By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mercy the Antidote

The Return of the Prodigal Son
(1773) by Pompeo Batoni
 On Saturday evening we gathered once again in St. Joseph's Basilica in Edmonton to pray for peace in Syria. Among us were people of Syrian origin now living in Canada. It was a moving experience to be one with them in prayer for peace in their noble and beloved land. We celebrated the Mass of the Sunday, and I shared with the congregation the particular relevance of the Scripture readings for the situation in Syria and the Middle East. They go to the heart of the problem, of the sickness, that is besetting Syria and so many other places ravaged by war, and at the same time prescribe the remedy.

 The illness is idolatry, which is worshipping as god something which is not God. In the case of the ancient Israelites that we heard about in the first reading from Exodus, they fashioned for themselves a golden calf and attributed to this inanimate object of their own creation the powers of the living God! In different ways we can see the same thing happening in our own day. We are constantly fashioning "golden calves" out of money, reputation, possessions and so on and allow these inanimate things to rule us. Among the most dangerous idols wreaking great havoc today are those of power, hatred and pride. These give rise to what Exodus evocatively calls being "stiff-necked", unwilling to listen to the other, to compromise, to admit wrong. This creates barriers of hostility that keep hearts separated from one another long after any outward hostilities may have ceased. Sadly, in the land of Syria, we are witnessing the triumph of this idolatry, and countless thousands of men, women and children are the victims.

 The antidote to all of this is mercy. St. Paul had been one of the most stiff-necked of all the persecutors of the Church, as he recalled for us in the second reading from his first Letter to Timothy. What changed everything for him, and indeed for human history, was his encounter with mercy. This happened when he met Jesus Christ.

This same Jesus, speaking in the Gospel of Saint Luke, tells parables that underscore the truth of God's mercy. God is not aloof, indifferent to the plight of his people. No, God comes looking for his lost ones so that he might show them mercy and heal them. Like the shepherd in search of the sheep or the woman in search of the lost coin, he does not give up on us but continues to search. All that he asks is that we accept our need for him. All he asks is that, like the prodigal son, we give up the illusion that we can do it on our own and return to him in sincere repentance. Then, like the father in the parable who welcome his repentant son with joy beyond telling, he welcomes every repentant sinner, everyone who turns away from their illusory idols and back to him, with the embrace of love, mercy and new life. Then, having received this mercy, we are called to be merciful to one another, merciful and not hateful.

So let us continue to pray, and to pray earnestly, for an outpouring of mercy on the land and people of Syria. May this mercy heal the combatants of any idolatry that keeps them closed in on themselves and their ideologies and away from one another. We know that prayer works. In the first reading we heard how Moses interceded with God, pleaded with God, on behalf of the people, and God heard and responded. God hears our prayers. God is moved by our prayers. God answers our prayers. And so we pray with confidence and persistence.