Wenski: Mercy is mercy for our salvation —not a get out of jail free card…
(CUSA) – Mercy is for transformation in Christ, i.e., a deepening relationship with God. If not, Christianity becomes little more than an ideology with an optional moral code rather than a way of life in word and deed.
Homily by Archbishop Thomas Wenski at daily noon Mass at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ headquarters. Washington, D.C. Dec. 9, 2015. —Ed.
ARCHBISHOP THOMAS WENSKI—
(MiamiArchdiocese) – The gospel passage we have just heard is perhaps one of the most beloved; a certainly it is one that is particularly apt for us in this Second Week of Advent; but, also for us as we begin this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened”. These words “arc” wide enough to cover every form of human sin and sorrow; but more than likely “the laboring and the burdens” referred originally to the strict legalism of the Pharisees. Jesus issues an invitation to discipleship – but in doing so, he’s not about imposing some impossible moral code; rather this invitation to discipleship is an invitation to “rest” – to “rest” with him, to “rest” in him.
In other words, as Pope Benedict has said – and Pope Francis has repeated – Christianity is not an ideology, it is not merely a moral system; it is above all a relationship with a person, Jesus Christ. The Bishops in Aparecida anticipating “The Gospel of Joy” said it in these words: “To be a Christian is not a burden but a gift; to have encountered the Lord is the best thing that has ever happened to us, and to share him with others is our joy”.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me and you will find rest…My yoke is easy and my burden light”. The Scripture commentators remind us that those who listened to Jesus understood the image here. Farmers would yoke together a stronger, more experienced ox, with a younger and inexperienced one – so that the stronger would teach the weaker. Jesus invites us to “yoke” ourselves to him. His yoke is lighter – not because he demands less of us but because he bears more of the load for us.
Today’s gospel passage is found only in the gospel according to Matthew, the tax collector converted by the gaze of the Lord. The Year of Mercy is a renewed invitation to discipleship for each one of us – it is an invitation to experience the “tenderness” of our God who looks on each of us with love and mercy. As the encounter with Jesus and his loving mercy transformed Matthew, “miserando atque elegendo“, the Year of Mercy is an invitation to us to allow Jesus’ gaze of mercy to transform us.
This doesn’t mean that it is meant to be some sort of “get out of jail free card” that dispenses some sort of “cheap grace”. Cheap grace would be the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without discipline, communion without confession, or absolution without personal conversion.
The Year of Mercy is not about denying sin or the seriousness of its consequences. If there is no such thing as sin then mercy is just a rather empty and shallow sentimentality. Mercy to be mercy must always be “love in truth”. But the Holy Year of Mercy is about reminding us that God’s mercy is always greater than our sins. As someone once said, “Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future”. Mercy opens that future for us.
The language of God – the language he uses to communicate with us – is love in word and deed. The grammar of that language is mercy. “Learn from me”, Jesus tells us. Our words and deeds must be expressed in that same language, using that same grammar. In the context of this year of Mercy that means to refuse to define ourselves by our sins; and, it means that we who have experienced his mercy are not to define others by their sins. In this way, as He promises us all, “You will find rest”.