Diocesan Centre Mass for Staff – December 17, 2015
GOD'S MERCY APPEARS IN SALVATION HISTORY
[Texts: Genesis 49.1-2, 8-10 [Psalm 72 (71)]; Matthew 1.1-17]
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Since 1971, today’s gospel has been one of my favourite Scripture texts. You see, I was ordained a deacon on December 7 that year and ten days later I got to preach for the first time on this text.
The gospel is also appropriate for our theme of this Pastoral Year, The Family: Home of Love and Mercy, with its scriptural message, “Be merciful like your heavenly Father” (Luke 6.36).
The gospel also fits with the Year of Mercy, which began last Tuesday. The Year of Mercy was the focus of many celebrations around the world on Sunday as bishops in their cathedrals opened a holy “Door of Mercy”.
The first words of St. Matthew’s gospel may be a title or a description of what our faith is all about: it is the book of the “genesis” of Jesus Christ, the son of Abraham, son of David”.
You are aware that the first book of the Bible is called the Book of Genesis, all about how the world, including the cosmic bodies—stars and planets including the earth—came into being, including the seas, the dry land, the mountains, the creatures of the air, the land and the sea, all the vegetation, fruits and vegetables and, the capstone: man and woman, human beings.
Then comes the history of sin, of human corruption, murder, wars, sibling rivalries, lies, adulteries, thefts, misunderstandings, etc. Then, we have God’s call to Abraham, a gentile, to leave his land and go to the Land of Promise—a person, who models living by faith, who would undo the pattern of wickedness and show righteous conduct.
In Matthew’s eyes, Jesus—the Christ or Messiah—will begin a whole new way of being, effectively bringing about a new creation by his birth, life, passion, death and resurrection. This is the meaning of the book of the “genesis” of Jesus Christ. Matthew’s account looks like one of the many “genealogies” famous in the ancient and biblical worlds. But his interest is not just in the fathers and the sons they begot, but the families too (we hear of “Judah and his brothers” and right afterwards that Judah was the father of two sons “Perez and Zerah” by Tamar).
Though genealogies do not mention women, this book does mention four women, all of whom are gentiles and somewhat scandalous: we hear of Tamar, guilty of incest; Rahab the harlot; Ruth from the Moabite Kingdom, one of the worst of the enemies of Israel and the wife of Uriah (referring to King David’s sinful liaison with Bathsheba).
Yet each of these women had a role to play in God’s saving design. Anyone who slandered these women would be depreciating family situations God had blessed. One can see how Matthew would be preparing his readers and us for the situation of Mary’s pregnancy, an extraordinary circumstance that engendered disbelief and ridicule outside church circles (and perhaps even within the early church) but reflected the righteousness of God.
So, my friends there is hope for us and our families, however chequered their marital circumstances might be or however broken and seemingly impossible their situations might appear. God’s mercy is unfathomable from the beginning of the new creation God is bringing about among us through our encourter with, and faith in, our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is more that can be said, particularly in the bigger picture disasters that Matthew refers to by speaking of the “deportation” of God’s people to exile in Babylon. That came to an end and the people went back to the Promised Land to rebuild. The big picture that we cannot see as we live it out is the order that God weaves into our lives, exemplified by the three sets of fourteen generations: from Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian exile and from the return from the deportation to the birth of the Messiah Jesus.
I’m wearing at this Mass a pectoral cross that Pope Benedict XVI presented to the Canadian bishops on the occasion of our ad limina visits in 2006. The cross is a replica of a twelfth century processional cross found in the museum of the Lateran cathedral basilica. It is striking for the many biblical images found on it.
These represent themes of family life and dreams, of vocations and sacrifice, of separations and the joy of reunion. At the centre of both the vertical and horizontal bars of the cross stands a representation of the crucifixion of Jesus, with his Mother and the Beloved Disciple being bound into the new family of the Church.
The gospel today and the pectoral cross and all our efforts these days are driven by one goal: to help our parishioners in their families to find experiences of love and, where love has been wounded, to let God’s mercy heal and renew us. That’s my wish for you and yours as we celebrate at Christmas God’s choice to be born in a human family so that all of ours might become like his, holy families where reconciliation, peace and joy may overcome the hurts that come our way through deliberate and unintentional acts.
On Sunday, Bishop Riesbeck, several priests, many religious and laity joined me in passing through the door set aside for this purpose at Notre Dame Cathedral. Many people have already passed through our holy portal seeking reconciliation, peace and renewal. I hope you will have an opportunity to make a pilgrimage there in the next eleven months, praying for your family and loved ones, especially where there is need for forgiveness and renewal.
Sometimes we delay asking for forgiveness, telling ourselves that we will do something about it later. Sometimes we fall into that mistake of thinking we have gone too far; that it is too late or even that we cannot be forgiven.
Do not let yourself be trapped by these ways of thinking. God’s mercy is for all people and he wants everyone to come to him with trust and confidence.
The mercy of Jesus is kind and understanding; now is the time; it is never too late; he forgives all things. Let his gentle healing put your worries to rest.
|Diocesan Centre Staff Salute Msgr Kevin Beach as he leaves office of Vicar General|
and Moderator of the Curia (2005-2015)
This Year of Mercy is a gift especially for those who feel that it is not for them. Forgiveness is one of the most beautiful and important gifts we can receive. We all know that Mercy can only be given; we cannot bargain for it or demand it. But Jesus wants us all to know that he gives it readily and freely to those who sincerely ask him. Let us prepare to ask for and receive the graces Our Lord want to give us at this holy season. God bless you all. Merry Christmas!