4/16/2015 9:00:00 AM BISHOP'S COLUMN Mercy on the way
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER
It's easy to feel lost in a crowd. It even seems natural. No one knows anyone else. No one knows why anyone else is here or where anyone else is going. It's almost a feeling of isolation.
Feeling lonely in a crowd: Isn't there something strange about this, something unnatural? The picture changes, however, when you and everyone around you knows why you are here, together, in this crowd.
At a baseball game or a rock concert, there is a focal point -- a team or a tour -- that everyone wants to see or hear. Suddenly, everyone feels a certain connection that even leads to celebration: singing, clapping and cheering together. The crowd becomes a group of fans. A stadium can be full of the same people, but without a team or a troupe to root for, the bond felt among fans just dissolves into a crowd again.
The same thing can happen to a faith community, a church that loses its focus. It is not enough just to be in church to have a sense of family togetherness, the feeling of being connected and not just "assembled."
Surprisingly -- at least in the sense that we are often thrown off-guard when we are reminded -- the one reality that connects us as members of our Church is that we are sinners. That, at least, is what Pope Francis seems to feel. We are all sinners in need of God's mercy. The good news is, mercy is on the way the moment we seek its presence.
I may not be popular to talk about personal sin in a world so full of explosive violence and broken systems, where injustice and inequality are so pervasive. We believe in a God of justice who does not look away from evil and pain. God's look, however, is always a look of love and pardon.
Jesus is the face of God's love. What we see on the cross is Christ - God - absorbing sin and all its evil consequences and returning all the hate, violence and perversion with absolution.
The only way to receive this mercy, however, is to see our own personal sins and transgressions reflected in the sufferings of Christ. Of course, we may not be physically present on Calvary, but we can certainly see the effects of sin in our suffering neighbor, who might just be the person next to us in a crowd, at a family table or even in a church pew.
Accepting our need for forgiveness and receiving it sacramentally through holy penance connects us to the source of all mercy: Jesus Himself. That alone will forge a bond among us that, wherever we are and whoever we are with, will never leave us alone or abandoned.
Pope Francis has just announced an extraordinary jubilee Year of Mercy, to begin Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. In the weeks and months ahead, we will be praying and preparing in our parishes and throughout the Diocese to welcome this graced opportunity to experience personally the love of Jesus in our lives. It will help us not only to identify the sin that needs forgiving and the hurt that needs healing, but the merciful One who stands in our midst and opens His loving arms to each of us.
My prayer is that everyone will know Him as He really is: the God who loves us enough to die for us, even for you or me if we were the only person in the world.