Misericordiae Vultus 14: Pilgrimage

head of ChristWe encounter a traditional practice in section 14:

14. The practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a viator, a pilgrim travelling along the road, making his way to the desired destination. Similarly, to reach the Holy Door in Rome or in any other place in the world, everyone, each according to his or her ability, will have to make a pilgrimage. This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice. May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.

We covered the concept of pilgrimage last month in our examination of the DPPL starting with this post, and continuing from there.

The Lord Jesus shows us the steps of the pilgrimage to attain our goal: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Lk 6:37-38).

This passage is part of the Sermon on the Plain, and follows Jesus’ explicit commandment in verse 36:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

We might think we imitate the God of justice, but the truth is that human senses are quite limited compared to those of the Father. Our clumsy attempts at judgment often generate harm rather than restoration.

The Lord asks us above all not to judge and not to condemn. If anyone wishes to avoid God’s judgement, he should not make himself the judge of his brother or sister. Human beings, whenever they judge, look no farther than the surface, whereas the Father looks into the very depths of the soul. How much harm words do when they are motivated by feelings of jealousy and envy! To speak ill of others puts them in a bad light, undermines their reputation and leaves them prey to the whims of gossip. To refrain from judgment and condemnation means, in a positive sense, to know how to accept the good in every person and to spare (them) any suffering that might be caused by our partial judgment and our presumption to know everything about (them).

Refraining from judgment isn’t quite enough. Something positive is needed. Just as God is generous with an undeserving humanity, we are urged to express mercy through an outer gesture, often just as difficult … generosity.

But this is still not sufficient to express mercy. Jesus asks us also to forgive and to give. To be instruments of mercy because it was we who first received mercy from God. To be generous with others, knowing that God showers his goodness upon us with immense generosity.

Expressions of love are not just a “proof.” God knows that as beings he created in the physical world, some gesture on his behalf affirms our knowledge of his regard for us. Generous mercy.

Merciful like the Father, therefore, is the “motto” of this Holy Year. In mercy, we find proof of how God loves us. He gives his entire self, always, freely, asking nothing in return. He comes to our aid whenever we call upon him. What a beautiful thing that the Church begins her daily prayer with the words, “O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me” (Ps 70:2)! The assistance we ask for is already the first step of God’s mercy toward us. He comes to assist us in our weakness. And his help consists in helping us accept his presence and closeness to us. Day after day, touched by his compassion, we also can become compassionate towards others.

The continuing references to psalms are not just a cleric’s focus on the Divine Office. As the sung prayerbook of Christianity and Judaism, it expresses the deepest truths with a heightened language. Mercy is not something to learn and be mastered like a schoolroom topic. It is a Christian’s way of life.

The highlighted text is © copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the document in its entirety on the Vatican website here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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