Making sure God does not go too far

In 2010 I went to the Holy Land with other bishops. We stayed in Galilee where Jesus lived and preached.

The last night, just before leaving the place to go to the airport and fly back, a man approached me to talk. He was living at the place. He said: "You know bishop I am blessed being here. We do not get a salary. We are here to welcome people like you who come to the Holy. Land. My wife is here too. You probably met her. She is not well. She has cancer. She's had many surgeries and she is suffering a lot. I am grateful to God for having her still with me and for being able to spend this time together here."

He then put a hand in his pocket and showed me a small cross. He said: "this cross was made out of a tree that is here outside. It is an old tree. It is believed to be 2000 years' old. If so, it was here when Jesus preached... Whenever I am struggling, I just put my hand in my pocket and grab the cross to be reminded of His love for us."

To my surprise, he then gave me the cross saying: "Take it and whenever you feel you are struggling in your service as a bishop, put your hand in your pocket and remember Jesus".

Carrying a cross in our pockets can be a beautiful prayer. There are times when we pray with words and times when it is just the silence of our hearts. Like John Vianney who used to say about his prayer in from of the Blessed Sacrament: "I just look at Him and He looks at me." 

We do it today in front of the cross and Jesus crucified. There will probably be no words as we witness such a suffering and death.

I like the silent prayer of carrying a cross in the pocket because it reminds me of the words we heard on Ash Wednesday: "when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them; I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you." (Mt 6:6)

I prefer the cross on the pocket to the one we carry from our necks. Some carry crosses in silver or gold. I see on TV people with big crosses on their chests. I wonder if out of faith or fashion. I fear that makes us forget the crucifixion was the most cruel and disgusting degradation of a human being. It was the most painful and because no organs were affected it could take days until the person would die.

To my friend in the Holy Land, the cross was strength in his struggles. To others might be a very much necessary reminder of Jesus' merciful love. 

Early last year, a book of interviews with Pope Francis was published. Its name was: "the name of God is mercy". Lovely title. The name of God is mercy...

We need to remember it by heart because even though we read about God's mercy, even though we preach about mercy, we still struggle to welcome God's mercy in our lives. Even though we had a jubilee of mercy, we still believe and preach that in one way or another God punishes us for our sins. 

No matter how many Holy Thursdays and how many times at Mass we hear Jesus say: "this is my body given up for you... this is my blood poured out for you..." and no matter how many Good Fridays we remember his passion and death on the cross, we still believe that somehow, somewhere, God punishes us for our sins.

It seems to be in our blood. 

It seems we have decided how God should be and behave. It is not what Jesus revealed to us but what we have decided to believe. We are stubborn. We do not want to welcome the good news of God's merciful love.

We might feel we do not deserve it. Of course, we don't. It is a gracious gift from God. We grow up trying to make sure we deserve what we are given. Mercy, is totally gracious. 

Sometimes, instead, we play it clever. We proclaim God's mercy but we put limits to it thinking: "God is merciful but not always, not all the time. He cannot always forgive". We need to make sure God does not go too far!

God wants to fill our lives with his merciful love but we seem not to want that. Maybe because we are afraid. We are aware that doing so might challenge us to do the same. In fact Jesus said: "Be merciful like the Father". We might not believe in being merciful with others.

The problem is that when we do not choose mercy, we choose violence.

Then, His death on the cross is powerless in our lives.

The choice is ours. We all know the painting of Jesus knocking at a door which can only be opened from inside. 

In his letter to the Romans Paul wonders: "Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?" Probably yes... our own choice not to open the door to it.

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Bishop of the Diocese of Manzini (Swaziland)

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