The Link between the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity and the Jubilee of Mercy, January 19, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
P3 (Prayer, Penance and Pub) Night of Recollection for Young Adults
Holy Innocents Church, Manhattan
January 19, 2016


To listen to the audio of tonight’s conference, please click below: 


The text that guided tonight’s conference is below: 

  • Our holy hour tonight is taking place within the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. And so in the presence of the Lord in the Holy Eucharist, who prayed repeatedly when he gave us his Body and Blood for the first time during the Last Supper, that we might be one just as the Father is in him and he is in the Father, we join him in making that prayer. It’s important for any of us who pray the words “Thy will be done!,” who love the Lord Jesus, to reflect on what Jesus was doing during the Last Supper. He knew well what was coming on the following day. The horror of it led to hematidrosis — sweating blood — later in the Garden of Gethsemane. But in the Upper Room, rather than praying for strength, rather than praying that the cup of suffering be spared him, he was instead praying first for the apostles and then for all of us who would receive the Gospel through the apostles and their successors. And he wasn’t just praying for us in general. He was praying for something specific: that we might be one, that our union with each other might be like the union among Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Trinity. That’s what Jesus was asking the Father for. And we know from what Jesus publicly stated before he raised from the dead, that the Father always hears his prayer, that God the Father has objectively granted that gift of unity to the unbelievable measure of the Trinity.
  • But the problem is we haven’t received and responded to that gift. In the early days of Christianity, there was the division between the Greeks and the Jews especially with regard to the care of widows. There were the numerous heresies that divided the Church: Gnosticism, Marcionism, Sabellianism, Donatism, Arianism, Nestorianism, Eutychism, Monophysitism, Monotheletism and the Iconoclasm controversy. Since 1054, the Church has been divided between Catholics and Orthodox. For the last 499 years, the Church in the West has been divided between Catholics and Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostals and tens of thousands of other Protestant denominations. And within the Catholic Church, there are divisions between traditionalists, and conservatives, and progressives, and liberals, between Lefebvrites, so-called Vatican II, so-called JP II generation and so many other divisions. Parishes are formed by affinity far more than pure Catholicity. The divisions keep multiplying.
  • Why is this? And what can be done about it?
    • At the end of the day, division happens in the Church because of the work of the ancient serpent. Just like he divided Adam and Eve from God and each other, just as he introduced internal divisions in each of them between soul and body, divisions that led in the next generation to Cain’s killing Eve and so many other consequences, so the devil, the diabolos (or one who throws off course) is always at work seeking to separate. And we use our freedom to consent to these temptations. We give into pride, and envy, anger and greed, all of which clearly not only separate us from God but divide us from others. And others’ actions through consenting to the same capital sins compounds the damage. All of this totally contrary to the communion based on the loving communion among Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Blessed Trinity.
    • So what’s the remedy? What’s needed for Christian Unity? Some will say prayer, and they’re right, uniting ourselves to Jesus’ prayer. Others will say concrete works together with others. And, again, totally correctly. But what’s needed in response to division is reconciliation. And that brings us to this ecclesiastical Jubilee Year of Mercy. What’s essential for Christian Unity is the healing of God’s mercy for all our sins against unity, so that, rich in mercy, we may forgive others to the extent that they have personally wronged us. We need to rediscover the Gospel paradigm of forgiving 70 x 7 times. We need to remember that God has forgiven us 10,000 talents — the equivalent of $6 billion dollars in today’s money — and that therefore whatever anyone has done against us or against our ancestors is about 100 denarii, or $13,000, small change compared to the billionaires God has made us through his forgiveness. It’s sad that sometimes in conversations with the Orthodox, they still bring up what the Crusaders did to the women of Constantinople in 1204. Horrible atrocities, sins and crimes. But it was 800 years ago! Likewise Catholics and Protestants in England, for example, can look back at the mutual persecutions against each other, Henry VIII’s killing of Saints Thomas More, John Fisher and so many others, Cranmer’s persecutions of the Jesuits and recusants, Bloody Mary’s persecution of the Anglicans, and bring all of that into the present. Sometimes Catholics and Protestants in our country can even treat each other as if what divides us dwarfs what unites us. We need to receive God’s mercy and extend that mercy to each other. Reconciled with God, we seek reconciliation with each other. That’s one of the real fruits of this Year of Mercy we’ve begun.
