Wednesday in the 1st Week of Advent
Day 3 of Triduum in Preparation for Parish
Feast of St. Francis Xavier: Our Call To Be Merciful
Sisters and brothers, do you watch TV? Do you know what it feels like? What exactly happens when someone watches TV? I’m not sure, sisters and brothers, but I think that watching TV is actually very much like eating. When I watch TV, I’m actually feeding myself in some way. In what way? Well, in at least three different ways. Depending on how I watch.
The first, and perhaps most common way, is to feed my eyes. I do this usually when I’m tired. Or stressed out. When I just want to relax. When I’m looking for entertainment. At these times, I usually don’t really care what I’m watching. It doesn’t matter if the programme makes no sense. In fact, the more nonsensical the better. Why? Because I’m not really watching for the content. I’m too tired for that. I just want to rest my mind. By feasting my eyes.
But entertainment isn’t the only reason why I watch TV. Sometimes, I watch to gain information. For example, I may tune in to the BBC. Or to the Discovery Channel. Or even to the Food Network. Why? So that I can learn something. Something about what is happening in the world around me. What am I really doing? When I watch TV for information, I’m actually feeding my mind.
And that’s not all. There’s also a third way of watching TV. Sometimes I do this intentionally. But, very often, it happens by accident. I may, for example, sit down in front of the TV, hoping to relax and be entertained. But something in the programme touches me. Moves me. Inspires me. And perhaps I may be motivated to do something about it. To change the way I live. Maybe even to try to change my world. What’s going on here? What am I doing when I watch TV in this third way? I’m watching not just for entertainment. And not just for information. But for inspiration. For transformation. This is what happens when I watch TV to feed not just my eyes. And not just my mind. But to feed my heart. To nourish my soul.
From entertainment. To information. To transformation. From feeding my eyes. To feeding my mind. To feeding my soul. Three ways of watching TV. Corresponding to three ways of being fed. Each way progressively deeper and more engaging than the previous one. But why, my dear friends, am I talking to you about this? What has eating and watching TV got to do with our Mass? Or with our preparations for the parish feast? As you will recall, the theme for this third night of our Triduum is Our Call to be Merciful. So what has mercy got to do with watching TV?
I’m not sure, sisters and brothers, but I think it’s helpful for us to look at our readings tonight in the same way that we might watch a good programme on a TV channel. Do you know the name of this channel? I think we can call it AMC. Not the AMC that you get on cable-TV. That’s the channel where you find programmes like Hell on Wheels. And The Walking Dead. That AMC stands for American Movie Classics. No, the AMC I’m talking about is not found on cable-TV. But on God’s TV. And on God’s TV, AMC stands for Almighty Mercy Channel.
I call it the mercy channel, because that’s what we see in our readings today. Striking images of what it looks like when God shows mercy. And, like any other TV channel, we can watch this evening’s programme at three different levels of depth. Three different degrees of engagement. And each of these levels correspond to the initials of the name of this channel. AMC: A is for appearances. M is for motivation. And C is for call.
What does it look like, when God shows mercy? What do we see? In our readings today, mercy looks like two things. Healing and feeding. In the gospel, we’re told that Jesus went up into the hills. Where he attracted large crowds. What did he do for all these people? First he healed them. He mended their broken bodies. He made the lame walk. The blind see. The dumb speak. And everyone praised God for it. Then, later, the Lord also fed a large crowd of four thousand men, to say nothing of women and children. And he did it with just seven loaves and some small fish. Mending broken bodies. And feeding empty stomachs. This is what mercy looks like in the gospel. At least when seen with our eyes. This is the appearance of mercy.
There is more. What Jesus does in the gospel is actually a fulfilment of the promise that God makes in the first reading. What is this promise? Again, it has to do with the same two things. Feeding and healing. The Lord of Hosts will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food. A great makan session. Large enough to feed the whole world. And God promises not just to feed. But also to heal. To mend not just broken bodies. But also broken hearts. Hearts fractured by loss. Hearts fearful of death. For God promises to destroy Death for ever. And to wipe away the tears from every cheek. To take away the people’s shame everywhere on earth.
Feeding and healing. This, at first glance, is what the mercy of God looks like. God feeds and heals people. God fills empty stomachs. Mends broken bodies. Restores dejected hearts. This is the appearance of mercy. And it’s important for us to see this. To appreciate how God feeds us and heals us. How God has fed and healed us in the past. And how God continues to feed and heal us in the present. But it’s not enough for us to remain at this level. The level of our eyes. The level of appearances.
