On July 26, 2016, an 84-year-old priest’s life was taken by another human being, 19-years-old, in France. The 19-year-old, Adel, yelled, “You Christians, you kill us.”
This was another tragic moment of human interaction as these acts of violence continue to repeat themselves. For 15 years, our world has largely been caught up in a “war on terror.” Many continue to call for the same strategy of using overwhelming violence to stop violence. Former French President Sarkozy recently said “we must be merciless” in our response.
As Catholics, this should ring a bell in us as we are in the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. Who are we? How should we respond? Is it possible to respond with mercy?
It is not easy, that is certain, yet we are children of God – a God who shows God’s way in Jesus, a Jesus who calls us to pray for our persecutors, to forgive others, to be ambassadors of reconciliation, and yes, to love our enemies. This is mercy. Jesus makes it possible for us to participate in such mercy.
In fact, it is this way of mercy that heals the wounds of all relationships. Using overwhelming mercy is what overcomes harm and habits of violence. How might we concretize this mercy in effective and faithful ways? Here are a few ways:
During the first official event of his five-day visit to Poland, Pope Francis urged the country’s political leaders to welcome migrants fleeing from wars and hunger, while at the same time protecting human life from conception until natural death.
The Pope’s words came as he met with the nation’s president, prime minister and other political leaders in the courtyard of Krakow’s historic Wawel Castle complex.
Noting that this visit marks his first to central-eastern Europe, the Pope spoke about the importance of history in establishing a national identity, based on human and spiritual resources. Recalling the recent 1,050th anniversary of the Baptism of Poland, he said the event marked a powerful moment of national unity, reaffirming harmony, “even amid a diversity of opinions”.
Pope Francis said that while negative historical memories keep the heart and mind fixed on evil, good Pope memories can help a country move forward and forge better relations between peoples and nations. He noted especially the offering of mutual forgiveness between Polish and German Church leaders after the Second World War and the more recent rapprochement between the Catholic Church in Poland and the Russian Orthodox Church.
At times the events of day-to-day living can overwhelm us. We attempt each day, as best we can, to deal with the gifts and challenges that life gives in order to gain some modicum of peace and hope.
But, as in the past few weeks, our news from around the globe can touch us deeply and make it difficult to cope and maintain our usually hopeful attitude.
The Jewish scriptures offer us an opportunity to reflect on the variety and challenges that happen to all of us. The writer of Ecclesiastes (meaning Teacher) describes well the ups and downs of daily living:
There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to give birth, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant… A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces… A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak… God has made everything appropriate to its time (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2,4-5,7,11b).
Scripture scholars tell us that God’s interaction with us in this list of joys and woes can be seen from several viewpoints. One view describes God in what classical philosophers view as a “Deus ex machina” (One who enters our live from afar, suddenly fixing or taking away bad things). This seems to view God as Someone outside our daily experience.
Recently we began a special Friday Evening Family Movie Program, Mercy in the Family, at the La Salette Shrine in Attleboro for families with children. It’s a time to sit back with your younger kids and together enjoy a cheap movie in our Welcome Center with popcorn and antsy kids everywhere, watching movies with a meaning that our children can easily understand.
I spoke with Fr. Ted Brown, our La Salette Shrine Director. He was delighted at the positive response from the dozen or so families that took their kids to the movies at La Salette with our large-format screen! It was a hoot!
In describing this special movie experience, Fr. Ted said: “It’s a real delight to help families recognize faith values in our culture today. At the end of one of these sessions, a dad came up and asked 'Why aren't there more educational programs like this with children in mind?' And, by the way, both children and their parents seem to get a lot out of these family gatherings!”
Fr. Ted added: “What’s also fun is that candy treats are given out – appropriate to each movie; for example, for Willy Wonka we gave out chocolates; for ET, we gave out Reese’s Pieces candy; for Frozen, a frozen treat.” After each session, Fr. Ted distributes a study guide for the parents to discuss with their children at home. He will put all these discussion guides on our Shrine website: lasalette-shrine.org. He also credits the British site, thinkingfaith.org, for the initial idea for this program.
Pope Francis wants to see the laity more and more involved in the Church’s mission to evangelize in light of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. The Pope made that affirmation in an address Friday to participants of the last Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity ahead of the reform process that will bundle the department together with the Council for the Family and the Academy for Life.
As one phase comes to a close, a new horizon opens for the mission of the laity in the Church, Francis told participants at Friday’s audience. In this, the last plenary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the Pope began by thanking those who have worked in this institution of the Curia for their commitment. The Council was set up after the Second Vatican Council with the blessings of Pope Paul VI.
The Pope recalled the many fruits born over the last 50 years in the context of the laity: World Youth Day, "providential gesture of St. John Paul II", the appearance of new lay associations and the growing role of women in the Church:
"We can say, therefore, that the mandate you have received from the Council was precisely to 'push' the lay faithful to get more and more involved and, better at it, in the evangelizing mission of the Church, not as 'delegates' of the hierarchy, but because [the lay] apostolate [means] 'participation in the salvific mission of the Church, to which all are disciples of the Lord through Baptism and Confirmation'. It is Baptism that makes every lay faithful a missionary disciple of the Lord, salt of the earth, light of the world, yeast that transforms reality from within.
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Our Community: The Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette are deeply rooted in the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette which occurred near the hamlet of La Salette in southeastern France on Sept. 19, 1846. The Missionaries were founded in 1852 by Bp. Philbert de Bruillard, Bishop of Grenoble, France, and presently serve in some 25 countries.
Our Province: The Province of Mary, Mother of the Americas, was founded in 2000AD and is one of several provinces in the congregation. The members of this Province serve mainly in the countries of Canada, the United States and the Region of Argentina/Bolivia.
Our Mission: Our La Salette ministry of reconciliation responds to the broad vision given by Mary at La Salette as well as in response to the needs of the Church. As reconcilers, we together with the laity take seriously Mary’s mandate: “You will make (Mary’s) message known to all (her) people.”