TEACHING for the JUBILEE YEAR OF MERCY – Session 3.                              66.01.2016

“Jesus says, ‘Unless you repent…’. The man replies, ‘…give me time…’”       [Luke 13:3, 5, 8.]

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Mercy and Evangelisation
Lent provides us with another opportunity to repent. As the Sunday Gospel says just give me one more year to bear fruit. And the fruit that we are being asked to bear, in every aspect of our lives, is the fruit of mercy. In which area of my life am I still struggling to be merciful? This Lent I am being given just one more chance to get it right!

In this Jubilee Year of mercy, we have been asked to reflect on the need to listen to the voice of the Lord & seek a way back to him when we or others stray. Pope Francis reminds us to listen to the voice of Jesus in the Gospels. The Pope says that in the Gospels, mercy is presented as a force that overcomes everything. [see the document by Pope Francis about the Year of Mercy called Misericordiae Vultus, sections 9 & 10].
The Gospels present us with an image of God who never gives up on compassion & mercy – so, neither should we give up on compassion & mercy. Pope Francis goes on to say that mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. The Churches very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful & compassionate love. He then suggests: Perhaps we have long forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy. And he concludes: The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. … to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and the struggles of our brothers and sisters. People in our world are hungry for the gift of mercy. And it is our calling – all of us, without exception – to be instruments of the mercy of God to those around us.

What prevents us from going out and liberally offering the merciful face of God? The Gospel responds by telling us that we go astray, we get lost a little on our journey to the heart of God. That’s why we need a Lent every year, a spring clean, to turn back to the Way of Jesus. We are like a lost sheep. Or maybe we are so busy spending time & energy on wasteful, frivolous pursuits, verging close to the behaviour of the prodigal or wasteful son, instead of keeping our focus on being instruments of God’s compassionate & merciful presence to others, with our hearts overflowing with the joy that comes from being in an ever deeper relationship with our friend and Saviour Jesus the Christ.

In his book called “The Church of Mercy”, [page 93] Pope Francis asks some very insightful questions: At times it seems that we are repeating today what happened at Babel: division, the incapacity to understand one another, rivalry, envy, egoism. What do I do with my life? Do I create unity around me? Or do I cause division, by gossip, criticism or envy? What do I do? Let us think about this. Spreading the Gospel means that we are the first to proclaim and live the reconciliation, forgiveness, peace, unity and love which the Holy Spirit gives us. Let us remember Jesus’ words ‘it is by your love for one another, that everyone will recognise you as my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ [John 13: 34-35.]

So, in order to be merciful to others we need to encounter mercy every day. To be a missionary disciple of mercy there is a need for us to renew our encounter with the merciful heart of God revealed to us by our friendship with Jesus. Then, we won’t be able to contain ourselves in looking for opportunities to show mercy to others!

Do you remember what Pope Francis wrote at the beginning of his letter “The Gospel of Joy”? It’s worth repeating. This is what he said: I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask you to do this unfailingly every day. And he goes on to say: Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.” And he concludes: How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! … God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. [Evangelii Gaudiuum, 3]

That daily prayer which Pope Francis suggests, “Lord, I have let myself be deceived and so on, is very helpful. It reminds us that it is out of our own encounter with the merciful face of God, whom we know as Jesus, that we are better equipped to go and show, and be merciful to others, to seek out the lost.

Who are the lost? I’m sure we all know of someone, perhaps in the family circle, who may have come to church once, but now has drifted away, or made a definite decision not to come again to church. Even if this is the case, it does not stop us showing the merciful face of God to them. The parables speak of reaching out just to one lost person. So, one person at a time is manageable.

As well as including them in daily prayer, perhaps we could send a birthday card, make a quick phone call to say hello and keep in touch, send an Easter Card, or invite them to accompany you to a parish social event. This reminds me of the “Befriending” Leaflets I have given out a few times. Maybe Lent can be a time to dig these out again as a bit of revision. Is there an Easter event or activity that can be used to reach out in love to others and remind them what the real meaning of Easter is all about – rather like the Christmas baubles which were given out so successfully last Christmas. Each of our towns in the parish have ecumenical events during Holy Week. How can we engage in small acts of merciful outreach, as well as carrying a cross, singing hymns or giving out hot cross buns?

It looks as if the Lighthouse Project is soon to be opened in Shirebrook. The Great Northern Hotel in Main Street has gradually been transformed on the inside over the last number of months and will soon start to house up to 16 males. There was some misinformed publicity a few years ago about this project but it seems to me that this project is a marvellous opportunity for the Christian Churches to show the mercy of God in very practical ways. Volunteers will be needed to support the Project in a variety of ways.

The Manager Darren Jones said the Shirebrook hostel will be a completely ‘dry house’ with a zero tolerance policy on alcohol consumption both inside or outside the property with strict curfews.
Those using the centre will have been referred by local councils, drug and alcohol services and the Probation Service. Some users will be taken directly from prison but dangerous criminals such as arsonists, those convicted of racially motivated offences and violent sexual offenders will not be admitted. Anyone requiring mental health treatment or on a dose of methadone higher than 50ml will not be taken on. Darren was quoted in the Chad as saying: “We are delighted because we care about people. The community is still quite fearful but we are here to work with the people in Shirebrook and make it a safer place.” He went on to say, “There is a stigma about druggies and alcoholics associated with homelessness but it is far wider than that. Some of the kindest and most compassionate people can end up homeless. It is going to take time for the community to understand what an amazing project it is.”

By supporting Christian Projects like this, we can encourage our town to be known as a beacon of hope, as a place of mercy. It’s about time Shirebrook was given a positive image. We Christians can be at the forefront of changing the face of Shirebrook, of Bolsover and of Warsop – to be a shining example of the merciful face of God.

Before we go to bed tonight, let us bring to mind someone we know who is distant from God. Light a candle when next in church for each person lost. Ask for God’s blessing for them and pray for them to come home.

That’s it for now. Thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Fr. Jonathan.