion in Christ. It would be a good thing for us to begin to give some thought to the Lenten discipline that we will undertake. In addition to our Lenten fast and abstinence, I propose that we undertake our Lenten discipline with a view to deepening our own personal friendship with Christ Our Saviour; so that first, we might truly recognize Him to be our sturdy shelter, our treasure and our medicine of life, and, that in turn, we might be all this for our own friends. As we worship, so we become.
For true friendship there must be some common ground. Friends always have something in common. Friendships are the result of virtue. They are based on a goodness in oneself that another can love. Friends come to discover the good in each other and the relationship grows. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that to increase our friendship with God it is necessary to increase the common ground between us and Him. Therefore one must increase the Divine life in one’s soul to grow in one’s friendship with God. This increase comes about through a deepening in our souls…Only more intense acts of charity will actually increase our charity or friendship with God.
And so, in view of this truth, I propose that we do more than simply resolve to undertake acts of penance this Lent or increase their number. Let the intensity of our charity or friendship with God be expressed in an honest effort to increase the common ground between us and Him. This common ground is the life of grace that can only be nurtured by prayer; deep, personal prayer that always acknowledges our utter dependence on this gift of grace.
No prayer expresses this dependence on the grace of God not only of the individual soul but also of the community of the Church than what are known as the Seven Penitential Psalms; a grouping of psalms expressive of sorrow for sin. As Lent approaches I propose them to you as a daily or weekly Lenten prayer, especially in view of the crisis the Church is currently facing. You can pray one a day or all seven every day. Had we prayed these psalms regularly we would not be experiencing this terrible crisis. These psalms speak of the misery we experience when through sin we have distanced ourselves from the steadfast love of God; but they also speak of the joy of repentance and all of them end with a praise of the merciful love of God that banishes sin and conquers even death itself. May our prayer deepen our experience of the grace of salvation and the knowledge of God’s mercy; that in turn, formed by divine teaching, we may be merciful, just as [our] Father is merciful. ⧾