On Sunday, 17 March 2013, the day after he became Pope, Pope Francis preached his first homily in the small Church of Saint Anna in the Vatican. He said “Mercy is Christ’s most important message.” Pope Francis has never ceased to speak of God’s Mercy since.
If Mercy is Christ’s most important message, then Mercy is the first and fundamental message that a child attending Catholic school must receive: that God is our all-merciful Father and that the fullness of humanity for us lies in becoming ever more profoundly “Merciful like the Father”. What a difference we would then make to other people and to our world.
The word Mercy is a beautiful word. The Latin word is “Misericordia”. This literally means “having a heart for the misery that’s in our world”. That misery is everywhere, clearly. We have all felt it in our own lives and it is all around us. Every child has shed bitter tears. To have a heart for all of this is the most positive and critical thing we can teach our children. If we do, then they will be able to reach out and bring comfort to others; and on top of that they will be able to cope with and accept any misery that visits themselves.
The theme for Catholic Schools Week this year is “Catholic Schools: Challenged to Proclaim God’s Mercy”. A 16 year old student on spotting a notice on her school notice board announcing this theme last week remarked to a teacher close by, “Who’s challenging us?” Now there’s a question. If we are to be “Faith” schools, “Catholic” schools, then surely we believe so strongly in our students that we do in fact challenge them, and call them forth to do what the Act of Contrition we teach them for 1st Holy Communion says: Help me to live like Jesus. Jesus is the Mercy of God incarnate. He gave and gave up everything for the sake of our happiness.
We saw today in the Gospel we have just read that his own people couldn’t accept what Jesus was teaching. They couldn’t take up the challenge. The Gospel of Mercy and of Love is not easy. But young people appreciate and love a challenge. It is the role of our schools to set before young people the challenge of Mercy and of Love, the Love that is spelt out in that powerful second reading today from Saint Paul, “Love is always patient, always kind, never jealous, never selfish, never takes offense.” A tall order. But young people love a tall order.
The journey from childhood to being grown-up is the one on which our schools accompany our young people, working hand in hand with their families. It’s the journey out of self-preoccupation and into Love for others and for the world, the most challenging journey of all: to Grow in Love after the heart of Jesus. Our schools will do this when the systems we put in place and the spirit that animates is Mercy, the Spirit of Jesus, who is Merciful like the Father. That’s the spirit we are praying this week that will, in all things, animate our schools: schools that invariably have a heart for any misery in its peoples’ lives and in the lives of the people and the world all around us.
May God bless the students of Mount Mercy, Cork, and the students of Saint Pius X of Templeogue, Dublin, who are here today in the studio participating in this broadcast of Mass, and all students and staff in schools across Ireland. Amen.
- Bishop Brendan Kelly is bishop of Achonry and Chair of the Council for Education of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. This homily was delivered in the RTÉ television studios in Donnybrook, Dublin, on 31 January for the Mass to launch Catholic Schools Week 2016.
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