August 28, 2020

The Face of Mercy / Daniel Conway

Jesus’ words and gestures bring hope to all

(En Espanol)

“A God who draws near out of love, walks with his people. … We could never have imagined that the same Lord would become one of us and walk with us, be present with us, present in his Church, present in the Eucharist, present in his word, present in the poor. He is present, walking with us. And this is closeness: the shepherd close to his flock, close to his sheep, whom he knows, one by one.” (Pope Francis, Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, June 7, 2013)

Ahead of his Angelus prayer on Sunday, Aug. 2, Pope Francis encouraged the faithful to draw strength from the Eucharist and to show compassion and tenderness toward those in need.

The pope often speaks of the Eucharist as the primary source of our effectiveness as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. What we receive is nothing less than the Body and Blood of our Savior, whose real presence in the Holy Eucharist gives us nourishment and strength for the salvation of our souls and for service to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Reflecting on the multiplication of loaves and fishes in St. Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 14:13–21) during his catechesis at the Sunday Angelus, Pope Francis pointed out that the crowds followed Jesus—even to a remote place in the desert—because “his words and his gestures restore and bring hope.”

But the familiar story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is more than a gesture. The people were hungry. They would not have been satisfied by symbolic actions or high-sounding words. Jesus gives them real food to eat, and he doesn’t offer meager portions but fills the baskets to overflowing.

“Jesus wants to use this situation to educate his friends, both then and now, about God’s logic: the logic of taking responsibility for others,” Pope Francis said.

The pope added that Jesus doesn’t leave his disciples alone when they say there are only five loaves and two fishes. He takes the bread, breaks it, and gives it to the disciples for them to distribute. “With this gesture, Jesus expresses his power; not in a spectacular way but as a sign of charity, of God the Father’s generosity toward his weary and needy children.”

Pope Francis frequently reminds us that our God is close to us—in his Church, in the Eucharist, in his word, and in the poor and the marginalized.

According to Pope Francis, Jesus is so immersed in people’s lives—so close to us—that he understands our weaknesses and our worries. “He nourishes them with his word and provides plentiful sustenance.” Before offering himself to the Father as the bread of salvation, the pope says, “Jesus ensures there is food for those who follow him and who, in order to be with him, neglected to make provisions.”

This shows that there is no opposition between the spiritual and the material. Jesus’ compassion and tenderness for the crowd is “the concrete manifestation of the love that cares about people’s needs.”

Missionary disciples of Jesus follow his example. They draw near to the table of the Eucharist by imitating Jesus’ attitude of compassion. The missionary disciple has first of all a center, a point of reference, which is the person of Jesus (Pope Francis, Angelus address, June 25, 2017).

“Compassion is not a purely material sentiment,” the Holy Father says. “True compassion is suffering with, taking upon ourselves the pain of others.” This is the ultimate form of closeness, to share the pain of others and to respond generously to their needs.

Pope Francis encourages everyone to ask ourselves if we have compassion when we read the news about wars, hunger or the pandemic. “Do I experience compassion for those people?” Compassion, he explains, is “trust in the provident love of the Father and means courageous sharing.”

Themes of “closeness,” “accompaniment,” “synodality” and “walking with others” consistently appear in the talks and writing of Pope Francis. The Holy Father strongly believes that God is not distant from us. He is merciful, not judgmental, and while God will hold us accountable for our words and our actions, he always shows us the way to repentance and new beginnings.

We, in turn, are challenged to show the same mercy, compassion and solidarity with our sisters and brothers as our loving Father shows to us. May the strength we receive from the Eucharist help us “show compassion and tenderness” to all.

(Daniel Conway is a member of The Criterion’s editorial committee.)

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