The following is the prepared text of a homily delivered by Bishop Rice on Sunday, December 13, 2015. Prior to Mass, Bishop Rice opened the center doors of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis in a special ceremony to mark the beginning of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
In 1765, members of the American colonies rejected the authority of the British government to tax them without representation. Thus began the American Revolution, with much bloodshed to follow.
In 1789, with the attack on the Bastille, the French monarchy was dismantled. In the ensuing years of the French Revolution, the guillotine became symbolic of its Reign of Terror, and blood flowed through the streets of Paris.
In 1917, Czar Nicholas II abdicated his throne which led to the Russian Revolution and WWI. By the end of the war, some estimate 16 million people had died.
In 2015, as we look to the New Year, there is a new revolution on the horizon. A revolution called for by none other than our Holy Father, Pope Francis – a Revolution of Tenderness. And in his revolution, he is hoping for an Army of Mercy, armed not with weapons of war, bloodshed and destruction, but rather, armed with works of mercy – and led into battle with the Cross, the sign of victory.
In the opening line of the Declaration of this year, Pope Francis states, “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” So the more we study his words, his actions and his very person, the more we come to know the mercy of the Father. At his birth, we see the unfolding of mercy, and on the Cross, we see mercy in full bloom. At his birth and at his death, who is there? His mother. And at that pivotal moment, at the foot of the Cross, when Mary heard those words come from the lips of her son, “Father, forgive them,” – at that moment, Mary became the “Mother of Mercy.” The Cross, at that moment became the preeminent sign of God’s mercy.
So, what is mercy? When love responds to misery, Pope Francis says, that response is mercy. Love up to that point, is simply a theory. But when made concrete and real, when love is in response to the suffering of another person, that concrete, real response becomes an act of mercy.
In one of his weekday homilies in September, Pope Francis said “mercy is an act of kindness directed toward someone who doesn’t deserve it.” So the next step is to ask, “Do you have anyone in your life that doesn’t deserve your kindness? Is there someone who has hurt you, someone you have written off as undeserving, unworthy of your kindness? That person is exactly to whom your kindness should be directed. And when that happens, you are part of this Revolution of Tenderness called for by the Holy Father.
Just prior to Mass I symbolically opened the doors of the Cathedral. I wish it were that easy to open my heart to God. The human heart is much more challenging. The doors to the Cathedral were tied shut with a cord. The human heart can be surrounded by a chain of anger, bolted shut with resentment and sealed tight with bitterness.
How do I overcome it all? First, recognize my need for the mercy of God in the sacrament of confession. I have sinned, and it’s my fault, my most grievous fault. I must grieve for the times I have turned away from the sufferings of others, when I have not forgiven others, when I have not shown mercy. And, then, once I have received that mercy, become an instrument of mercy for others. How? By extending mercy to those I have written off in the past, those who have hurt me. For me, I could begin with my nine brothers and sisters! I may need more than just one year for that! And, I can live out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. And when we do that, we become a part of what Pope Francis is calling for – a Revolution of Tenderness.
In the 2000-year history of the Church, there have been many revolutions throughout the world. This Year of Mercy is calling forth from us a Revolution of Tenderness. Let us begin, and may the Mother of Mercy show us the way.