Commentary to the 5th Sunday of Lent (C)
Message: We imitate Jesus' love by putting mercy in action - by connecting with a fellow parishioner. In the first reading God says, "I am doing something new." As we have been talking about this Lent, God wants to do something new here at St. Mary of the Valley. "The things of long ago consider not," says God, "See, I am doing something new."
St. Paul also describes something new. "Forgetting what lies behind," he says, "but straining toward what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal." God has great plans for us - for you and me - and for St. Mary of the Valley.
To become a new parish we need to become new people. By daily prayer we make the relationship with Jesus the most important. When we pray God opens the right moment to share one's story. Your story and mine connects with the great story: "I was dead and come back to life." We'll celebrate that great story next week - Palm Sunday the beginning of Holy Week. Today's Gospel frames Holy Week. It dramatically shows why Jesus came - to embody God's mercy. They bring a woman who has betrayed her husband and family.* Placing her before Jesus they demand strong action. "Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?" She's a home wrecker. Are you going to let her destroy more homes?
Jesus takes a deep breath and begins to write on the ground. The silence is unbearable. Standing up he says, "Let the one without sin throw the first stone." Jesus' gaze penetrates to the heart. Starting with oldest, they slip away.
Jesus is alone with the woman. As St. Augustine says, two remain - miseria and misericordia, misery and mercy. Jesus does not come to condemn but to save. So he says, "Go and from now on, do not sin any more." Jesus comes to bring mercy and he wants us to be ambassadors of mercy. But how? How do we bring mercy to others? For the rest of this homily I want to address a basic way of bringing mercy - by welcoming. I remember when Archbishop Sartain came here five years ago. He directed our annual Priest Days gathering. He told us to get out of our comfortable groups and talk with someone we don't know, especially the guy who seems alone. I tried to follow his advice. One priest told me that those three days are the most painful in the entire year. He sees other guys talking together, laughing and he feels like he doesn't belong.** This happens also in our parish. I don't say this to put down St. Mary of the Valley. In terms of welcoming we compare favorably to other parishes. In the Disciple Makers survey it had this item: "The parish helps me connect with a local Catholic community by making me feel welcomed and accepted." 50% strongly agreed. The other half either agreed - which remember means "tepid" or "lukewarm" - or stayed neutral. And 3% disagreed. They keep coming even though they do not feel welcomed and accepted. One said she had been coming for several months and no one approached to talk with her. Another said, "I have been attending Mass for several years and only 3 people introduced themselves to me." We can do better. We have wonderful greeters, but we need more. Regarding hospitality we can learn from other parishes and congregations. We can create a culture of welcoming that builds on the basic friendliness of our parish.
Welcoming is mercy in action. Mercy means to have a heart for the person who suffers. A great suffering for some is coming into a big group of people. The priest I told you about said to me. "I knows that when some guys enter a room full of people, it energizes them. For me," he says, "it's like getting a root canal!" For people like him it takes heroic courage to place themselves in groups of people. Let's honor that heroism - and do everything we can to welcome people who have that courage. We need them. Welcoming them is mercy in action.
Welcoming means to die to self and it leads to new life. We have quite a few new parishioners in the past year. Some are gifted with outgoing personalities; others more reserved, even introverted. Nothing wrong with that. I'm on the introverted side myself. But I want to challenge all of us: Whether you've been here 30 years or 30 days, meet one new person between now and Easter Sunday. Learn the person's name and something about them. Pray for that person and establish a spiritual connection. You may start with one of the young people preparing for Confirmation. This Sunday they receive Third Scrutiny. Many of you have become Adult Intercessors - praying for one candidate by name. Meet that young person - and his or her family. Join me in praying that God will protect them from "the death-dealing power of the spirit of evil." If Jesus can raise Lazarus from the dead, think about what he can do for these young people - and for each of us.
Next weekend we celebrate Palm Sunday - the beginning of the year's most important week. We will see the depth of God's love. We imitate Jesus' love by putting mercy in action - by connecting with a fellow parishioner. A friend once told me, "Treat each person as if he has a broken heart - and you will not be wrong." Mercy begins with the one's own family - and your parish family. Remember God's words, "See I am doing something new." Amen.