Which of us, after a childhood prank, did not approach our mother and contritely look into her eyes seeking absolution from the fault we had committed and, upon finding that absolution, throw ourselves joyfully into her maternal embrace?
That motherly welcome is expressed well in the very beautiful and popular prayer known as the “Hail, Holy Queen” when we pray: “Turn then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy toward us; and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. O Clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!”
In sacred Scripture, “mercy” is the translation of three Hebrew words: Hesed means alliance, spousal love, a permanent relationship which requires action on both parts. Rahamim means the womb. God’s mercy is a protective womb, which includes a physical response and shows that mercy is at the center of our being. Hanan means favor, grace. It depends solely on the giver and is not given in equal measure. (See The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality by Michael Downey)
Like all of us, the boy Jesus learned what was most basic and profound about his existence by attending daily the school of life which was his own home. From his infancy, he learned to be merciful upon contemplating the eyes of his mother, who, holding him close to her heart, surely whispered through happy tears: “You are the answer of the salvation of God for our people; you are the presence of the forgiveness of our God among us.”
At the school of mercy where he studied, Jesus had Joseph and Mary as eminent teachers. From them he learned that our life has a mission of service to humanity. Those illustrious teachers taught him that truth, purity and justice are obtained with patience and honest perseverance in faith born from the very core of one’s existence.
When from height of the cross Mary hears her son say to her, “Behold your son,” and, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” Mary knows that the mercy of God has conquered evil, has triumphed over sin. Mercy has rescued us as children and that thought fills us with infinite joy. At the same time Mary sees beyond the moment, and she knows the price of this mercy: the death of her own son.
In the school of Jesus, mercy became flesh through Mary, and we his disciples know that we will be examined on this arduous subject at the end of our lives. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36)
Throughout the centuries, Christian ecclesial tradition has entrusted us with a task, which we call the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, so that we may be good students and someday graduate with a degree in sanctity. We must know how to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick or the imprisoned and bury the dead; admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the afflicted, tolerate errors with patience, forgive offenses and pray for the living and the dead.
This task cannot be completed in a few hours. It’s completed throughout our lifetime, day by day. Our world today presents us with numerous opportunities to complete this task: social inequality which generates hunger and homelessness for millions around us; unpunished injustice which spreads violence, cruelty and banal indifference in the face of death; the dirty lustful degradation to which we have reduced the greatness of our body; the complacent ignorance in our mind and soul that no longer seeks truth and cynically consents to lies.
This year let us ask Jesus through his mother, Mary, to give us eyes of mercy. Mercy which makes us live our alliance with God courageously and be faithful to him until death. Mercy to thank him whole-heartedly for all who have patiently taught us about charity and joy by their lives. Mercy in order to be found worthy of the grace and favor of God and to be faithful communicators of what we have received unworthily but with joy until we draw our last breath.
Hail, Queen and Mother of Mercy!
This is the English translation of Bishop Elizondo's column "Ojos misericordiosos" that appeared in the November 2015 issue of NORTHWEST CATHOLIC.
Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S., is auxiliary bishop of Seattle and vicar for Hispanic ministry.
Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S., es obispo auxiliar de Seattle y vicario para el ministerio hispano.Website: www.seattlearchdiocese.org/Archdiocese/auxiliaries.aspx