Jul 29, 2016

BIshop Brendan - Catechesis #3 WYD

This the the third of three Moments of Catechesis offered as part of World Youth Day in Krakow. Click HERE for previous talks, and other WYD information.


Bishop Brendan Leahy

World Youth Day, Krakow. Catechesis 3


Lord, make me an instrument of your mercy!

In the first catechesis we concentrated on “now is the time of mercy”. The second day we turned our attention to letting ourselves to be touched by Christ’s mercy, the third catechesis today is entitled, “Lord, make me an instrument of your mercy”.

There are three points I’d like to make.

We need help! Let’s Pray!

Firstly, notice the title is in the form of a prayer “Lord, make me an instrument of your mercy”. We can’t do it on our own. We need to be helped. We have to turn to the “higher power”, God who is love. We have a desire in us to be merciful but we need to learn how to be an instrument of mercy. So the first step is not to rush out doing loads of things but rather to offer ourselves to the Lord, asking him to make us instruments of mercy and then asking him for his help, “here I am, Lord, I give myself to you. Make me an instrument of your mercy”. That’s a step we take in our hearts. In one of his prayers, one of the great intellectual saints, St. Anselm said, “Lord, give me what you have made me want. I praise and thank you for the desire that you have inspired (in me). Bring to completion what you have begun, and grant me what you have made me long for”.[1]

The One who comes to our assistance moment by moment is the Holy Spirit. Each of us received the Holy Spirit when we were baptised and we were strengthened for mission by the Holy Spirit at Confirmation. Perhaps we don’t ask the Holy Spirit enough to help us. We need to listen more to and be attentive to the “inner voice” of the Spirit speaking in our hearts and minds. The Holy Spirit is really important for Christians.

Mercy is a Lifestyle

Secondly, to be an instrument of mercy means making mercy a way of life. A person can either be merciful or unmerciful; it is a lifestyle. This me that it is a way of living, seeing, thinking and doing. The famous Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas wrote that love has “eyes”. To make mercy a lifestyle we need to keep looking at reality with new eyes of mercy.

At a youth gathering recently young people quoted to me a priest who had said: “The only opinions that matter are not others’ opinion of you not even your own opinion of yourself but God’s opinion of you.” Yes, to try and see yourself with God’s merciful eyes. And this applies also to how we view others. Of course, at times we have to make assessment of situations, provide objective facts. But that shouldn’t take from the way we “look” at people. What matters is to try and see them as God sees them, God who is full of love and mercy.

The point is that dust can settle so easily on our relationships. This dust can be a judgement we make about others. The way we see others, our eye, can become complicated. The one thing we have to do is to see Jesus in our neighbour. And yet, as we know, we can easily slip into seeing how our neighbour has this or that fault, has this or that imperfection. Perhaps that particular neighbour, like all of us, has made mistakes, but the question to ask ourselves is: how does God view him or her? Perhaps there are circumstances that make the person act the way they do. So we need to view things with truth but truth is also love and mercy. Servant of God, Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare Movement once put it as follows: “truth is pure mercy with which we ought to be clothed from head to foot in order to be able to call ourselves Christians”.

Doing Works of Mercy

Thirdly, to be instruments of mercy we need to do works of mercy. It is one thing to speak of mercy, and it is another to live mercy. Paraphrasing the words of St James the Apostle (cf. 2:14-17), we could say that mercy without works is dead. Remember we know the exam questions that we’ll be asked at the end of our lives. We find them in the Gospel listed by Jesus as reported in Matthew 25: Did you give me food when I was hungry? Did you give me to drink when I was thirsty? Did you visit me when I was imprisoned? Did you comfort me when I was in trouble? If we do them, we will have done everything needed for our entrance into heaven. But not just for heaven at the end of our lives. We can already, at least a little, begin to experience the peace and love of heaven if we put into practice these concrete ways of loving.

The Church speaks of 14 Acts of mercy, seven corporal and seven spiritual. I’ll list them.

The corporal works are the acts of love and kindness by which we help our neighbors with their material and physical needs: feed the hungry; shelter the homeless; clothe the naked; visit the sick and imprisoned; bury the dead; give alms to the poor.

The spiritual works are acts of compassion by which we help our neighbors with their emotional and spiritual needs: instruct the ignorant; counsel the doubtful; admonish sinners; bear wrongs patiently; forgive offences willingly; comfort the afflicted; pray for the living and the dead.

We can live works of mercy throughout the day. For instance, are you a student? If so you can also help classmates when, for instance, you are working on a study project together. In doing so, you are counselling the doubting, instructing the ignorant. Is there a neighbour going through a bereavement or difficulty? By consoling them you are comforting the afflicted. Is there someone at home ill? Do you look after them? You are visiting the sick. Do you manage to put up with a troublesome work colleague? You are living the spiritual work of mercy that is to forgive offences willingly. There are many examples that you can think of. Of course, there are modern applications of these works when applied to the large social issues of our times: engaging with the issue of refugees and migrants; combatting human trafficking; tackling issues of mental health. Everywhere we turn we can be instruments of mercy.

Pope Francis’ priorities to inspire us

In his major letters Pope Francis has indicated three areas in particular where we can be instruments of mercy.

The first is the Family. Pope Francis writes: “no family drops down from heaven perfectly formed; families need constantly to grow and mature in the ability to love.” Each family is on a journey. Each member of a family has some step to take in being more merciful towards one another. Again Pope Francis reminds us we need to “stop demanding of our interpersonal relationships a perfection, a purity of intentions and a consistency which we will only encounter in the Kingdom to come”. And that also “keeps us from judging harshly those who live in situations of frailty” (Letter on the Joy of Love, Amoris Laetitia, n. 324). We are called to be instruments of mercy in the family. We don’t have to wait for our family to be perfect. We can take the step to be the first to love, the first to show mercy.

