Morning Glory and Mercy

Morning Glory and Mercy

Today is a day of “morning glory” at Ave Maria University.

This afternoon our Oratory will be standing-room only as our Bishop, His Excellency Frank Dewane, invites students to make or renew their personal vow of consecration to Jesus through Mary.  And then the Bishop will venture to the front of the Oratory and join our trustees, including founder Tom Monaghan, and our faculty, staff, and students, and consecrate the University to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Hundreds of students have made or are making the “33 Days to Morning Glory” preparation of Fr. Gaitley and are ready to have themselves “overshadowed” by the Holy Spirit as daughters and sons of Mary, our patroness.

If I sound excited, it is because I am!

As is the case every feast of the Annunciation, Our Lady has taken care of the weather and our prayer and outdoor festival will not see any rain (there I go again with the weather!).  We expect about 1,200-1,500 people.  Tom Monaghan and three of our students are celebrating their birthday’s today.  When St. John’s prologue speaks of “love following upon love” or “grace following grace” (I have two Bibles with two different translations for verse 16), we can see this concretely in today’s day.

Pope Francis has announced a “Jubilee Holy Year of Mercy” beginning December 8, 2015 and running through Christ the King Sunday in 2016.  

Today, Ave Maria University will get a head start on this time of grace, for to consecrate a University to Jesus through Mary is to recognize the singular significance of the “mother of Mercy” who is “our life, our sweetness, and our hope.”

On the occasion he announced this extraordinary jubilee, he called us to focus on Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  The Holy Father will actually formalize this announcement on Mercy Sunday in less than three weeks.  The year will begin with the opening of the Holy Door of the Basilica of St. Peter’s on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a Marian feast. 

Ave Maria University, Our Lady’s university, can start the jubilee year of mercy now! 

The Holy Father is inviting us to live a joyful, loving, and merciful Christianity. We cannot call ourselves faithful Catholics without such joy, love and mercy evident in our lives. And our campus cannot be authentically Catholic if each and every aspect of it does not radiate with joy, love and mercy.

Last month Pope Francis gave a beautiful homily in St. Peter’s on the occasion of elevating a new cohort of bishops to the rank of cardinal.  He preached on Jesus’ healing of a leper.

Read what he said:

“Moses, in his legislation regarding lepers, says that they are to be kept alone and apart from the community for the duration of their illness.  He declares them: “unclean!” (cf. Lev 13:1-2, 45-46).

Imagine how much suffering and shame lepers must have felt: physically, socially, psychologically and spiritually!  They are not only victims of disease, but they feel guilty about it, punished for their sins!  Theirs is a living death; they are like someone whose father has spit in his face (cf. Num 12:14).

In addition, lepers inspire fear, contempt and loathing, and so they are abandoned by their families, shunned by other persons, cast out by society.  Indeed, society rejects them and forces them to live apart from the healthy.  It excludes them.  So much so that if a healthy person approached a leper, he would be punished severely, and often be treated as a leper himself.

The purpose for this rule was “to safeguard the healthy”, “to protect the righteous”, and, in order to guard them from any risk, to eliminate “the peril” by treating the diseased person harshly.  As the high priest Caiaphas decreed: “It is better to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed” (Jn 11:50).

Jesus revolutionizes and upsets that fearful, narrow and prejudiced mentality.  He does not abolish the law of Moses, but rather brings it to fulfillment (cf. Mt 5:17).  He does so by stating, for example, that the law of retaliation is counterproductive, that God is not pleased by a Sabbath observance which demeans or condemns a man.  He does so by refusing to condemn the sinful woman, but saves her from the blind zeal of those prepared to stone her ruthlessly in the belief that they were applying the law of Moses.  Jesus also revolutionizes consciences in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5), opening new horizons for humanity and fully revealing God’s “logic”.  The logic of love, based not on fear but on freedom and charity, on healthy zeal and the saving will of God.  For “God our Saviour desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4).  “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Mt 12:7; Hos 6:6).

