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

Monday, January 18, 2016

Oases of Mercy

 I love that expression. In his Bull of Indiction for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis teaches that a community of Christians should always be experienced as an "oasis of mercy".

Over the last few days, as I continued my visit through Kerala, such "oases" are exactly what I encountered. Everywhere I have witnessed very heartwarming and edifying social outreach undertaken by the local Church in the name of Christ. For example, on one day alone I visited sites operated by the Syro-Malankaran Archdiocese of Trivandrum, and there encountered people suffering from leprosy, children affected by HIV-AIDS, and mentally challenged men and women rescued from the streets where they had been abandoned. These places are truly oases of mercy, where people are finding life-giving reprieve from the arid land of indifference.

As I met the people being cared for in these places, I also found my attention drawn strongly to those who offered the care. What struck me rather forcefully was the depth of their dedication to those in need of mercy. The priests, nuns and lay people I met are completely given over to their ministry. One nun, for instance, came to this area from France over fifty years ago, and has lived among the people ever since that time. Together with this self-commitment to others, they manifested deep joy and peace. Their joy was truly radiant.

I found myself thinking about this experience as I pondered the Gospel passage for Sunday, which recounted the miracle of the transformation of water to wine at the Cana wedding banquet. At that event, Mary, referring them to Jesus, said to the stewards: "Do whatever he tells you." Here we find the source of the joyful self-dedication I encountered in those sisters, priests and laypersons. Their life is centered upon the command of Christ; his summons leads them out of themselves towards others; and precisely in the giving away of self, they discover true joy.

What a necessary lesson this is for a world that increasingly approaches life from the opposite starting point! In much of Western culture particularly, the idea prevails that one's identity, direction and meaning is self-determined. In such a worldview, nothing can be trusted beyond the confines of one's own mind. Such an individualistic mindset turns one in on oneself and thus away from others. Isolation and sadness - its inevitable corollary - are the result. This is a long way from the other-centeredness I witnessed these days and its corollary - real joy.

"Do whatever he tells you." The teaching of the Church is clear. Only in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, do we find the revelation of the truth of human existence (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 22). In him alone is made manifest the meaning of human life as fashioned and ordered by God. His will for us is joy, now and into eternity (cf. John 15:11). The joyful people I met in those oases of mercy teach that the joy Jesus wills for us will be ours if we but look to Him, and not to ourselves, to discover our true identity and the meaning of our lives.