by Ken Rolheiser
Returning to life after Christmas and New Year

The story goes that a Syrian refugee didn’t want to come to Saskatchewan. Asked why not, he replied that here people worship the Rough Riders even though they can’t win a game.

The fun in this opening line is in the incongruity between this story and real life.

Life devoid of spirituality leaves us in the darkness Paul Simon sang about in “The Sounds of Silence”. People talking without speaking, hearing without listening. The words of the prophet are written on the subway walls and tenement halls, and whispered in the sounds of silence.

And in “Everyday”, Rod Stewart sings about “drinkin wine, feelin’ fine”, waiting for a sign. “Right now is where you are / In a broken dream” (Songwriter: David Bentley). Loneliness seems to be a common condition in the life described in both songs.

Stewart’s song alludes to some theme of hope: “Did someone bow their head? / Did someone break the bread?”

The miracle of Christmas is that Christ came to us and he stayed. He is still present in the Bread of Life. “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty Saviour” (Zephaniah 3:17).

On December 8, 2015, Pope Francis proclaimed a Holy Year of mercy that is being celebrated by 1.2 billion Catholics in the world. In Matthew 9:13 Jesus says, “Go and learn the meaning of the words: What I want is mercy, not sacrifice.”

We have been freed from the practise of Old Testament sacrifice. The Body of Christ has replaced the lamb or bull on the altar. We are bought and paid for with the blood of Christ and we belong to God.

Mercy is so important that God sent his Son to give his life for us. When I worry about God’s wrath, I remember God’s mercy or love. Another key word is compassion.

Some bible translations say “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Luke’s Gospel says, “Be compassionate, as your heavenly Father is compassionate” (6:36). Love makes us perfect; mercy makes us perfect, and compassion makes us perfect. These are the qualities of Christ that are in us – and Christ is perfect.

Of course we are still imperfect sinners – we can’t even get that right!

But God loves us and fills us with hope because of his mercy. We often feel that we are such foolish sinners that God cannot possibly forgive us again and again. This keeps some away from God’s mercy and from the church.

Jesus tells us to forgive seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-23); in other words, a number suggesting infinity. God will forgive us that often.

In an agony of guilt Claudius (in Hamlet) says, “All may be well.” All is well! God gave us his mercy when we were yet sinners. God grants us mercy no matter what we have done in life. We abide in his mercy at all times.

As the Year of Our Lord 2016 unfolds, let us be awake to God’s mercy, to God’s love. That will fill us with gratitude! “Those who are awake live in a constant state of amazement.” Jack Kornfield

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