Tag Archives: mercy

Saint Jerome

jerome

St. Jerome, whose feast is September 30, was a scripture scholar who brought the bible to western Christians through his translations from the Greek and Hebrew.  He was born in 340 in Stridon, a small town on the eastern Adriatic coast, and received an early education in Rome. He was baptized there in 360 by Pope Liberius.

Brilliant and eager to know,  Jerome traveled extensively. In Antioch in Syria he had a dream in which he saw himself rebuked by Christ for wasting his time on worldly knowledge. Moved by the dream, Jerome withdrew into the Syrian desert. There he said he was beset by temptations and “threw himself at the feet of Jesus, watering them with prayers and acts of penance.” The picture above portrays him praying to be delivered from temptation.

For penance, Jerome began studying Hebrew under a Jewish teacher, which later helped him translate and comment on the Bible.

Ordained a priest, Je arrived in Constantinople about 380 where he studied the scriptures under St. Gregory of Nazianzen. Two years later, he returned to Rome and was   given  the monumental task of translating the bible from Greek into Latin by Pope Damasus. His translation, called the Vulgate, his learned commentaries and sermons sparked a flowering of spirituality in the western church. Jerome won a devoted following, especially among Rome’s prominent Christian women eager to understand  the bible.

Jerome’s comments on Roman society drew critics who resented his biting tongue and caustic remarks. Stung by their attacks, he left Rome in 385 for the Holy Land where he established a community at Bethlehem near the cave where Christ was born and continued studying the scriptures, utilizing the nearby Christian library at Caesarea Maritima.  Friends from Rome joined him, among them the noblewoman Paula and her daughter Eustochia, who founded a monastic community of women in Bethlehem.

St. Catharine Church, Bethlehem

St. Catharine Church, Bethlehem. Remains of Jerome’s Monastery are under the church

“Ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ,” Jerome said. Besides his scripture studies he continually engaged in the church controversies of the day, sometimes dealing harshly and  unfairly with others.

In 410 Alaric and his warriors sacked Rome and a shocked Jerome provided shelter Roman Christians fleeing to the safety of the Holy Land. “I have put aside my studies to help them,” he wrote. “Now we must translate the words of scripture into deeds, and instead of speaking holy words we must do them.”

He died in Bethlehem in 420. His remains are buried in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome. A doctor and teacher of the church, he frankly recognized his need for God’s mercy. Jerome reminds us that saints are not perfect.

“Lord, show me your mercy and gladden my heart.

I am like the man going to Jericho, wounded by robbers.

Good Samaritan, come help me.

I am like a sheep gone astray.

Good Shepherd, come seek me and bring me home safe.

May I dwell in your house all my days and praise you forever.”

The Quality of Mercy

We’re reading from the Prophet Amos all this week at Mass. His message is “one of unrelieved gloom,” one commentator says, as he speaks  to 8th century Israel, the prosperous northern kingdom of his day.

God doesn’t like anything about it: “I hate, I spurn your feasts…I take no pleasure in your solemnities…Away with your noisy songs! I will not listen to the melodies of your harps.”

God can’t stand the songs they’re singing, the music they’re playing, their beautiful liturgies, because they show no justice towards the poor. So destruction awaits them.

But wait! This Saturday God turns in mercy to his people in one of Amos’ most beautiful passages:

“On that day I will raise up
the fallen hut of David;
I will wall up its breaches,
raise up its ruins,
and rebuild it as in the days of old…
Yes, days are coming,
says the LORD,
When the plowman shall overtake the reaper,
and the vintager, him who sows the seed;
The juice of grapes shall drip down the mountains,
and all the hills shall run with it.
I will bring about the restoration of my people Israel;
they shall rebuild and inhabit their ruined cities,
Plant vineyards and drink the wine,
set out gardens and eat the fruits.
I will plant them upon their own ground;
never again shall they be plucked
From the land I have given them,
say I, the LORD, your God.”  (Amos 9,11-15)

A beautiful definition of mercy. God comes to humanity at its worst, in its sham, its blindness, its evil, and raises it up again. Mercy does not depend on merit. It’s God loving us in spite of ourselves.

We see mercy best as it’s exemplified in the Passion of Jesus. In spite of hypocrisy and injustice, God offers his love to heedless humanity and the promise of a kingdom.

Have mercy on us, O Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

Be Merciful, O Lord, For We Have Sinned


David penitentBecause Jesus is often called “Son of David” in the New Testament and so many of the psalm we say are attributed to David, we may tend to idealize the great king, an important figure in Jewish history. David is credited with uniting the tribes of Israel and establishing a nation with its capitol in Jerusalem. Jesus himself appealed to David’s example when his enemies accused his hungry disciples of eating grain on the Sabbath.

Yet, the long narrative we read in the Book of Samuel today and tomorrow at Mass offers a darker picture of the famous king– he was a murderer and an adulterer. David had Urriah the Hittite, a faithful soldier in his army, killed so that he could have Bathsheba, his wife. (2 Samuel 11, 1-17)

Psalm 51 is the response we make at Mass after listening to the king’s sordid deed. Tradition says it’s David’s own response when he realized what he had done. The Book of Psalms calls Psalm 51: “A psalm of David when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

“Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
And of my sin cleanse me.”

The psalm, the first of the Seven Penitential Psalms, asks God to take away both the personal and social effects of our sin, for our sins do indeed have emotional, physical and social consequences. Only God can “wash away” our guilt and cleanse our heart. Only God can “rebuild” the walls that our sins have torn down and the lives they have harmed. Only God can restore joy to our spirits and help us “teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.” Only God can bring us back to his friendship.

