Faith and Life,  General

An Outward-Looking Faith

In 2015, the Holy Father Pope Francis wrote his beautiful Bull of Indiction for the Jubilee of Mercy, entitled ‘Misericordiae Vultus’ (The Face of Mercy). The opening line of the document summarised all that would follow – “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy”. He concluded the document with these words – “May the Church echo the Word of God.. may she never tire of extending mercy, and be ever patient in offering compassion and comfort.”

Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy

Now, in order to fulfil this hope, this essential mission, in a way that is both authentic and effective, the Church needs to look outward – away from herself and her own needs, and toward the needs of others, whether within or outwith the Church. When the Church casts her gaze exclusively upon herself and her own needs, problems follow – as we have seen over the past thirty years with the abuse crisis and all that has come with it.

This same principle applies equally to every single one of us who consider ourselves to be Christian or Catholic – we, too, must look outward, away from ourselves and toward others, if we are to be authentic followers of the Lord. Our faith is a window through which we look and see everything else – it is not a wall designed to keep us within narrow confines.

And so with this in mind, I try to stop myself from time to time and ask myself if I am doing what I describe here; does my Catholic faith take me out of myself and into the needs of others, or do I see that faith as a way of focussing only upon myself? In other words, does my living of the faith stop with me, or does it go far beyond me?

I read something earlier this morning which touched on this thought.

A Catholic priest had written a short piece in which he was speaking about the Eucharist – in it, he had noted that many, “including some priests” he added, see the Eucharist as a “purely personal devotion” rather than an expression of community. Now of course, the Eucharist certainly is a personal devotion, for we receive Christ in a personal capacity – but it does not stop there; it is not intended to be purely personal’, as he noted. We are supposed to take Christ, now within us, out into the world and out to others, in this way drawing them toward Him. Yes, the Eucharist is very much community oriented – even as we receive personally, we do so within and as part of a believing community. This priest was absolutely right.

The whole point of the Jubilee of Mercy was to remind us of this fact in very specific ways – mercy is not only something we receive, but something we give. It is to be shared with others as liberally as we ourselves have received it. Shakespeare knew this well. In ‘The Merchant Of Venice’, he wrote –

“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

Our Blessed Lord expresses it all very succinctly in the Gospel when He reminds us of the two-fold nature of the Great Commandment – “You shall the Lord your God with all your heart.. and your neighbour as yourself.”

Christ could easily have walked the earth in an entirely self-referential manner, simply pointing toward Himself to all who would listen. But He did not do so. Rather, He walked amongst sinners, the lowly, the poor, the overlooked, the forgotten, the widow, the stranger, the tax collector, the most insignificant; and in doing so, He welcomed them, He healed them, He bound their wounds and spread upon them the balm of His mercy. In short, He loved them.

And this is precisely what we are tasked with doing – to love our neighbours as a reflection of our love of God and flowing out of that divine love. It is not always an easy thing to do – this is why the Lord tells us we must pick up our Cross if we want to follow Him. He knew He was asking a lot – but He promised a lot in return.

And so this morning I once more stop myself and I question myself. What is my faith dong? What is it achieving? What is it changing and transforming within me? How am I different because of it? How is it expressed – in a purely personal way, or in a way that extends out generously to others, welcoming, embracing and loving them?

 

Catholic | Retired Nurse | UK

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