HOMILY OF ARCHBISHOP RAMON C. ARGUELLES, 4th WORLD APOSTOLIC CONGRESS ON MERCY (WACOM4) January 18, 2017, 3rd Day Eucharist celebrated at the Shrine of St. Padre Pio, San Pedro, Sto. Tomas, Batangas.
My sincere and profound thanks to God and to the 4th World Apostolic Congress on Mercy international and national coordinators for selecting the Lipa Archdiocese as one of the five venues for this unique gathering of Divine Mercy pilgrims. The distinct honor, given this local church, is no doubt due to being the providential site of the National Shrine of the renowned Priest of Mercy. More than fifty years ago he already clearly demonstrated in his life that “…the ministry of confession … is a true priestly mission,” in the words of Pope Francis (MM#10). Saint Padre Pio makes his saintly presence plain this very day most particularly among the hundreds of confessors who follow strictly Pope Francis’ directive “to be welcoming to all, (to be) witnesses of fatherly love whatever the gravity of the sin involved, attentive in helping penitents to reflect on the evil they have done, clear in presenting moral principles, willing to walk patiently beside the faithful on their penitential journey, far-sighted in discerning individual cases and generous in dispensing God’s forgiveness’ (MM#10).
As you come to this sacred place, you did not fail to read the statement of San Padre Pio purposely made visible everywhere: “Pray, hope and don’t worry”. This advice concurs with the observation of Pope Francis that “In a culture often dominated by technology, sadness and loneliness appear to be on the rise, not least among young people. The future seems prey to an uncertainty that does not make for stability… often … (giving) … rise to depression, sadness and boredom, which can easily lead to despair. We need witnesses to hope and true joy … The profound sense of emptiness felt by so many people can be overcome by the hope we bear in our hearts and by the joy that it gives. We need to acknowledge the joy that rises up in a heart touched by mercy” (MM#3). WACOM from Rome to Krakow, from Bogota to Manila have this as backdrop for the timely upsurge of the Apostolate on Divine Mercy. The same Spirit spurs the Divine Mercy Apostles, from the three popes of our times to the most simple and hidden Divine Mercy advocate to proclaim God’s mercy throughout the entire planet. The saintly Capuchin, sought daily by thousands in this place is known as being an eminent channel of Divine Mercy, even long before the idea was officially accepted. So early did he endorse the cure to the present and prevalent depressive trend: “Pray, hope and don’t worry.” The Holy Father underscores the need to have “witnesses to hope and true joy … to dispel the illusions that promise quick and easy happiness through artificial paradises”. (MM#3).
The nine-year preparation for the fifth centenary of the first baptism administered and first Eucharist celebrated in Philippine soil (1521 – 2021) dedicates this year 2017 as the Year of Communion of Communities. The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy celebrated by the Universal Church the entire year 2016 was inspired by Pope Francis’ apostolic letter declaring Jesus Christ as the face of mercy, MISERICORDIAE VULTUS. In closing the extraordinary year, Pope Francis passionately stated that mercy be recognized as essential feature of Church’s life. Through the Apostolic Letter MISERICORDIA ET MISERA, he calls for a TIME of MERCY. WACOM4 was planned years before both Misericordiae Vultus and Misericordia et Misera. But its theme: COMMUNION IN MERCY, MISSION FOR MERCY is an early and animated response to the Pope’s challenge.
The Church is truly a communion in mercy with a mission for mercy. The Church in WACOM4’s host country reflects this entire year how to become a communion of communities. With sister Churches, the world over, the Church in the Philippines can draw abundant reflection points from Misericordia et Misera and from the challenge of WACOM4. Indeed persons and communities must experience mercy to become authentic witnesses of Mercy, as Pope Francis’ puts it ‘communities … alive and active in the work of evangelization … (equipped with) “pastoral conversion” … shaped daily by the renewing force of mercy’ (MM#5). Every community and every individual therein, ordained or lay, can and must be witnesses and bearers of Mercy after being and while remaining incessantly recipients of mercy.
Pope Francis says: “The celebration of mercy takes place in a very particular way in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Here we feel the embrace of the Father” (MM#8). The priests accompanying us today spend hours assisting penitents to share the mercy of the Father. They themselves habitually experience the Father’s mercy. In my twenty-three years of episcopal ministry, I often remark that priests rarely available to people for the Sacrament of Reconciliation are those with weak faith in and scant experience of mercy. Neither can these be relied on to assist the sick and the dying. Excellent confessors contrariwise are cheerful penitents. Priests who regularly confess are willing, eager and ever accessible confessors. How true is the saying the forgiven community is a forgiving community? A forgiven Church is a forgiving Church. A person forgiven is likewise easily forgiving.
