Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). In the Sermon of the Mount our Lord speaks a lot about this wonderful beatitude, which reflects the attitude of his heavenly Father, and therefore, of all mothers and fathers. This is why it seems to best reinforce the Fourth Commandment: Honor thy father and mother.
In the Sermon of the Mount, our Lord tells us how to be good children of our heavenly Father by imitating his mercy:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
St. Luke ends this passage a bit differently but with the same message, with Jesus saying:
“And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:33-36).
Certainly being merciful means forgiving others the harm and hurt they have caused us, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Yet Christ’s Sermon of the Mount tells us that mercy means more than that. It means doing good to the just and to the unjust, to the evil and to the good. In other words, Christ wants us to be good sons of our Father God, by imitating him in showing mercy toward others, loving them, praying for them, greeting them, and lending to them. To be perfect as your heavenly Father means to be merciful as he is merciful.
We honor God and we honor our parents because they treat us with mercy, as real persons, not as a slave or as a robot blindly obeying. They treat us as creatures made in their own image and likeness, as an equal in terms of shared dignity. As St. John Paul II reminded us:
“[The Fourth] commandment comes after… the first and greatest commandment, the commandment of love for God ‘above all else’: God is to be loved ‘with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might’ (Deuteronomy 6:5; cf. Matthew 22:37). It is significant that the fourth commandment is placed in this particular context. ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ because for you they are in a certain sense representatives of the Lord; they are the ones who gave you life… And so, honor your parents! There is a certain analogy here with the worship owed to God. The fourth commandment is closely linked to the commandment of love” (Letter to Families, 15).
The greatest way to honor our parents—to honor God—is to imitate them: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… of true honor. So, let us imitate God in being merciful, and God shall grant us the greatest mercy, that of eternal life.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Another virtue to strive to live and model during this time of Advent and Christmas is mercy—the virtue of apologizing, forgiving, and reconciliation—especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Parents frequently find themselves urging one child to apologize to another: “Now say you’re sorry.” This is part of life in the family and in the Church. Pope Francis had some wonderful, spontaneous comments in his recent trip to Philadelphia:
“In families, there are difficulties. In families, we argue; in families, sometimes the plates fly; in families, the children give us headaches… [not] to mention the mother-in-law. But in families, there is always, always, the cross… But, in families as well, after the cross, there is the resurrection. Because the Son of God opened for us this path… the family is… a factory of hope, of hope of life and of resurrection” (Vigil Remarks, September 26, 2015)
Christmas time is not free of family difficulties, some which have built up throughout the year, even over years—especially with the extended family. This is the cross we are called to carry alongside Christ. And from the Cross Jesus forgave his relatives who crucified him: “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not… ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’” (John 1:11; Luke 22:34).
During this Christmas season, imitating Jesus on the Cross, let us try to “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36), being a wonderful example for others, as Pope Francis recently reminded us:
“The family is a great training ground for the mutual giving and forgiving without which no love can last for long. Without self-giving and seeking forgiveness love does not last, it does not endure… One cannot live without seeking forgiveness, or at least, one cannot live at peace, especially in the family. We wrong one another every day. We must take into account these mistakes, due to our frailty and our selfishness. However, what we are asked to do is to promptly heal the wounds that we cause, to immediately reweave the bonds that break within the family. If we wait too long, everything becomes more difficult. There is a simple secret to healing wounds and to avoiding recriminations. It is this: do not let the day end without apologizing, without making peace between husband and wife, between parents and children, between brothers and sisters… between daughters- and mothers-in-law! If we learn to apologize promptly and to give each other mutual forgiveness, the wounds heal, the marriage grows stronger, and the family becomes an increasingly stronger home, which withstands the shocks of our smaller or greater misdeeds. This is why there is no need for a long speech, as a caress is enough: one caress and everything is over and one can start afresh. But do not end the day at war!” (General Audience, November 4, 2015).
What wonderful advice. What a wonderful way to teach our children and our world that longs for peace but cannot find it, a world terrorized by violence and hatred. Peace is possible, but only through mercy and forgiveness.
Let us take full advantage of Christmastime to apologize for wrongs or hurts we have caused—I now as pardon if I have hurt you—and forgive any wrong we have experienced. Then enjoy Christ’s peace this Christmas.
Fr. John R. Waiss
As we begin the Year of Mercy, may the Holy Family help us live our vocation and to fulfill our mission: Our Mission is Love; Our Mission is Mercy. We bring Christmas joy to the world by being instruments of mercy for others.
We encourage all of you to make your joy more complete this Christmas by looking for and finding opportunities to live the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy during this Christmas season. What a wonderful way to teach the Christian way to your children, grandchildren, friends, and colleagues, simply by inviting them to join you in some Work of Mercy. Here is a list of the Works of Mercy:
Corporal Works of Mercy The Spiritual Works of Mercy
• Feed the hungry. • Admonish sinners.
Clothe the naked. • Counsel the doubtful.
Visit the sick. • Bear wrongs patiently.
Visit the imprisoned. • Pray for the living and the dead.
Give drink to the thirsty. • Instruct the ignorant.
Shelter the homeless. • Comfort the sorrowful.
Bury the dead. • Forgive offenses.
