Acts of mercy
Books of the Bible Index of Homilies
Matthew Mark Luke John The Acts Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians 1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy 2 Timothy Titus Philemon Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter 1 John 2 John 3 John Jude Revelation Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah Tobit Judith Esther 1 Maccabees 2 Maccabees Job Psalms Proverbs Ecclesiastes The Song of Songs The Book of Wisdom Sirach Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Baruch Ezekiel Daniel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi
In these days the key word in the liturgy is ‘manifestation’: the Son of God manifests Himself in the Feast of the Epiphany, to the Gentiles; in Baptism, when the Holy Spirit descends upon Him; in the wedding at Cana, when he performs the miracle of changing water into wine. Indeed, these are the three signs that the liturgy brings in these days in order to speak to us about the manifestation of God: God makes Himself known. But the question is this: how can we know God? (1 Jn 4:7-10) The theme that the Apostle John takes up in the First Reading: knowledge of God. What does it mean to know God? How can one know God?
A first reply would be: one can know God through reason. But really, can I know God through reason? Somewhat, yes. Indeed, through my intellect, reasoning, looking at worldly things, one can begin to understand that there is a God and the existence of God can be understood in some of God’s personality traits. However, this is insufficient for knowing God, in so far as God is known totally in the encounter with Him, and reason alone does not suffice for the encounter, something more is needed: reason helps you to reach a certain point, then He accompanies you onward.
In his letter, John clearly states what God is: God is love. For this reason, only on the path of love can you know God. Of course, reasonable love, accompanied by reason, but love. Perhaps one could ask at this point how can I love whom I don’t know?. The answer is clear: “Love those whom you have near”. In fact, this is the doctrine of two commandments: the most important one is to love God, for He is love. The second is to love your neighbour, but to get to the first, we have to climb the steps of the second. In a word, through love of our neighbour, we come to know God, who is love and only by loving reasonably, but by loving, we can reach this love.
John wrote: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God”. But, you cannot love if God doesn’t give the love, doesn’t generate this love for you because he who loves knows God. On the contrary, St John writes, “he who does not love does not know God; for God is love”. This is not “soap opera love”, but rather sound, strong love, an eternal love that manifests itself — these days the word is ‘manifest’ — in his Son who has come to save us. It is, therefore, a concrete love, a love of works and not of words. It is here, then, that it takes a lifetime to know God: a journey, a journey of love, of knowledge, of love for our neighbour, of love for those who hate us, of love for all.
Jesus himself gave us the example of love. And, indeed, in this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us first and sent his Son to be the victim of expiation for our sins. This is why we are able to contemplate the love of God in the person of Jesus. And by doing what Jesus taught us about love for our neighbour, we reach — step by step — the love of God, knowledge of God who is love.
The Apostle John, in his letter, goes a little ahead when he states that in this is love and not that we loved God, but that He loved us first: God precedes us in love. In fact, when I meet God in prayer, I feel that God loved me before I began to seek Him. Yes, He is always first, He waits for us, He calls us. And when we arrive, He is there!
(Jer 1:11-12) How beautiful were God’s words to Jeremiah: ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ — ‘a rod of almond, Lord’ — ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it’. The flower of the almond tree is the first to blossom in spring, the first. This signifies that the Lord is there, watching over, and He is always the first, like the almond tree, He loves us first. And we, too, will always have this surprise: when we draw near to God through works of charity, through prayer, in Communion, in the Word of God, we find that He is there, first, waiting for us, this is how He loves us. And just like the flower of the almond tree, He is the first. Truly, that verse from Jeremiah tells us so much.
A similar proposal can be gleaned from the episode presented in today’s Reading from the Gospel according to Mark (6:34-44), which first says that Jesus had compassion on the crowd of people, it is the love of Jesus: He saw a large crowd, like sheep without a shepherd, confused. But today as well, there are so many confused people in our cities, in our countries: so many people.
When Jesus saw these confused people He was moved: He began to teach them the doctrine, the matters of God and the people heard Him, listened to Him very closely because the Lord was good at speaking, He spoke to the heart.
Then, Mark recounts in his Gospel that, realizing that those 5,000 people hadn’t eaten, Jesus asks his disciples to see to it. Thus, Christ is first to go meet with the people. Perhaps on their part, the disciples got somewhat upset, felt annoyed, and their response was harsh: ‘shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?’. Thus, God’s love was first; the disciples hadn’t understood. But God’s love is really like this: He is always waiting for us, He always surprises us. It is the Father, our Father who loves us so much, who is always ready to forgive us, always. And not once, but 70 times seven. Always!. Indeed, like a Father full of love. Therefore, in order to know this God who is love, we must climb the steps of love for our neighbour, by works of charity, by the acts of mercy that our Lord has taught us.
