Crossing over into the Year of Mercy

Christ’s invitation to “go across to the other side” (cf. Lk 8:22) is one to which Pope Francis made repeated references to earlier this week. On Sunday at the cathedral in Bangui, Central African Republic, he compared himself to “the Apostles Peter and John on their way to the Temple, who had neither gold nor silver to give to the paralytic in need, I have come to offer God’s strength and power; for these bring us healing, set us on our feet and enable us to embark on a new life, to ‘go across to the other side.’”

Unlike the “other side” to which the rock group The Doors said we needed to “break on through,” we do not head to this other side alone or fearful. The Holy Father reassured his listeners, “Jesus does not make us cross to the other side alone; instead, He asks us to make the crossing with Him, as each of us responds to his or her own specific vocation. We need to realize that making this crossing can only be done with Him, by freeing ourselves of divisive notions of family and blood in order to build a Church which is God’s family, open to everyone, concerned for those most in need. This presupposes closeness to our brothers and sisters; it implies a Spirit of communion. It is not primarily a question of financial means; it is enough just to share in the life of God’s people, in accounting for the hope which is in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), in testifying to the infinite mercy of God Who, as the Responsorial Psalm of this Sunday’s Liturgy makes clear, is ‘good [and] instructs sinners in the way’ (Ps 24:8). Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we must forgive others in turn. This is our fundamental vocation: ‘You, therefore, must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect’” (Mt 5:48).

The pope’s themes in that paragraph echo the Year of Mercy which we are about to begin this Tuesday. Mercy comes from Christ and then we are called to share it by carrying out the Spiritual and corporal works of mercy (see Msgr. Oliveira’s column on page 13 for a list of them). “Those who evangelize [something we all have a duty to do due to our Baptism] must therefore be first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy. This is how we can help our brothers and sisters to ‘cross to the other side’ — by showing them the secret of our strength, our hope, and our joy, all of which have their source in God, for they are grounded in the certainty that He is in the boat with us,” Pope Francis reminded a crowd of people who have been in a state of civil war for more than a year.

Knowing that reality (in part, that is why he was visiting that country), the pope reminded them why we Christians have hope. “It is amid unprecedented devastation that Jesus wishes to show His great power, His incomparable glory (cf. Lk 21:27) and the power of that love which stops at nothing, even before the falling of the heavens, the conflagration of the world or the tumult of the seas. God is stronger, more powerful, than all else. This conviction gives to the believer serenity, courage and the strength to persevere in goodness amid the greatest hardships. Even when the powers of hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be one of love and peace!”

The next day (Monday) the Holy Father again took up these themes at a Mass at the sports stadium in Bangui. “It is good, especially in times of difficulty, trials and suffering, when the future is uncertain and we feel weary and apprehensive, to come together before the Lord. To come together, as we do today, to rejoice in His presence and in the new life and the Salvation which He offers us, for He invites us to cross over to another shore.”

The pope then explained two meanings of that “other shore” for the Christian. “This other shore is, of course, eternal life, Heaven, which awaits us. Looking towards the world to come has always been a source of strength for Christians, of the poor, of the least, on their earthly pilgrimage. Eternal life is not an illusion; it is not a flight from the world. It is a powerful reality which calls out to us and challenges us to persevere in faith and love.”

He then offered the second meaning, another shore which we need to reach if we are to attain that “other shore” in eternal life. “The more immediate other shore, which we are trying to reach is a reality which even now is transforming our lives and the world around us. ‘Faith in the heart leads to justification’ (Rom 10:10). Those who believe receive the very life of Christ, which enables them to love God and their brothers and sisters in a new way and to bring to birth a world renewed by love.” In other words, the “other shore” we need to arrive at right now is to be living in God’s grace (which is to be living in Christ’s love, loving as He loves).

Since we are still sinners (although trying to repent), we are “midstream,” the pontiff said. “Yet the fact is that we have not yet reached our destination. In a certain sense we are in midstream, needing the courage to decide, with renewed missionary zeal, to pass to the other shore. All the baptized need to continually break with the remnants of the old Adam, the man of sin, ever ready to rise up again at the prompting of the devil. How often this happens in our world and in these times of conflict, hate and war! How easy it is to be led into selfishness, distrust, violence, destructiveness, vengeance, indifference to and exploitation of those who are most vulnerable.”

To not turn back to the shore of sin from which we embarked, we need to be “like the Apostles, full of hope and enthusiasm for the future. The other shore is at hand, and Jesus is crossing the river with us. He is risen from the dead; henceforth the trials and sufferings which we experience are always opportunities opening up to a new future, provided we are willing to follow Him.” May He cross over with us into this Year of Mercy, as we seek His mercy for our own sins and look to share mercy with our neighbors.

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