  • We need this Year of Mercy.
    • We’re living, Pope Francis has said, in a “kairos of mercy,” a special time in which mercy is needed. He’s given St. John Paul II credit for this intuition and John Paul II believed it was a special time of mercy because he thought that one of the greatest crises the human race faces is unexpiated guilt. After two World Wars and the Cold War, after the Holocaust, after the genocides in Armenia, the Ukraine, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, after so many atrocities from tyrannical governments, after the waterfalls of blood flowing from more than two billion abortions worldwide, after the sins that have destroyed so many families, after so much physical and sexual abuse, after lengthy crime logs in newspapers every day, after the scourge of terrorism, after so much hurt and pain, the terrible weight of collective guilt crushes not only individuals but burdens structures and whole societies.
    • The modern world is like one big Lady Macbeth, compulsively washing our hands to remove the blood from them, but there is no earthly detergent powerful enough to take the blemishes away. We can converse with psychiatrists and psychologists, but their words and prescriptions can only help us deal with our guilt, not eliminate it. We can confess ourselves to bartenders, but they can only dispense Absolut vodka, not absolution, and inebriation never brings expiation. We can escape reality through distractions and addictions — drugs, sports, entertainment, materialism, food, power, lust, and others — but none can adequately anaesthetize the pain in our soul from the suffering we’ve caused or witnessed.
    • Whether we admit it, whether we realize it or not, we’re longing for redemption. We’re yearning for a second, third or seventy-times-seventh chance. We’re pining for forgiveness, reconciliation, and a restoration of goodness. We’re hankering for a giant reset button for ourselves and for the world. And if we can’t have that personal and collective do over, then at least we ache for liberation from the past and, like Zacchaeus or Ebenezer Scrooge, for a chance make up for has been done. We want atonement. And God responds to our age’s great desire and need for expiation with his mercy.
  • To live this year well, each of us needs to grasp that “I personally” need it because we’re sinners.
    • An authentically Christian discipleship, Cardinal Bergoglio said to interviewers Francesca Ambrogetti and Sergio Rubin in 2010, begins with the recognition that we’re sinners in need of salvation and the concomitant experience that that Savior looks on us with merciful love.
    • “For me, feeling oneself a sinner is one of the most beautiful things that can happen to a person, if it leads to its ultimate consequences” the future Pope Francis said, in sharp contrast to the affirmative pop psychologies of our age.
    • There’s a reason why at the Easter Vigil, he asserted, we make St. Augustine’s insight our own and sing in the Exultet, “O Felix culpa,” rejoicing in the “happy sin” that brought us to experience the love of the Redeemer.
    • “When a person becomes conscious that he is a sinner and is saved by Jesus,” Cardinal Bergoglio affirmed, “he confesses this truth to himself and discovers the pearl of great price, the treasure buried in the field. He discovers the greatest thing in life: that there is someone who loves him profoundly, who gave his life for him.”
    • But he laments that many Catholics have sadly not had this fundamental Christian experience.
    • “There are people who believe themselves to be good, who in some way have accepted the catechism and the Christian faith, but who do not have the experience of having been saved,” he said.
    • He then gave a powerful metaphor of what the true experience of God’s mercy is like.
    • “It’s one thing when people tell us a story about someone’s risking his life to save a boy drowning in the river. It’s something else when I’m the one drowning and someone gives his life to save me!”
    • That’s what Christ did for us to save us from the eternal watery grave of the deluge of sin. From heaven he jumped into the toxic sea of sin in which we were drowning, taking on our nature in order to be able to push us to safety, and died in the process. Sometimes we are so focused on the happy ending of Christ’s Resurrection that we can fail to appreciate the heroism and love of Good Friday. If a stranger or family member gave his life to save ours, we would never be able to forget it and the rest of our life would be filled with reverential gratitude. That’s the way we should approach Christ and what he did.
    • Unfortunately, the future pope said, “There are people to whom you tell this metaphor who don’t see it, who don’t want to see it, who don’t want to know what happened to that boy, who always have escape hatches from the situation of drowning and who therefore lack the experience of who they are.”
    • Then he unforgettably concluded: “I believe that only we great sinners have that grace.”
    • To know who we are, to know who God is, to know the great love he has for us, we need to grasp that we’re great sinners who have been saved by God.
