September 13: Slow to Anger, Rich in Compassion (24 A)

“The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.” Psalm 103, 1-2.

In Matthew’s gospel, Peter asks Jesus, “How often must I forgive?” Jesus replies, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Thus, God’s mercy is without limit!

The gospels contain heartfelt stories like the Good Samaritan and Peter’s question that prompts deeper spiritual reflection and a possible change in personal behavior and social attitude. Such a change is the result of careful listening to one another and the healing of broken lives.

We celebrate Saint Matthew’s feast day on September 21. Among the least likely of apostles, Matthew knew God’s great mercy and healing. After all, he was a tax collector and despised by his fellow Jews for being co-opted by their Roman occupiers. Matthew was a collaborator with their avowed enemy. Thus, he felt the personal touch of forgiveness that comes with following Christ.

The polarization of attitudes, much in fashion today as we conduct presidential politics, suggests that Jesus’s respectful listening is the first step in healing. Yes, people’s shattered, broken lives can produce plenty of anger and fear. Jesus’s mercy, along with our understanding and personal forgiveness, can bring about healing.

Do we feel the forgiveness of Christ? What is the source of this forgiveness? How do I extend this precious mercy day-to-day in my behavior and my social attitudes?

According to Jesuit Father James F. Keegan, the works of mercy are at the heart of Catholicism. In his recent book, entitled “The Works of Mercy, the Heart of Catholicism,” he draws on the long history of assistance by religious orders, with the building of hospitals for the incurable, those suffering from severe illness syphilis or the plague. See:

Recall the chief works of mercy: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, shelter the homeless, and bury the dead. Jesus says, “As long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25, 40).

This form of mercy connects to our present-day understanding of the “common good.” For example, we grasp more clearly how the wearing of masks in sixteenth-century Venice protected caregivers from the dreaded plague, so we have a deeper appreciation of how our behaviors today regarding COVID-19 aid our fellow citizen’s health. It is a straightforward example of how the common good works.

Father Keegan writes: “Mercy prompts us to see that we are all neighbors bound to the common good. Mercy helps to recognize our neighbor who is excluded; the common good gives us the pathway to respond. Mercy is where we start; the common good is what we aim for.”

After his 27 years in prison on Robbin Island, South African President Nelson Mandel, at his death in 2013, was a symbol of mercy’s healing power. After all, he dined with one of his jailers; he invited a former prison guard to his presidential inauguration; he had lunch with the state prosecutor who tried to have him killed. At the 1995 World Cup Final, Mandela wore the green Springbok rugby shirt, once the former apartheid state’s oppressive symbol.

Our following of Christ calls for a more inclusive vision, one that does not impose our views on others and never thinking in the us-versus-them category of fierce political rhetoric or a fanatic sports rivalry. See Pico Iyer’s insightful article:

Instead, as people of deep faith, we must be mindful of how mercy can change hearts.

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

Paula Span’s recent column in the New York Times reports on current research about conflicted families in a new book by Dr. Karl Pillemer, “Fractured Families and How to Mend Them.”

Take a look:

2 thoughts on “September 13: Slow to Anger, Rich in Compassion (24 A)

  1. The words we all need to hear right now! Thank you so much for this, Father Russo.
    Warmly, Betty Van Wagenen (college counselor at Catalina)


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