Reflections

Looking through the eyes of mercy

Bishop Michael McKenna

The logo for the Year of Mercy is worth looking at closely. Unlike many logos, it is full of meaning and significance. It was designed by the Jesuit artist and theologian Marko Rupnik, whose mosaic art adorns and instructs in many major churches and shrines in Europe, writes Bishop Michael McKenna. 

A native of Slovenia, Father Rupnik is particularly inspired by the tradition of Eastern religious art. The eyes of Christ, Mary, and the saints in his work rivet the attention of the viewer and invite deep contemplation.
 
One feature of the Year of Mercy logo is the shared gaze of Christ and the wounded soul. You can see that Christ has lifted the traveler (you or me) onto his shoulders and both are looking in the same direction. In fact, their vision converges, depicted as two eyes becoming one. This shows a central theme of the Jubilee of Mercy: receiving God’s mercy means participating in that mercy. It means learning to see the world and other people with God’s eyes. It means becoming “merciful like the Father.”
 
Becoming Christian is not accomplished by ticking off a list of good deeds and avoiding bad ones. Doing good and avoiding evil is part of the journey, of course, but it is not enough and anyway impossible on our own. Life in Christ is letting him live in us. It is accepting his redeeming love to free our hearts from sin and let us love and forgive others with the heart of Christ.
 
It also means being able to accept forgiveness from others and being involved in the ongoing work of reconciliation that is at the heart of our life together as the Church. In our families, in our communities, this is Christian faith in action.
 
Even our private sins affect not simply our relationship with God, but our relationship with our fellow members of the Body of Christ. We have a great gift at hand in this mission: The Sacrament of Reconciliation. This sacrament is not just about mercy from God to me, it is about rebuilding the bonds of love between one another that have been strained and even broken in our sins. 
 
We are familiar with the belief that, in giving absolution, the priest acts in the person of Christ. We need to become more familiar with the belief that he also represents the community of faith with which we need to be reconciled.
 
Pope Francis has invited us, this Holy Year, to rediscover - or perhaps discover for the first time - the beauty and the power of this sacrament. He has asked that Reconciliation (sometimes called Confession, or Penance) be placed at the centre of our observance of the Jubilee, that bishops celebrate it with their people and that they and all confessors be authentic signs of the Father’s mercy.
 
I have begun visiting every parish in the Diocese of Bathurst to lead celebrations of the Second Rite of Reconciliation during this Year. It is a way of responding to the Pope’s call to be personally available. It is also an opportunity to teach about this sacrament, which is so often misunderstood, even by those who celebrate it frequently.
 
For many Catholics, including those who attend Mass regularly, this sacrament has dropped out of their lives. Everyone has his or her reasons for that. For some, it is simply never getting around to it. For some, it’s not believing that they need it. For some, particularly if they have been away from it for a while, there’s shyness or even anxiety about approaching the priest. For others, bad experiences with this sacrament or with a priest in the past, can tragically still be a barrier today.
 
All I can do is invite people to discover the peace that Reconciliation can bring. God is always ready to forgive us the moment we turn to him-and to speak to our hearts about where we need forgiveness. God’s grace and mercy are always working in the world, but in the sacraments, we can sense him at work. As members of his Church, we know that we do not accept and live the mercy of God as individuals, but in belonging to one another in Christ. 
 
To celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation is not just to receive tremendous grace: it is also to contribute to building up the Church, called to shine in the world as a sign of hope. Only a Church that shows herself to be “merciful like the Father” can do that.
 
+Michael McKenna, Bishop of Bathurst
 
June 2016

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