Lord, in these days in which the Church makes us ponder the manifestation of God, grant us the grace to know Him on the path of love.
“Who can learn the counsel of God?” (Wis 9:13). This question from the Book of Wisdom that we have just heard in the first reading suggests that our life is a mystery and that we do not possess the key to understanding it. There are always two protagonists in history: God and man. Our task is to perceive the call of God and then to do his will. But in order to do his will, we must ask ourselves, “What is God’s will in my life?”
We find the answer in the same passage of the Book of Wisdom: “People were taught what pleases you” (Wis 9:18). In order to ascertain the call of God, we must ask ourselves and understand what pleases God. On many occasions the prophets proclaimed what was pleasing to God. Their message found a wonderful synthesis in the words “I want mercy, not sacrifice” (Hos 6:6; Mt 9:13). God is pleased by every act of mercy, because in the brother or sister that we assist, we recognize the face of God which no one can see (cf. Jn 1:18). Each time we bend down to the needs of our brothers and sisters, we give Jesus something to eat and drink; we clothe, we help, and we visit the Son of God (cf. Mt 25:40). In a word, we touch the flesh of Christ.
We are thus called to translate into concrete acts that which we invoke in prayer and profess in faith. There is no alternative to charity: those who put themselves at the service of others, even when they don’t know it, are those who love God (cf. 1 Jn 3:16-18; Jas 2:14-18). The Christian life, however, is not merely extending a hand in times of need. If it is just this, it can be, certainly, a lovely expression of human solidarity which offers immediate benefits, but it is sterile because it lacks roots. The task which the Lord gives us, on the contrary, is the vocation to charity in which each of Christ’s disciples puts his or her entire life at his service, so to grow each day in love.
We heard in the Gospel, “Large crowds were travelling with Jesus” (Lk 14:25). Today, this “large crowd” is seen in the great number of volunteers who have come together for the Jubilee of Mercy. You are that crowd who follows the Master and who makes visible his concrete love for each person. I repeat to you the words of the Apostle Paul: “I have indeed received much joy and comfort from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philem 1:7). How many hearts have been comforted by volunteers! How many hands they have held; how many tears they have wiped away; how much love has been poured out in hidden, humble and selfless service! This praiseworthy service gives voice to the faith – it gives voice to the faith! – and expresses the mercy of the Father, who draws near to those in need.
Following Jesus is a serious task, and, at the same time, one filled with joy; it takes a certain daring and courage to recognize the divine Master in the poorest of the poor and those who are cast aside, and to give oneself in their service. In order to do so, volunteers, who out of love of Jesus serve the poor and the needy, do not expect any thanks or recompense; rather they renounce all this because they have discovered true love. And each one of us can say: “Just as the Lord has come to meet me and has stooped down to my level in my hour of need, so too do I go to meet him, bending low before those who have lost faith or who live as though God did not exist, before young people without values or ideals, before families in crisis, before the ill and the imprisoned, before refugees and immigrants, before the weak and defenceless in body and spirit, before abandoned children, before the elderly who are on their own. Wherever someone is reaching out, asking for a helping hand in order to get up, this is where our presence – and the presence of the Church which sustains and offers hope – must be”. And I do this, keeping alive the memory of those times when the Lord’s hand reached out to me when I was in need.
Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defence of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded. She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that “the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable”. She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime – the crimes! – of poverty they created. For Mother Teresa, mercy was the “salt” which gave flavour to her work, it was the “light” which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.
Her mission to the urban and existential peripheries remains for us today an eloquent witness to God’s closeness to the poorest of the poor. Today, I pass on this emblematic figure of womanhood and of consecrated life to the whole world of volunteers: may she be your model of holiness! I think, perhaps, we may have some difficult in calling her “Saint Teresa”: her holiness is so near to us, so tender and so fruitful that we continual to spontaneously call her “Mother Teresa”. May this tireless worker of mercy help us increasingly to understand that our only criterion for action is gratuitous love, free from every ideology and all obligations, offered freely to everyone without distinction of language, culture, race or religion. Mother Teresa loved to say, “Perhaps I don’t speak their language, but I can smile”. Let us carry her smile in our hearts and give it to those whom we meet along our journey, especially those who suffer. In this way, we will open up opportunities of joy and hope for our many brothers and sisters who are discouraged and who stand in need of understanding and tenderness.