Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting into the Deep
January 22, 2016
There are many ways to live out the Year of Mercy, but I think perhaps the most fruitful is to ponder and imitate Jesus’ own merciful example. The theme of this Year of Mercy is “Merciful like the Father,” and no one has shown us how to emulate the Father’s Mercy better than the “image of the invisible God” himself, the one who identified himself to St. Faustina Kowalska as “Mercy Incarnate.”
All of Jesus’ life is a manifestation of God’s loving mercy, but when we look at the demonstrations of that merciful love in the Gospel, we see that they fall into five general categories. In Greek, the evangelists introduce them all by the same verb, splanchnizomai, which in English is normally translated as Jesus’ “heart was moved with pity.” Since splanchna, however, means “viscera” or “guts,” a more literal translation would be that Jesus was “sick to his stomach” with compassion as he saw people in need.
Jesus did five different things in response to these intense cramps of compassion, things that the Church continues to do and every Christian is called to do with particular focus during this Year of Mercy.
The first was to teach. St. Mark tells us, “When he saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity or them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mk 6:34). We need the truth! “Teach me your ways, O Lord,” we pray in the Psalms, “so that I may walk in your truth” (Ps 86). Jesus — who identified himself as the Truth and said he had come had come to “witness to the truth” and to “proclaim the Gospel to the poor” — hrough his preaching and teaching sought mercifully to cure us of our spiritual cluelessness. The Church has always carried out the spiritual work of mercy of “instructing the ignorant,” through the teaching of the magisterium, through schools, universities, catechetical programs, daily and Sunday homilies and more. This ministry of the truth is not adequately appreciated in a relativistic age, but Jesus wants us to receive the mercy of his astonishing, amazing and authoritative teaching and learn it well enough so that we can mercifully pass it on.
The second thing was to heal. The evangelists tell us often that Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for the multitudes and he “cured their sick” one-by-one (Mk 14:14; Mk 9:27; Mt 20:34; Mk 1:41; Lk 7:13). He healed lepers, cripples, the blind, the deaf, hemorrhaging women, the possessed, even raising the dead. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the term splanchnizomai is used to describe why the Samaritan drew near the dying man. The Church continues this work of mercy, caring for the sick, founding hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, ministering to the inform with parishes and so many other ways. In this Jubilee Year, we’re all called to a similar compassion, recognizing that in every ill man or woman, Jesus is saying, “I was sick and you cared for me.”
The third was to feed. “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd,” Jesus said at the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish (Mt 15:32; Mk 8:2). God always responds to our prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” and Jesus wanted us to continue that ministry of feeding, commanding us to to invite beggars, the blind, and the crippled to our dinner parties and to see him in the hungry. The Church continues that mission of mercy in soup kitchens, pantries, St. Vincent de Paul Conference work, Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services and more. During this Year of Mercy, Jesus is hoping that we will be sick to our stomachs that so many go to bed with empty stomachs.
Fourth, Jesus forgave. In Jesus’ famous parable, the verb splanchnizomai is used to describe how the Father, “filled with compassion,” forgave his Prodigal Son. Filled with that compassion, Jesus forgave the paralyzed man, the sinful woman who with tears washed his feet, the tax collector Zacchaeus, the Samaritan Woman, the woman caught in adultery, St. Peter, the Good Thief and many others. The Lamb of God, who had come to take away the sins of the world, was denigrated as a “friend of tax collectors and sinners,” and proved his love by dying for them, begging the Father’s pardon from the Cross. The Church continues this work of God’s mercy, reconciling sinners through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, and helping people to learn how to forgive those who have wronged them. This work of forgiveness, receiving it from God and giving it toward others, is the most important and the foundation of all the works of mercy.
The last act of mercy is not as conspicuous as the others. When Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for the crowds because they were “mangled and abandoned like sheep without a shepherd,” he told his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few, so pray the Master of the Harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” (Mt 9:36). Then Jesus immediately called from among those same praying disciples twelve whom he would send out as apostles. Praying for vocations to continue Jesus’ saving mission, and then responding to Jesus when he calls us, is an essential work of mercy. God wants, and the suffering world needs, “laborers” of mercy, hard-workers who, sick to their stomach over the needs of others, will carry out together with Jesus his continued work of teaching, healing, feeding, forgiving, praying and calling. During this Holy Year, Jesus is calling us to see that we’re the response to the prayers of the saints and sinners across the centuries until the present day.
This Jubilee Year is a time when Jesus wants us, with him, to observe how many are lost and instruct them how to follow Him who is the Way; to see how many are suffering physically, psychologically and spiritually and become nurses of the Divine Physician; to notice the crowds starving physically or spiritually and give them the nourishment God provides; to spot the multitudes carrying the wounds of unexpiated guilt or severed relationships and bring them to receive and extend God’s mercy; and in all of this, to become laborers of mercy and to pray insistently that others join us in becoming the compassionate “upset stomach” of the Mystical Body of Christ.