Saturday, December 5, 2015

Masterpiece of Mercy

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception 2015

The context of today’s feast is found at the very beginning of the Bible. It is the story of the Fall of Man. Today’s first reading narrates the consequences of the Fall, the effect of original sin. The fall seems to take place quickly with no resistance at all. Neither Eve nor Adam raise so much as one word of protest or argument against the serpent. They appear to be easy prey for his cunning attack and wicked logic. Although Eve seems to have been the initiator and the more prominent character in the Fall, Adam’s sin was the more culpable. Eve, at least, recalled God’s instructions. Adam conveniently ignored that fact and took the fruit from Eve without a word. If creation speaks of order of authority where the chain of command descends from God to Adam to Eve and then to creature; the Fall reverses the divinely established authority. Now the creature instructs, Eve obeys and soon Adam follow suit. God’s command, however, is totally ignored.

The story ends on both a sad and happy note. None of the participants assumed responsibility for their actions and no one repents of their sins. They ended up blaming each other. That’s the sad part of the story. But the happy part of the story is that God did not abandon them to their sin. It is in the story of the Fall that we first see evidence of God’s mercy. The nakedness of man is covered by skins provided by God, so that men need not hide from His presence. Sin would bring about a curse upon humanity but sin would not have the last word. Written into the very fabric of the story of the Fall is the story of the cure.  Sin will not be the end of man’s hope, but the starting point. Sin does not slam the door on God’s blessings; it opens the door for His grace and mercy. Through the mercy of God, the Fall would be instrumental for God to send the final solution – The seed of the woman will bring about the destruction of Satan and the deliverance of man; sin and evil would be finally defeated.

That is why any discussion of God’s mercy must begin with the story of sin. In dealing with the sins of men, God’s mercy is revealed. In forgiving the sins of men, the mercy of God is manifested. Though, it may appear that everyone in the world hopes to hear a message of mercy, many are deluded by the falsifications of sin. Unfortunately, for most people, mercy often means the denial of sin. But there can be no true mercy without Truth. The reason for this confusion is because we live in a world that denies the existence of sin. Why is that? Because sin is an offence against God, and many have cease believing in God. Therefore, if there is no God, there cannot be any sin. But we are surrounded by sin and read about it and see it in the news media every day—murder, adultery, abortion, sodomy, theft, lies and so forth. Of course, we call it by other names. We seek to normalise such behaviour and even institutionalise them.  Unless we recognise and acknowledge sin, unless we accept responsibility for our mistakes, the story of God’s salvation will make no sense to us. Those who do not acknowledge their sins see no need for God and His mercy. Only sinners require mercy.

This is the reason why we celebrate today’s Feast and why the Holy Father has chosen this day as the start of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Mary, the Immaculate Conception, the new Eve, is God’s greatest masterpiece of His mercy. It is no coincidence that the Hebrew word for “mercy” or “rechem” comes from the root word for womb, thus speaks to us of the connexion of mother and child. In Mary, we get to see what humankind would look like without the Fall, without Original Sin, without the curse. “Mary” as Pope St John Paul II wrote in his encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, 9, “is the one who experienced mercy in an exceptional way.” Mary is, therefore, the first to be shown God’s immense mercy, the first redeemed, the first Christian. Mary is the New Eve at the Annunciation; whereas the old Eve heeded the counsel of the serpent, the New Eve obeyed the message of God’s angel. Just as God prepared a paradise for Adam and Eve, so Mary is a “second” but more perfect sinless paradise where the Son of God dwelt nine months before his birth in Bethlehem. As the New Eve, Mary restored the relationship broken by the first Eve. If the first Eve was named as mother of all fallen humanity, the New Eve is the mother of all those born into new life through the grace in Christ. In Mary, the world comes to know that it no longer has to labour under the clutches of the curse, but we have now become recipients of God’s heavenly grace.

The mystery of the Immaculate Conception is the expression of the first act of the heavenly Father's mercy in Mary's regard. Mercy is something we never deserve and we have not earned it in the least. It is an act of absolute gratuity. This is why we can see in it the Father's mercy in its pure state. We see a faint reflection of what happened to Mary in a parent’s love for a child. A child is loved by its parents not because the child has “earned” it, or deserved it, or even asked for it in any way. Rather, the parent’s love comes right from the start, a completely free gift, just because the child is the parent’s own child. That is human mercy “par excellence”, and yet this human mercy pales in comparison to the mercy of God.

In this Year of Mercy, Mary is a fitting image of God’s tender loving mercy and kindness. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI tells us that “in her, God has impressed his own image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thornbushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by the crown of thorns of these sins in order to take the sheep on his shoulders and bring it home.” Every day, we continue to struggle against temptation and sin. Yet, sin does not have the last word, it is Grace. He has not abandon us to our sin and to its curse. In fact, God takes what we have ruined by sin and makes it far better. He does so not because we merited it or deserved His graces. No. He gives it to us as an absolutely free gift. This is the good news which the Church wishes to proclaim in this Year of Mercy.

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