Jesus, the new Moses, wanted to heal the leper.  He wanted to touch him and restore him to the community without being “hemmed in” by prejudice, conformity to the prevailing mindset or worry about becoming infected.  Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences!  For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family!  And this is scandalous to some people!”

It is fair to ask, why did Pope Francis take on as his motto something so base and unflattering as “miserando atque eligendo” – “Wretched but chosen.”  He said it was derived from a homily by St. Bede on the call of Matthew.  That’s telling.  He, the Vicar of Christ, identifies with the tax collector Matthew.

My favorite parable in all of the Gospels in Luke 16’s “The Rich Man and Lazarus.”  It is filled with so many insights into the heart of the Lord and the nature of man.  I often have thought as I pray that the correct disposition would be like Lazarus: collapsed in a heap at the feet of the Master, covered with the sores of sin, almost leprous, in need of healing, in need of mercy.  

Unless Ave Maria University is a school of mercy, it will not be authentically Catholic.  Mercy calls sin what it is – sin, wrongdoing, intentional moral failure, an offense against God. And so it is.  But that isn’t the last word. As St. John Paul II invited us to discover, it is the misery of the sinner that unleashes mercy from the heart of God. Mercy triumphs over our sin, if we but seek the healing touch of the good Doctor.  

Ave Maria University today consecrates itself to Jesus through Mary, the mother of mercy.  We have a wonderful opportunity to evangelize the world by how we show mercy toward sinners, and how we receive mercy as the sinners we ourselves are.  

When students don’t feel superior to other students who might be enslaved in sin; when we race to find the best in others; when we look to forgive, not condemn, bad conduct, and seek to get others help; when we “love our crooked neighbors with our crooked hearts” (paraphrasing Catherine Doherty’s words); when we avoid gossip or assuming the worst in others’ motivations; then we are creating a school of mercy on our campus.

Indeed the Lord seeks out the lost sheep.  He rejoices when the lost sheep is brought home. 

We know too well that the culture of the 21st century America is fallen and that there are many casualties. So many lost sheep!  Wouldn’t it be great if today the University began in earnest to seek out the lost and celebrate, as the Father in the Parable of Two Sons (Luke 15) , when a fallen sinner returns home?

That is what joyful, merciful, and loving Catholicism can mean at Ave Maria, starting today.  It may seem as if we are indifferent to sin when we forgive and forget. That is not mercy. There is no indifference to sin and there never can be. By doing the very difficult, sometimes nearly impossible work of forgiveness, we are simply not letting sin have the final word.  

To some longing for punishment of the sinner, the thought of extending mercy to someone caught in sin might seem scandalous. I close with more of Pope Francis’ homily:

“Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal!  He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity.  He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp (cf. Jn 10).

There are two ways of thinking and of having faith: we can fear to lose the saved and we can want to save the lost.  Even today it can happen that we stand at the crossroads of these two ways of thinking.  The thinking of the doctors of the law, which would remove the danger by casting out the diseased person, and the thinking of God, who in his mercy embraces and accepts by reinstating him and turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation.

These two ways of thinking are present throughout the Church’s history:  casting off and reinstating.  Saint Paul, following the Lord’s command to bring the Gospel message to the ends of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19), caused scandal and met powerful resistance and great hostility, especially from those who demanded unconditional obedience to the Mosaic law, even on the part of converted pagans.  Saint Peter, too, was bitterly criticized by the community when he entered the house of the pagan centurion Cornelius (cf. Acts 10).

The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement.  This does not mean underestimating the dangers of letting wolves into the fold, but welcoming the repentant prodigal son; healing the wounds of sin with courage and determination; rolling up our sleeves and not standing by and watching passively the suffering of the world.  The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart.  The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those on the “outskirts” of life.  It is to adopt fully God’s own approach, to follow the Master who said: “Those who are well have no need of the physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call, not the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk5:31-32).”

See you at Mass at 5pm and on the plaza and lawn after!  Mary, our dearest mother, pray for us!  Ave Maria University is totus tuus – totally thine!