Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Blessed the merciful

Ok, so I blew it again today. He came into church, this time, moments before the communion procession, still as blustery and smelly as ever. I've seen him at this particular Mass at this particular parish a few times before. He's clearly got a lot of issues. He always shuffles in loudly, out of breath, and clumsily. But even before you can hear him, you can smell the cigarette smoke literally ten or fifteen feet away. His hair is extraordinarily greasy and he is laden with sweat from head to toe. Today he was wearing a monstrous blue mesh eye patch that was hanging loosely off his face. He might have Tourette's Syndrome: he waves his hands and shakes his fist in the air, audibly whispering things like, "One, two, three, yes!" while the rest of the people are kneeling in silent prayer. Passing from communion, the man waves to the (embarrassed) altar boy, but then stops at the creche or the statue of Our Lady and drapes himself over the poor plaster people.

And I, the embodiment of perfection and liturgical dignity, found myself choking back disgust, and wishing that he'd just GO somewhere ELSE: "Good grief, HIM again! Why does he come HERE?" Gently the answer appeared in my mind, "For the same reason you do." Of course the man comes because he wants Jesus.

Father's homily on the day's readings (1 Jn 4:7-10; Ps 72; Mk 6:34-44) came crashing back into my heart. The first reading is the beautiful passage of John's letter than cultimates, "God is love." Father preached about the theological virtue of love, called a theological virtue because its only possible source in our lives is God, and it is the transformation into sons and daughters of God. Love powers, measures, and directs our transformation in Christ; when we are consumed by self-sacrificial charity, we will have been consumed by Christ. We cannot do this thing, love, on our own, out of our own resources. The reading from the Gospel is St. Mark's account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Jesus takes the little the apostles have, little bread, little fish, little faith, and He makes love overflow. There remain twelve baskets beyond what was needed to feed the thousands. "Bring your heart to Jesus," Father said, "and ask him to multiply your love."

On retreat once, the retreat master gave an excellent working definition of mercy. Mercy is not permitting evil or leaving it unopposed. Mercy is not condescencion or arrogance. Mercy is not pretending that your enemies have done you no harm. In this case, mercy is not trying to convince myself that the man is not odd or disgusting. Mercy, the preacher said, is accepting a person as they are with all their flaws and experiences, and treating them gently. Mercy is to avoid breaking a bruised reed. Mercy is to try to imagine where someone's been and what's brought them to their present brokenness before we begin to deal with them. Mercy is letting someone be odd and disgusting without hating them, or treating them harshly and coldly even in the darkest recesses of our heart. Mercy is not holding who somebody is or what he has done against him.

As I left the church after Mass, I looked around. At first I was alarmed because the smelly man was approaching the Blessed Sacrament exposed for adoration upon the altar of sacrifice. What would he do?  I tensed up, but only for a moment before the answer came: he knelt before the sacrament where, generally speaking, only the priest kneels. He waved his hands for a few minutes, counted with his fingers, and audibly whispered something to our Lord. And then he became quiet and still. As I looked around, I saw nobody else even seemed to notice him. They were only noticing Jesus. Looking back at the man, I saw he was still quiet. It occured to me that it might be the only moments of quiet and peace the poor soul will experience all day. I think he really did come to Mass this morning for the same reason I did.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, make my heart like unto thine.

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