    • This is the key to understand Pope Francis’ self-identity.
    • When he was asked in his first papal interview, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?,” he replied, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner… The best summary, the one that comes from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon” with love.
    • That’s what his papal motto, Miserando atque Eligendo, indicates, referring to how he received his priestly calling in the very act of being looked upon with merciful love by God in the confessional as a 16 year old.
    • That’s how he responded when they formally asked him in the Sistine Chapel if he accepted his election as pontiff. Spontaneously in Latin, he said, “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in a spirit of penance, I accept.”
    • This Jubilee of Mercy is a much-needed opportunity for us to rediscover with Pope Francis who we really are: not just sinners but great sinners — but even more greatly loved by God and saved.
    • Even though each of us confesses at the beginning of Mass, “I have greatly sinned… through my most grievous fault,” many of us don’t really mean it. We consider our sins “peccadillos,” relative trifles. We’re basically “good people,” not serial killers, we convince ourselves, and so we think we have little need to come to receive God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Penance. We have “escape hatches” from seeing ourselves submerged in sin and desperate for God’s rescue. And therefore we lack the true Christian understanding of God, ourselves, and the joy of redemption at the root of the Christian life.
    • Pope Francis has called this Jubilee to help all of us experience the jubilation of the Easter Vigil, of the “happy sins” that have brought us so wondrous a Redeemer, reminding us that it is only “great sinners” who have such a grace and joy.
  • Christ wills that we grow in our devotion to his mercy. Just like with Eucharistic theology he wanted it to go from our heads to our hearts to our knees, so with his theology of mercy. To recognize our need for it. To come to get it. To share it. Gave us five practices:
    • Image of Mercy, beholding him, blessing us with his mercy, stepping toward us to come into our life, pouring out on us his water and blood, reminding us of Baptism and the Eucharist, and inviting us to trust in Him.
    • Hour of Mercy, stopping each day to unite ourselves to Christ’s passion.
    • Chaplet of Mercy, offering the Eucharist to God the Father in expiation for our sins and the sins of the world.
    • Novena of Mercy, praying for groups that need Christ’s mercy.
    • Sunday of Mercy, celebrating it as the culmination of Easter.
  • What Jesus reveals to us in the Gospels about Jesus’ mercy.
    • 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,” but since splanchna means “viscera” or “guts,” a more literal translation would be that Jesus was “sick to his stomach” with compassion as he 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 us your way, O Lord,” we pray in the Psalms, “so that I may walk in your truth” (Ps 86). Jesus — who had come to “proclaim the Gospel to the poor,” to “witness to the truth” and identified himself as the Truth — came mercifully to cure us of our spiritual cluelessness through his preaching and teaching. The Church has always carried out the spiritual work of mercy of “instructing the ignorant,” through the magisterium, schools, universities, catechetical programs. This ministry of the truth is not adequately appreciated in a relativistic age, but Jesus wants us to receive the mercy of his authoritative teaching and learn it well enough so that we can mercifully pass in 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 Year of Mercy, 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” 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 (Lk 14:13) 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 without their stomachs fed.
    • 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, 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 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 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) — and then Jesus immediately called from among those 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 a very important 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 centuries of prayer.
    • This Jubilee Year is a time when Jesus wants us first to receive his mercy in each of these five ways and then, with him, to help others likewise receive it: 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 multitudes starving physically or spiritually and give them the nourishment he 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, praying insistently for others to join us in becoming the compassionate “upset stomach” of the Mystical Body of Christ.
  • Christ wills us to be one, in a true holy Communion with God and with each other. He prayed for it incessantly as he merciful gave us himself in the Eucharist and then on the Cross. And he made that communion possible through his Passion, death and Resurrection. But to experience it, we first need to receive that gift of mercy and extend it. That’s what this Year of Mercy is about, which is essential for us to live this Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity well and to come to live what the whole Church is now imploring.
  • Today as we adore the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of God the Father’s dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, we ask him to extend his mercy on us, on our fellow Catholics, on our Orthodox and Protestant brothers and sisters, on all those who have been separated from Christ, on those who yet know him, on those who are lukewarm and on everyone who needs him. May we receive the grace of his Mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, worship him as one here, and grow in that fraternity afterward, as we prepare to praise him and receive his Eucharistic blessing.