In the scriptures, David is a complex figure– a saint and a sinner. He’s really a reflection of us all. That’s why our response in the psalm at Mass today takes the form that it does –

“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”

Mercy Comes to Your House

Zachaeus

Luke often tells stories of God’s mercy. Today we’re reading at Mass the story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho, a wealthy man whom Jesus called down from a tree and stayed with on his way to Jerusalem. His story is lesson about mercy. (Luke 19, 1-10)

As chief-tax collector, Zacchaeus was an agent for Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee and Perea in Jesus’ day. As archeologists uncover the ruins of Herod’s building projects in Galilee and elsewhere, it’s evident he built on a grand scale and lavishly, to impress his allies the Romans.

You needed money for building like that, of course, and that’s where tax-collectors came in. There was no dialogue or voting on government spending then. Herod told his army of tax-collectors, “Here’s how much I need; you go out and get it. Go to the fishermen along the Sea of Galilee and the farmers around Nazareth and the shepherds in the Jordan Valley and the merchants in Jericho and get what I need; I don’t care how, but get it.”

And so the tax collectors went out and got the money, keeping some for themselves. You needed to be tough and relentless for the job. It left you hard headed and hard hearted. An unsavory profession. People resented them.

Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho, was the one whom Jesus called and the one he stayed with on his way to Jerusalem.

The only thing Jesus says is: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” No thunderous warnings or stern corrections. Salvation has come and they sit down for a feast. You can hear in the story echoes of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, also from Luke’s gospel.

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Notice, too, that Jesus doesn’t call Zacchaeus to follow him, as he told another tax-collector, Matthew. He doesn’t tell him to give up his job and get out of that dirty, complicated situation. No, as far as we can tell Zacchaeus was still chief tax-collector in Jericho after Jesus left, still taking orders from Herod Antipas, still part of a sinful world. But that’s where Zacchaeus will experience salvation, even there.

God’s mercy works in the real world and in real life.

Friday Thoughts: Just The Facts

by Howard Hain

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All human beings are creations of God.

God loves all His creation.

He wills the best for each and every part of it.

His will is the best.

You are one of His creations.

So is the person you hate.

So is the person you dislike tremendously.

So is the person who annoys you to death.

God loves us all.

God offers us forgiveness for being so unkind to His other creations.

He loves us so much He gives us the freedom to choose the wrong path.

He loves us so much He sent His Only Begotten Son to show us the right way.

Jesus loves us so much He sent the Holy Spirit to strengthen and accompany us.

God smiles.

All three persons smile.

They are One God.

God’s love is all powerful and infinitely kind.

God’s gift of freedom is a gift He intends for us to use.

God desires for us to choose to become like Him.


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Friday Thoughts: Uneasy Mercy

by Howard Hain

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Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted…

—Luke 2:34


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When we are truly merciful, or at least sincerely try to be merciful—to see others and their deeds through the eyes of the Ever-Loving Eternal Father—there often is an unholy fear that takes place. This fear is not the fear of God. This fear is not from God.

No, the fear of God—the good and righteous “fear of the Lord”—a gift of the Holy Spirit—is not the fear to which I am referring. Let us make that perfectly clear. Absolutely not. That fear—the good and righteous “fear of the Lord”—is a great grace and is actually what prompts us to be merciful toward others in the first place.

The fear that I am referencing is superficial, like all fear other than the only fear we should ever have, “the fear of the Lord.” Whether this superficial fear comes from the world, from our own weak flesh, or from Satan, is not very important. For what we need to know and always remember is that this superficial fear is not of or from God.

It is the fear of being accused. Accused of condoning. For when we see others with true mercy we no longer merely look at their acts, no matter how sinful they may be. No, we see first and foremost a person. More so, we see a child. A child who is frightened. A child who is running a high fever. And no one with any heart at all, even if it be a calloused and somewhat hardened heart, wants to punish a frightened or feverish child.

No, no matter our maternal or paternal instinct, or lack thereof, the truly human instinct is to hug. To help. To hold. To heal. To alleviate the fear and burning pain.

But without God’s grace we too often, almost always in terms of statistical significance, do not see a child.

We only see a person who has harmed our world, our society, our way of life, our order, our peace.

We only see a person who—no matter how indirectly his or her actions might affect us—has harmed us and our families personally, and we along with the rest of the mob want justice.

A conflict takes place.

God’s perspective versus the world’s. A frightened and sick child versus a criminal who must be punished. Mercy versus justice.

But the conflict isn’t real. God not only loves justice too, God is Justice. And he sent His Only Begotten Son as expiation for the great injustice of mankind. Our kind. Our sin.

For God to only see the need for punishment is for God to deny His Only Begotten Son. That is not going to happen.

So the next time you feel the desire to be merciful—the need to be merciful—even toward the most “obvious” and “blatant” sinner do not give into the temptation. The temptation to fear. The fear that you are in some way condoning the sinful action because you are refusing to demand immediate and absolute punishment, a punishment that “fits the crime.”

No, say the Lord’s Prayer.

You are on God’s side. God is being merciful through you. And no matter how intimidated you may feel, be “firm and steadfast” in God’s love and mercy.

For you too love justice. You too love Jesus. And Jesus is Justice.

Jesus is Living and Breathing Justice.

And it is through this very person, The Person of Jesus, that “mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed.” (Psalm 85:11)

Praise be to God.


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