God’s mercy invites us to look, go deeper, see something larger at stake

Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB

By Sister Rachel Bergschneider, OSB

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Sept. 11

Exodus 32:7-11,13-14; Psalm 51:3-4,12-13,17,19; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32

We cannot observe Sept. 11 without remembering the terrible tragedy of 2001, some 15 years ago. Living through such an experience on so many levels — families who have lost someone in the tragedy, a city marred by the experience, a nation terribly bruised by the situation — has marked us forever.

Every experience in life, whether good or bad, has the potential to teach us. Are there lessons we have learned? The words of Pope Francis give us direction and hope as we integrate the lessons of this tragic event. He has dedicated this year to mercy. It is amazing how attention to the living out of mercy demonstrated first of all by Pope Francis himself gives depth and greater understanding to the meaning of a virtue we have known since the early years of our life.

When I reflect on all three readings of the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, mercy is a key theme.

In the first reading, the Lord’s anger prompts a cry to destroy the people of Israel. “Let me alone, then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them,” says the Lord. Moses implores God to relent, reminding Him of the great promises God has made to the people. “Why, O Lord, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand? . . . Remember your saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’” Despite their unfaithfulness, God relents and remains faithful to the people of Israel.

In the second reading, St. Paul acknowledges his unworthiness in becoming the minister of Christ’s message to the world. Paul was “once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant” by his own admission. But he is quite aware that he has “been mercifully treated” by the Lord “so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.” (1 Timothy 1:13)

A THIRD OPTION

The Gospel is a resounding example of God’s mercy. It begins with two stories of God’s incredible mercy and compassion: the joy of finding the lost sheep and the rejoicing of the woman who found her lost coin. The most poignant example in the Gospel is the story of the wayward son.

The father not only welcomed his son back home after a life of dissipation; he looked for him and waited for him, so that, when the son did return home, the father threw out all recrimination to celebrate the son’s homecoming.

What do these readings teach us about mercy? Mercy has a dimension beyond either/or. It is a sort of third way, an inner wisdom that sees something larger at stake. Mercy is motivated by reconciling differences and realizing that the truth of God’s compassion is greater and deeper than what appears on the surface. It is an expression of God’s unconditional love.

As we begin to draw to a conclusion this Year of Mercy, our prayer is a continual plea for the inner wisdom of God that breaks open our heart to see the way God sees and act the way God acts. It is a gift that will change our life.

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SISTER RACHEL Bergschneider, OSB, is a member of the Sisters of St. Benedict of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. She serves as pastoral associate at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Peoria Heights.

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