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Gazing on mercy

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde for the Celebration of Sisters' Jubilee at the Sacred Heart of Mary Chapel at Marymount University in Arlington.

This year, this annual celebration of the Sisters' Jubilee takes place within a very unique context: the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. As you will recall, Pope Francis introduced this Jubilee of Mercy with his letter Misericordiae Vultus or The Face of Mercy. "Jesus Christ is the Face of the Father's Mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian Faith" (cf. n.1). "... We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends upon it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness" (cf. n.2).

Our Holy Father then says: "At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father's action in our lives." (cf. n. 3). We gather to rejoice with, congratulate and pray for our jubilarians: Sister Anita Sherwood, OSB, eighty years (unable to be with us in person but one with us in prayer), Sister Ann Marie Markoe, IHM, fifty years, Sister Janice Therese Urbanic, IHM, fifty years, and Sister Aniliza Juan, SNDS, twenty-five years. I invite you, dear jubilarians, and all those surrounding you here to gaze even more attentively on God's mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of His mercy.

Psalm 136 echoes over and over again after each verse: "For his mercy endures forever." Do we affirm this proclamation ourselves? Do we experience it being made tangible within our lives? Are we a more effective sign of it to others?

Even more specifically, dear jubilarians, is not your vocation to live the consecrated life as a vowed religious an unmistakable sign of His mercy poured out on each one of you? Have you not been sent forth to be a living sign or herald of His mercy to others?

Of course, the very invitation to follow Jesus Christ as His disciple within the Community of the Disciples the Church is proof positive of God's mercy! After all, who among us deserves to be called to salvation? No one, on his or her merits alone! But, in His great love and mercy for every human being, God sent His Son to save us from sin and the effects of sin and to be holy.

All the more then, the vocation or call to not only be a disciple but a disciple being invited to a unique bond with Jesus Christ is brimming over with divine mercy. God desired that each one of you, dear jubilarians, would be a spouse to His Only Son Jesus, wedded to Him through the three evangelical counsels. Why? His love and mercy toward you endures forever!

Our first reading from the Song of Songs is often called the "Summa" of this particular book of Scripture. Why? A very particular love relationship is defined within these verses, revealing an unbreakable bond of mutual commitment between the lover or bridegroom and the beloved or the bride. This love relationship is powerful, so much so that nothing can undo it or destroy it. Such intimacy is reflected by this relationship of love sealed in mutual commitment, a covenant! Is this not what each of you, dear jubilarians, experienced at your religious profession and have kept renewing ever since? "Lord Jesus, I am yours and You are mine - forever!"

Such intimacy and the means to nurture and to deepen it are made known by the Lord Jesus Himself in today's gospel passage about the Vine and the Branches. "Remain in me, as I remain in you": this proclaims intimacy at its best! Is also reveals the way to nurture and to deepen such intimacy "Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me." The primary fruit of this inter-twining, this intimacy, is the ongoing nourishment and strengthening of the relationship. Prayer, that is, being with Jesus in mutual listening and responding; encountering Jesus in the sacraments; and other devotional practices express our response to this "remaining in Me"

But, the correlative fruit of such intimacy is bearing the fruit of charity towards others. Mercy received becomes, then, mercy given! Dear Jubilarians, not only are you gazing on the mercy you are experiencing in your call to consecrated life, but you also are an effective sign of such mercy to others, as you carry out the specific mission assigned to you, as you live out the counsels by reaching out to those whom God places within your care. "Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing."

These eighty, fifty and twenty-five years, you have sought to be a more effective sign of the Fathers action, His mercy. You have sought to be a credible witness and a convincing herald of mercy (cf. Ibid,. n. 25). Of course, you would tell us: "Not perfectly." And we respond with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, soon to be canonized, "God does not ask us to be perfect, but to be faithful."

Yes, dear Jubilarians, and all gathered here, the unfathomable mercy of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, is the context within which we rejoice with our jubilarians and take part in this Holy Mass. God's mercy, made visible in Jesus, is proclaimed tangibly by His call to the jubilarians to follow Him as vowed religious as well as to each one of us, within our individual vocation. They like us, have tasted His mercy. And they, like us have been mandated to pass on His mercy to others. We give thanks to you, dear jubilarians for sharing the mercy you received. And, with you, we too renew our commitment to be, with His grace, credible witnesses of His mercy to everyone!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016