Some of our parishioners are very generous in reaching out to others. Some have gone up to serve the homeless at A Just Harvest in Rogers Park. Others have helped to build low cost housing in honor of Pope Francis. Such corporal works of mercy are examples of how God chooses to use us to bring joy and mercy to others, just as he chose Mary and Joseph to bring Jesus into the world.
Others parishioners are doing spiritual works of mercy, some by volunteering to teach religious education to our public school children. Others do so by encouraging a friend or family member to accompany them to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Let’s challenge ourselves this year to see how many of the works of mercy we can do. Then we can count on our Lord’s promise: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7); may you receive the full mercy of God that the Child Jesus wishes to bring by showing God’s mercy to others.
Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!
Fr. John R. Waiss
Christmas is approaching and that means more intense time for family life, which is where we primarily live and grow in virtue. This also means it is a wonderful time for the family to fulfill its mission to inculcate the virtues through their example of living them.
Christmas time gives us added incentive to live the virtues, because God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, the Word, who became man and dwelt amongst us in the family (cf. John 3:16; 1:14). His abundant love should move us to follow his virtuous acts of generosity, service, humility, gratitude, solidarity, peace, love, and reconciliation. We can also learn from the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, surrounding the baby Jesus in the manger, as they exemplify virtuous family interactions that should be in abundance during the Christmas Holidays.
For example, generosity and service: God comes to us as a baby, giving himself completely to us by his presence. God the Son doesn’t hold onto the comforts of remaining in heaven with God the Father. No, he comes to make himself our brother so he could serve: “as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
Likewise, the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph don’t hold onto the comforts of their home in Nazareth. The two readily leave behind all their possessions in order to go to Bethlehem. St. Joseph finds a cave used for a stable into the birthplace for the Messiah. He does what he can to clean the place up—but there is only so much you can do with a cave. He uses his carpentry skills to put together a makeshift crib from a manger—feeding trough for animals. He also tries to make the Virgin Mary as comfortable possible. How much Mary would have done to prepare for the Baby Jesus and to meet St. Joseph’s needs.
Parents can help their children practice generosity and service during this time: “Let’s be Mary’s little helper” as we clean up the “cave” of our house—children love to imagine the cave and then can see why we would want it clean for the coming of Jesus. “Let’s help St. Joseph get the cave ready” as we put up the Christmas tree or lights, or do some house repair.
We also live generosity in exchanging gifts. But remember, everything you do and give to another person you really do for Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew. 25:40,45). That means we ought to give generously, without expecting anything in return. If we compare what we receive to what we give, then we didn’t do it for Christ. Rectify and renew our desire to give ourselves and our gift unconditionally.
When we do receive gifts at Christmas, let’s live out the virtue of gratitude. Gratitude is a wonderful attitude, bringing sparkle and joy to all. It moves us to want to renew our self-giving and appreciate what we have.
We can see how Christ’ birth is a great reason for celebration, because it makes teaching virtues comes alive in his humanity. God is not a distant entity to whom we cannot relate, but a little baby who brings out the best in us, who brings out virtues, who brings out our love.
Fr. John R. Waiss
The Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy will begin this Tuesday, December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Pope Francis deliberately chose this day because:
“After the sin of Adam and Eve, God did not wish to leave humanity alone in the throes of evil. And so he turned his gaze to Mary, holy and immaculate in love (cf. Ephesians 1:4), choosing her to be the Mother of man’s Redeemer. When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive. I will have the joy of opening the Holy Door on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. On that day, the Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3).
The sinless Virgin Mary became the Mother of Mercy when she became the mother of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, “the face of the Father’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 1). This occurred “In the ‘fullness of time’ (Galatians 4:4), when… he sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way. Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (cf. John 14:9)” (ibid.).
As December 8th is also the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, the Pope seeks to fulfill the hopes and aspirations of popes St. John XXIII and Bl. Paul VI for the council:
“‘Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity… The Catholic Church, as she holds high the torch of Catholic truth at this Ecumenical Council, wants to show herself a loving mother to all; patient, kind, moved by compassion and goodness toward her separated children.’ Blessed Paul VI spoke in a similar vein at the closing of the Council: ‘We prefer to point out how charity has been the principal religious feature of this Council… the old story of the Good Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the Council… a wave of affection and admiration flowed from the Council over the modern world of humanity. Errors were condemned, indeed, because charity demanded this no less than did truth, but for individuals themselves there was only admonition, respect and love. Instead of depressing diagnoses, encouraging remedies; instead of direful predictions, messages of trust issued from the Council to the present-day world. The modern world’s values were not only respected but honored, its efforts approved, its aspirations purified and blessed… Another point we must stress is this: all this rich teaching is channeled in one direction, the service of mankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need’” (Misericordiae Vultus, 4, quoting St. John XXIII’s Opening Address and Bl. Paul VI’s Speech at the Final Session, 11 October 1962 and 7 December 1965 respectively).
Like the Church, the Blessed Virgin Mary is “a loving mother to all.” She “wishes to use the medicine of mercy” to help us “with confidence [to] draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). She does this by helping each one of us, wounded by sin, to approach Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
What a wonderful way to prepare ourselves for Christmas and to do a great work of mercy by bringing other “wounded” souls with us to Christ’s “Field Hospital” so that all may receive God’s mercy through this Sacrament.
Fr. John R. Waiss