At times, I wish Jesus wasn’t quite so good about keeping his promises.
There’s this, for example, in the passage we heard from Matthew’s gospel at Mass today:
‘From the days of John the Baptist until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.’
I notice this, too: Violence tends to beget violence. With each new atrocity—foreign or domestic—the threats…and the retaliations…escalate. We react in fear…and begin to consider solutions that betray what’s best in us.
The whole thing is terribly unsettling, even if I pause long enough to recognize that all these things are just as Jesus suggested they would be.
And into the tempest of violence wade our political leaders, bellowing and braying. Before long, I find myself getting caught up in their noise. My heart is roiled, so that it becomes nearly impossible to recall the promise that God makes through the prophet Isaiah:
I am the LORD, your God,
who grasp your right hand;
It is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I will help you…”
Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
But why then, I want to know, does the Lord delay? Why does God not choose to redeem us now?
Almost as soon as these questions escaped my lips this morning, I was given a gift: the extraordinary witness of Father Jacques Mourad, a Syrian priest recently released from an ISIS prison.
I doubt that Father Mourad would consider himself heroic. But he was given this singular grace during his months in the cell: the opportunity to live out some of the most difficult words of the Gospel.
‘Bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you.’
I have to say, it seems like a strategy that could never work. Not in a million years.
Yet, there it is: In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Father Mourad did in fact love his way to freedom.
Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Year of Mercy
Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”
You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:
let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.
Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.
We ask this of you, Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of
Mercy; you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.