The second area we can show mercy is to go out to the “peripheries”. Pope Francis writes, ‘all of us are called to take part in the (Church’s) new missionary “going forth”. Each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel.’ (Letter on the Joy of the Gospel, Evangelii Gaudium, 21). That can be different for each one of us depending on context – we can have personal peripheries – people we find it hard to get on with; people who are distant from us – but there are also people living on the margins in our towns, our cities, people in situations of poverty, neglect, isolation. We can go out to them as instruments of mercy, building relationships of tenderness and compassion.

The third area Pope Francis highlights is the Environment. In his letter on the environment, Laudato Sì, Pope Francis outlines his vision of an ‘integral ecology’, one that embraces the spiritual, social, economic and political spheres. Pope Francis uses a strong term when he says we need to be a ‘counter culture’ – a culture which is not based on having but on being, on self-giving. He invites us to join hands – to take political action together. But this requires what he calls an ‘eco-conversion’ at a personal and community level. He writes that “as believers, we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings.” (220) He reminds us that a merciful approach to our planet and to the use of its goods, brings an “inner peace”. So, here’s a third way to be instruments of mercy – to care towards our planet.


Apart from these three priorities, Pope Francis has pointed out that one of the most obvious works of mercy, and perhaps the most difficult to put into practice, is to forgive those who have offended us, who have done us wrong or whom we consider to be enemies. He writes, “At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence, and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully” (Letter on the Year of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus, 9).

To forgive doesn’t mean forgetting in the sense of not facing up to reality. It is not simply giving in because I’m afraid of a stronger person. It doesn’t mean saying something serious doesn’t really matter or saying that evil is good. It is not indifference in the sense of ignoring issues. On the contrary, forgiveness is something we do freely, consciously. We recognise sin for what it is, name it but then go on to welcome the neighbour as he or she is, despite the harm done. It is about opening up a new relationship. We need to have this forgiveness towards one another, towards those we read about on social media or television.

The great example of this is Saint Pope John Paul II. An assassination attempt was made on his life in 1981. He was shot four times and nearly died. His recovery was slow. It was a difficult and dark time for him. But that didn’t stop him going to the prison to visit his Turkish would-be assasin, Agi Agka and offer words of forgiveness. I read that Agi Agka went a few years ago to lay flowers on the tomb of John Paul.

Together as Church

One final point. We can’t be instruments of mercy on our own. That’s why we have the Church. It is a worldwide project that gives value to every little act of mercy of ours. We come together to be strengthened. As one of the early Church writers, Tertullian, wrote: No one Christian on his or own is a Christian. We are linked as a body of people all over the world. We know the joy and strength we get when we meet like here. Even if we mightn’t always feel it, we also get great strength when we gather for Sunday Mass. But it is important to also look for other occasions to share the journey together – pilgrimages, gatherings together in our diocese or movement or community.

Together we become a powerful instrument of mercy in the world – how many people right now are hearing the merciful message of Jesus being preached in churches and gatherings all over the world; how many are being instructed in schools and institutions run by Catholics! How many are receiving healing from missionaries in hospitals and charitable agencies working across the globe! How many people those living and those who have died are being remembered and prayed for all over the world at Masses today! Together as a Church we are bringing ahead God’s mission of mercy in our world.

But there’s a deeper reason still why it is the Church is important to help us be instruments of mercy. The point is that we go to God together. And Jesus himself wants to be among us so that he can walk again in this world continuing his mission of mercy. He promised us: “when two or more are gathered in my name, there am I among you”. This is the Church. Jesus among us. To let Jesus be visible among us is the greatest way we can be an instrument of mercy. And how can we do that? It is by our love for one another that we show mercy. Jesus himself said so: “By this all will know you are my disciples by the love you have for one another!” (Jn 13:35). This is important. If we love one another, not just a bit of love and a bit of friendship, but a genuine attempt to really serve one another, live for one another. After all, Jesus gave us the measure, “love one another as I have loved you”. If we do this together then we are letting Jesus to come once again into our world. What could be better than to let him who is Mercy be among us to continue his mission of mercy?

A concluding prayer

I can conclude with something someone said to me when I mentioned about today’s catechesis. Taking up the idea of musical instruments, he said that if we are to be instruments of God's mercy, we can't spend all our time just tuning our instruments. We need to get out and play them! To be an instrument of God's mercy, we have to strike that balance between tuning and playing - and the great thing is that WYD is an opportunity to tune the instrument, the music will flow when we return home!

So with that in mind, we can conclude with the prayer of Saint Faustina, a Polish saint, a humble apostle of Divine Mercy in our times: “Help me, O Lord,

... that my eyes may be merciful, so that I will never be suspicious or judge by appearances, but always look! for what is beautiful in my neighbours’ souls and be of help to them;

… that my ears may be merciful, so that I will be attentive to my neighbours’ needs, and not indifferent to their pains and complaints;

… that my tongue may be merciful, so that I will never speak badly of others, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all;

… that my hands may be merciful and full of good deeds;

… that my feet may be merciful, so that I will hasten to help my neighbour, despite my own fatigue and weariness;

… that my heart may be merciful, so that I myself will share in all the sufferings of my neighbour” (Diary, 163).

[1] The Prayers and Meditations of St. Anselm, translated by Benedicta Ward. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973, pp. 94-95.