All the saints: Saved through God’s mercy

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the Solemnity of All Saints, at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg and George Mason University in Fairfax.

I begin with two questions: Whom are we honoring in today's liturgy? Why are we honoring them so specially? To the first: "Whom are we honoring in today's liturgy," the answer is very obvious. We are honoring All the Saints, "those who have been marked with the seal, one hundred and forty-four thousand marked …" That number is biblical, meaning an immense throng, one that defies any exact or precise enumeration. God desires that all people be saved, that all people become saints.

So, today's Solemnity of All Saints honors those countless men, women, and children, down through the ages, who have heard the voice of the Shepherd and followed Him wherever He leads. Among this vast multitude may well be members of our own ancestors. In any case, as we prayed earlier, "… we venerate in one celebration the merits of all the saints."

We come to our second question: "Why are we honoring them so specially?" Because we wish to point out that these men and women are saints precisely because they allowed the saving mercy of Jesus Christ to cleanse them from their sins and thus to redeem them by the blood of the Lamb. Every saint is a redeemed sinner. So, in honoring them and remembering their lives, we are, in fact, praising God's mercy and love, His saving them from the effects of sin and from eternal death. But we also honor them because we want to recall their lives and understand how they become models for us now, people we can really imitate because, like us, they too were human, prone to sin and actually sinned. However, they let Jesus into their lives, they said "yes" to Him and tried to live by His Gospel. We also honor all the saints, because they can intercede for us before God, praying that He continue to extend His saving mercy towards us. The saints' prayers can strengthen us on our pilgrim way towards our eternal union with God. Again, in today's Opening Prayer, we asked: "… bestow on us, through the prayers of so many intercessors, an abundance of the reconciliation with you for which we earnestly long."

To put all this in a slightly different way, all the saints we venerate experienced God's mercy, and because they did, they also extended His mercy to others. I would like to invite you to reflect with me now on the Mercy of God, His mercy which every saint has tasted and by which every saint has been truly saved.

Mercy: do we talk about mercy much these days? What does mercy mean in itself? In our daily lives and experiences? In God's revealed Word, the Scriptures?

Mercy in itself, as an objective reality, is rooted in authentic love for others. Since love itself has many faces, then mercy, meaning love, also takes on various expressions. For example, love is compassionate, so mercy is also compassion. Love is forgiving, so mercy is also forgiveness. Mercy in the Scriptures is the loving kindness of God for us, His compassion and forgiveness!

I repeat, do we hear about mercy a lot in our culture? Probably not. Here is what St. John Paul II said some years ago: "The present-day mentality, more perhaps than that of people in the past, seems opposed to a God of mercy, and in fact tends to exclude from life and to remove from the human heart the very idea of mercy. The word and the concept of 'mercy' seem to cause uneasiness in man, who, thanks to the enormous development of science and technology, never before known in history, has become the master of the earth and has subdued and dominated it (cf. Gen 1:28)" (cf. "Misericordiae Vultus," Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, April 11, 2015 n.11).

Do you and I experience mercy in our daily lives? I suspect that most of us wish that we did! After all, we too at times need to experience compassion and forgiveness. Moreover, if we ourselves have a basic need to experience mercy, so too do all our brothers and sisters, both within the household of faith, the Church, and beyond, within the human family. So, do we, in turn, offer others compassion, forgiveness and understanding?

I invite you, I repeat, to reflect on mercy, to receive mercy from God, and to extend mercy to others during this new academic year here at (Mary Washington/George Mason). Pope Frances urges you - all of us, in fact, to reflect on mercy in the coming months and year. He has called for an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, to begin on December 8, 2015, and to conclude on November 20, 2016. Why does Our Holy Father urge us to reflect on mercy, to experience mercy and to extend mercy? He tells us in the first sentence and opening paragraph of his Letter which announced this Jubilee Year: "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy. … Jesus of Nazareth by his words, his actions, and his entire person (1) reveals the mercy of God" (cf. "Misericordiae Vultus," n. 1).

The New Testament repeatedly points to the many ways in which Jesus reveals God's Mercy. For example, Jesus' inaugural sermon is recorded by Saint Luke in his Gospel. Jesus is pictured at the very beginning of His public ministry proclaiming "a year acceptable to the Lord," which means a year of God's favor, His mercy. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, Jesus traces out what God's mercy means. Here is how Pope Francis urges us to show Christ's mercy in our times: "to bring a word and gesture of consolation to the poor, to proclaim liberty to those bound by new forms of slavery in modern society, to restore sight to those who can see no more because they are caught up in themselves, to restore dignity to all those from whom it has been robbed" (cf. Ibid., n 16). In our Gospel reading today, one of the Beatitudes which Jesus proclaims is precisely about mercy: God's mercy to us being extended to others: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." The theme of the Jubilee Year of Mercy is: "Merciful like the Father."

Not only is Jesus Christ Mercy Alive and Present, but His Other Self in this world, His Body which is the Church, must also make present the mercy of God! So, that means you and me since we are members of Christ's Body, His Church.

Pope Francis states quite clearly that the Church, you and I too, must be a convincing herald of mercy. "The Church feels the urgent need to proclaim God's mercy. Her life is authentic and credible only when she becomes a convincing herald of mercy" (cf. Ibid., n. 25).

So, I put before you, before each one of us, me included, the challenge: Become an authentic and credible disciple of Jesus Christ and a member of his Church by living every day as a convincing herald of mercy.

How? First, by experiencing God's mercy ourselves. How does this happen? By opening our hearts to His merciful love revealed so clearly in Jesus Christ! This demands times of silence - putting away the smart phones, the tablets, turning off the computer, so that we can really pray, that is, listen to what Jesus wants to say to our hearts as He extends His mercy, and then, responding to Him with love and gratitude. So, every day, make time for prayer: to be with Jesus Our Friend, "the face of the Father's mercy!" Also, as we receive divine mercy extended to us in the Sacrament of Penance, as we welcome Jesus Christ into our hearts and bodies in Holy Communion, as we adore Jesus in the tabernacle, His mercy is enveloping us, even when, at times, we are not aware at all.

Once, we have experienced God's mercy, we must, in turn, be a convincing herald of mercy; we must extend God's mercy to others. Remember the challenge put before us. How do we become and remain a convincing herald? Pope Francis urges us to perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Do we know what they are? There are seven in each category. Our Holy Father reminds us to eradicate jealousy and envy from our thoughts and behavior, to forgive anyone who hurts us and, if we have hurt another, to seek forgiveness. All this you must put into practice here at (Mary Washington/George Mason) and also at home.

Can you image what the atmosphere here at (Mary Washington/George Mason) will be like, what the surroundings of home, the very society we live in would be like if you and I really become convincing heralds of mercy! Ask God the Holy Spirit every day, and often, within each day; "extend over us your mercy!"

Yes, all the saints experienced and extended God's mercy. We too are called to be saints - "saints of the New Millennium," as Saint John Paul II told us. We will be, if we let God's mercy save us even as we ourselves become "convincing heralds of His Mercy" every day!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015