Monday, December 7, 2015

A War of Mercy

Homily: 2nd Sunday of Advent – Cycle C
          You know, I’m not sure if Pope Francis is crazy or courageous.
          One of the ways to know whether or not someone is crazy is to test them on their grasp of reality.  For example, someone who complains that it rains all the time while in the midst of a drought probably doesn’t really know what is going on.  This is magnified if the situation involves something dangerous: like, for example, should someone walk into a Lion’s den carrying cat treats to feed the “little kitties”.  There’s obviously a disconnection there between that person’s perception of danger and the reality.
          Someone is courageous, however, when, fully knowing the danger that he or she is walking into, he or she walks into it anyway.  Like the firefighter who runs into a burning house to search for anyone who might be trapped.  He or she wears a fire suit and an oxygen mask because he or she acknowledges the danger (thus assuring that he or she has a good grasp on reality), but, nonetheless, he or she runs into the fire anyway for a noble cause: making him or her courageous, not crazy.
          So, let’s see how Pope Francis measures up.  This past week, he made a trip to multiple countries in Africa.  Okay, to say it was a “trip” would indicate that he was on vacation or something.  In truth, it was an “apostolic journey” in which he sought to bring a message of peace to parts of Africa currently being torn apart by conflicts between its peoples.  One of the countries that he visited was the Central African Republic, a place where an active conflict between Christians and Muslims is ongoing.  Thus, he faced real danger in going there.  Now, he acknowledged this before he went—and many of his closest advisors acknowledged this, too, I’m sure—and yet he went anyway.  So was he crazy—that is, failing to acknowledge danger where danger existed—or was he courageous—that is, fully acknowledging the danger, but going anyway because of a noble cause?
          If you read the reports and look at the videos from the trip, it doesn’t look like the Pope had any extra protection for himself at any point.  Nonetheless, he embraced the danger of the trip.  One report even said that, after hearing of an attack on Christians not far from where he was, Pope Francis asked if he could “go to” the attackers (who had been arrested) so that he could speak to them.  This is the point when even his closest advisors must have said to him: “Are you crazy?  You’ll get killed!”  But Pope Francis isn’t crazy, he’s courageous.  He knew exactly what was going on and, in spite of appearances, he went into this situation armed and ready for what he would encounter.
          You see, I believe that Pope Francis is engaged in a “War of Mercy” (that’s a “war OF mercy” not a “war ON mercy”).  Pope Francis, as bishop, archbishop, and now pope, is doing everything he can to prepare for the coming of the Lord.  Like John the Baptist in today’s Gospel, who went out into the region of the Jordan River and proclaimed a baptism of repentance so that the people would be prepared for the manifestation of Jesus Christ as the long-awaited Messiah, so too is Pope Francis going out to the “margins” of the world to proclaim the Lord’s mercy so as to prepare people for when Jesus comes again.
          As you can see, this is not a war in the traditional sense.  Pope Francis is not fighting on their terms.  Rather, he is engaging them with the weapons of love and mercy.  In a traditional war, the combatants fight under the premise that “it’s us or them”.  Pope Francis, however, seems to acknowledge that, if our war is love, it can never be “us or them”, but rather it must always be “us for them”.  This is the courageous example that he is giving to us; and this, I would argue, is how he is living Advent.
          When we look around we see that our world is a war-zone.  In many places (too many places), it is a physical war-zone, where people have taken up arms against each other.  In many other places, it is an ideological war-zone, where people are attacked for their ideas and pressured into conforming to the prevailing notions of truth.  In either case, if we try to fight their war we will lose, because it is a worldly war and our victory is not of this world.  The only war that we will win is a war of mercy, for in this war the victory has already been won for us in Jesus Christ.
          To live Advent, therefore, means to be constantly working to “prepare the way of the Lord”, which we do, not by chopping down mountains and filling in valleys, but by opening a way for the Lord in men’s hearts.  For those who are against us both physically and ideologically, the only weapons we have to overcome them are love and mercy.  Thus, Pope Francis has, in a way, declared a great offensive in this war in opening the Jubilee Year of Mercy.  In it he is calling us first to be overcome by God’s mercy—especially in the sacrament of reconciliation—and then to blanket the world around us in mercy, especially through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  In joining him in this crusade of mercy, we will be preparing the way for our Lord to return to us and, thus, we will be living Advent.
          My brothers and sisters, Advent is our call to live as if our Lord’s second coming is imminent by making preparations for his coming.  The Year of Mercy is a special opportunity to make great inroads towards preparing the way.  May our experience of God’s mercy that comes to us through the sacrifice of Jesus, his Son, which we will re-present soon here on this altar, make us courageous crusaders of mercy so that the kingdom that is coming may truly dwell in our midst here and now.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – December 6th, 2015

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