In this year’s Communion of Communities for the Church in this nation, it is crucial to recognize an important source of communion: the experience of mercy. Pope Francis puts it in even nicer terms, it is “the embrace of the Father”. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, this particular way of celebrating mercy, is the experience of being embraced by the Father. The priest, who is, first of all, a penitent and who consistently experiences the embrace of the Father, becomes a wonderful confessor sharing the joy of the Father’s embrace with the faithful. The faithful in turn experiencing the Father’s embrace spread the beatific experience with those afflicted with resentment, anger, vengeful mood, those enduring pain, suffering, misunderstanding and persecution, those stricken with envy, jealousy and all kinds of negativities, or wounded by betrayal, violence, rejection and grieved by death of someone dear. This embrace of the Father brings so much happiness because it is LOVE. “… we must never lose our certainty of the Lord’s love for us” (MM#13), again the assuring words of the pope, “The experience of mercy enables us to regard all human problems from the standpoint of God’s love, which never tires of welcoming and accompanying” (MM#14). Most of all, the embrace of the Father is really Christ, the Divine Mercy. Christ is God’s eternal Love for us.
MISERICORDIAE VULTUS reminded us of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. During the entire Extraordinary Jubilee many enthusiastically fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, clothed the naked, sheltered the homeless, consoled the sick, visited the prisoners and buried the dead. MISERICORDIA ET MISERA encourages us to continue doing those works of mercy. So we instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, bear patiently with those who wrong us, forgive offenses, console the afflicted, pray for the living and the dead. In addition, Pope Francis urges us –and we heed his directive– to care for our common home. Some, however, feel that doing good things to others does not yet guarantee experience of Mercy. The loving embrace of the Father makes us one with Divine Mercy Himself, Jesus Christ. Thereby we become full-time witnesses and purveyors of mercy. We become through Christ, the Divine Mercy, more fully vehicle of mercy, individuals or a communion in mercy with a mission for mercy.
Christ is alive among us. This should become more visible to all. Mercy is not merely a fleeting act, a momentary gesture of goodness, similar to flickering lights. It is rather a personal encounter, a life fusion, an on-going and lasting union with Divine Mercy Himself. Imagine Christ who embraces with the Father’s merciful love the addict fearful for his life in danger of being snuffed out by a gun held by a former colleague in crime. He embraces, too, the wayward girl deprived of caring presence of loving parents. They were forced to seek livelihood far away, dreaming for her a bright future slowly turning however into a nightmare due to misguided search for affection. Think of Christ embracing the farmer and fisher folk reduced to extreme misery because of a promised progress that excludes poor people like them. He embraces, too, an antisocial person feeling never-ending rejection by others. He spits even on Mercy Himself because of utter desperation. He embraces the miserable, the unwanted, the neglected, the forgotten.
Christ the Face of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus, is more real if He is seen as One who while remaining sinless became sin. He does not shrink to be the life threatened addict, or the abused youth, or the impoverished farm or fisher folk, or the very sick and abandoned, the imprisoned threatened with capital punishment, the exploited, the orphaned, the unborn unwanted by self-centered parents, the children of delinquent and vicious elders, the refugees escaping from the destructive war games, the senseless powerful and mighty play seated in comfortable thrones. Divine Mercy Himself pleads for mercy by being the miserable, Misericordia et Misera.
The extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy 2016 faded into yesterday. But 2017 brightens with WACOM4’s challenge TO BE A COMMUNION OF MERCY AND TO BE A COMMUNITY WITH A MISSION FOR MERCY. To become the Church in Mercy sent on a Mission of Mercy, the Church has to live being the Body of Christ, the body of Divine Mercy. Mercy is no mere attribute of the Church. Due to Her incorporation to Christ, the Divine Mercy, She must herself be Mercy.
Finally, how can we fail to recognize the strong presence of and important role of Mary, Mother of Mercy. She personifies the Church so intimately and inseparably united to Divine Mercy, Her Son. The host Archdiocese gladly dedicates the whole year of reflection on Her who, a hundred years ago in Fatima and in various times and in many other places, has always shown Herself the Mother of Divine Mercy. She is the perfect model for all of us who, embraced by the Father, are called to extend that embrace to the whole of humanity and the entire creation.
Mother of Mercy,
help us to live as a community of mercy
called to spread mercy everywhere,
for with Your Son and You drawing us to Yourselves
the time of mercy has come and is here to stay.