Today’s selection from St. John’s Gospel could easily seem anti-climactic. Since Jesus had already died, the detail that blood and water flowed from his pierced side could readily be dismissed as a bit of superfluous information. St. John immediately tells us that this is the testimony of an eyewitness and that it is a testimony that is true. The evangelist does not want us to miss this detail. Our tradition has understood the blood and water that flowed from Jesus’ wounded side as symbolically representing the life that poured forth from the Pascal Victim into Christ’s body, the Church. Respectively the blood and water have been seen as representing the Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. From the heart of Jesus, life flows to the heart of the Church and gives life to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we anticipate the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which will begin on December 8th, it seems appropriate that, on Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, our focus be on the love that flows from the heart of the Jesus. Is not the greatest manifestation of that love, the mercy which is bestowed upon sinful humanity from the heart of Jesus? Our greatest hope as sinners is to be bathed in the mercy of God, the mercy that has come to us through the Son. Pope Francis, states: “With our eyes fixed on Jesus and his merciful gaze, we experience the love of the Most Holy Trinity. The mission Jesus received from the Father was that of revealing the mystery of divine love in its fullness.”(Misericordiae Vultus, #8)
Pope Francis wants the Church, born from the pierced side of Christ, to “reach every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God. May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away….”(Misericordiae Vultus #5). The scriptures assigned to the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus speak powerfully of the compassionate love and mercy of the Savior. In the prophet Hosea, we read: “My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred, I will not give vent to my blazing anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again; for I am God and not a man.” The God who created us in His image seeks not our destruction but to bring His image to perfection within us. God chose to restore that image in the most remarkable way. He chose to draw us into oneness with His beloved Son.
Our oneness with his Son begins in the waters of Baptism. In Baptism we come to a new birth; we are clothed with Christ. We become holy; not with our own holiness but with the holiness of Christ. This is part of that marvelous plan spoken of by St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians. The oneness or communion with Christ, which begins at Baptism, is renewed and deepened within us through the Holy Eucharist, which is symbolized by the blood that flowed from the wounded side of the Savior. Through the gift of his very life in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood, we are formed more and more into Christ Jesus.
This marvelous oneness can be compared to what happens to a man and woman joined in the Sacrament of Matrimony. They become one on the day of their wedding. They continue to grow in oneness through the bodily expressions of their love through which they make a gift of themselves to each other. What began on the day of their irrevocable commitment to each other is renewed and deepened as they go about living their marital union. Our unity with Christ, which began at our Baptism, is renewed and deepened as we are nourished at the table of the Lord’s Body and Blood. In this Sacrament, the Risen Savior gives himself to us as we give ourselves to him. This is mirrored when a man fully gives himself to Christ and His Bride, the Church, in the Sacrament of Holy Orders not just on the day of his ordination, but everyday. During the prayer of consecration of the Holy Eucharist a priest is reminded of this when he says: ‘take this all of you and eat of it for this is my Body given up for you.” This is what St. John Paul II calls: “celibacy for the Kingdom,” in his masterpiece called, “Men and Women He Created Them-a Theology of the Body.”
We can see that Jesus understands that his mission is to gather all humanity to himself when, in the Gospel of St. John, he states: “…and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn 12:32) He was lifted up on the cross to lift us out of sin and to bring us to an eternal share in the Divine Life. This is the love and the tremendous mercy that flows from the heart of the Savior. Alienated from God through sin, we are brought back to oneness with God through the limitless love and mercy of God made visible through Incarnate Son of God.
Having received mercy, we are to show mercy to the world around us. Pope Francis expresses this point very clearly: “Pardoning offences becomes the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves….pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart.” Since God’s love is made manifest in his mercy, so the Church, and individual Christians, must manifest God’s love to the world today by the way we are merciful. The manifestation of mercy becomes “…a criterion for ascertaining who his (God’s) true children are.” (Misericordiae Vultus, #9) Pope Francis’ stress on the poor and mercy is rooted in the Dignity of the Human Person, which has been part of our Church for 2000+ years, especially stressed by Blessed Paul VI in Humane Vitae, St. John Paul II in Theology of the Body and Pope Benedict XVI’s writings. While it is true it is not for us broken human beings to judge or condemn, it does not mean we have license to act as we feel to others and call sin, good and right.
Concretely, this mercy will be expressed in our refusal to judge and condemn, by our seeking out the good in the people we encounter and by bringing consolation to the poor and the oppressed. It will also lead us to proclaim liberty to those enslaved by modern society, to restore sight to those who are blinded by their self-centeredness and to restoring dignity to those who have been robbed of their dignity. (cf (Misericordiae Vultus, #16)
As priests, we do well to personally bask in God’s mercy. This mercy is seen in calling us, in spite of our human frailties, to bring hope and meaning to a world that has become alienated from God and lost in seeking fulfillment and meaning apart from God. We experience God’s mercy in our call to forgive the sins of others and to make present the great Pascal Sacrifice. Most of all, it is seen in the personal forgiveness that we have each experienced for our times of unfaithfulness. Once we are touched with the awareness of God’s mercy to us, we are sent to proclaim to a broken world that ours is a God of limitless mercy. The more healing we get as priests, rooted in our dignity, from the heart, and the more “pure of heart” we become, the more we “see God” in others, and hence more merciful. Since Jesus is “meek and humble of heart” the more we become little and hidden within His Sacred Heart, the more we grow in wisdom, love and mercy. This unending mercy is freely given to each of us through the heart of God’s only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. May we who receive freely, give freely to others. Amen.
Father Ted Skalsky, a priest of the Diocese of Dodge City, was ordained to the priesthood in 1972. He has served in parish ministry most of his priesthood and is currently pastor of three small rural parishes. He has attended Theology of the Body Immersion Course I and II and the Priestly Identity Retreat.