For isn’t it true that there are times, when we are hungry for something, and God just doesn’t seem to feed us? Times when we are broken in some way, and God just doesn’t seem to heal us? When I need a job, for example. And I just can’t seem to find one. Or when I’m longing for a partner in life. And the right person just refuses to show up. Or when I’m hoping and praying to be cured of a painful illness. And the doctors just don’t seem to know what to do. How do I feel? What do I do, when it appears that God has abandoned me? That God has forgotten to show mercy?
It’s especially at such times that I need to go deeper. To go beyond the first way of watching TV. To go beyond appearances. Beyond looking at God’s mercy only with my eyes. I need also to use my mind. To reflect on what I believe. To meditate on what the scriptures tell me. In particular, I need to consider what Jesus tells his disciples in the gospel today. After spending three whole days in the hills, healing and teaching the crowds, the Lord must be very tired. But still he isn’t satisfied. He wants to do even more. He wants to feed the people. Why? What is his motivation for doing this? For showing such selfless mercy? I feel sorry for all these people, he tells his disciples. They have… nothing to eat. I do not want to send them off hungry, they might collapse on the way…
This, my dear friends, is God’s motivation for showing us mercy. God feels sorry for us. God is moved with compassion for those who suffer. God’s heart is broken with pity. To the extent that God is willing even to send God’s only begotten Son to break his Body for us on the Cross. And to feed us with the Bread of Life in the Eucharist. What happens to me when I remember all this? When I allow myself to reflect more deeply on God’s motivation for showing me mercy? Perhaps I’ll gradually begin to realise that there is actually nothing that God wouldn’t do to save me. To save us. To reach out to us. To feed us. To heal us. As St. Paul writes in the letter to the Romans (8:31-32), If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?
To realise God’s motivation for mercy is also to grow in hope and in trust, that God will never deny us anything that is for our good. But how then to explain the appearances? The times when God seems to have abandoned us. When God seems to be willing to leave us hungry and broken. Without food and healing. What is happening then? To begin to answer to this question, we need to look even more deeply at our readings for today. Deeper than the A of appearances. Deeper even than the M of motivation. Deep enough to hear the C of the call of Christ.
In the gospel, when Jesus wishes to feed the crowds, he doesn’t just do it himself. For some reason he chooses to call his disciples. To ask for their help. To invite them to join him in performing an act of mercy. Why does Jesus do this? Is he just trying to give his disciples something extra to do? So they won’t fall asleep? Or is there perhaps some deeper reason? Could it be that this call is not something extra? But actually an important part of God’s mercy?
As we said earlier, both in the first reading and the gospel, God shows mercy by healing and feeding people. But there is actually something that God does even before the healing and the feeding. Something even more basic. In the first reading, God gathers people to God’s holy mountain. Just as, in the gospel, Jesus went into the hills and gathered people to himself there. For some reason, when I think of the mercy of God, I tend to think only of the feeding and healing. But could it be that God shows mercy first by gathering people? By gathering people who have been scattered. People who have lost their way. People who have failed to find any real meaning in life. Aimless people. Directionless people. Homeless people. To all these people, God shows mercy by first gathering them to himself. Gathering them and giving them a reason to live. And a home to live in. As we prayed earlier, in the response to the psalm: In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell, for ever and ever.
But what is this house? What is this home? As you know, the true house of God is not, first of all, this church building. Or any other concrete structure. The house of God is the person of Jesus himself. Jesus, the compassion and mercy of God. And to live in God’s house, is to live the way Jesus lived. The way the Body of Christ is meant to live. By laying down one’s life for one’s friends. By joining the Lord in showing mercy to others. Especially those most in need.
If this is true, then the call that Jesus extends to his disciples is not some optional extra. In itself, the Lord’s call to his disciples is an act of mercy. Mercifully, Jesus shares his mission with his friends. So that they too will experience the joy of having a firm direction in life. Of having something deeply meaningful to live for. Of having a true and lasting home to live in. The Body of Christ. The Lord’s own house. For ever and ever.
And what happens to us when we begin to realise this? Perhaps we will begin also to feed on the Word of God. Not just with our eyes. And not just with our minds. But also, and most deeply, with our very souls. We will begin to watch the TV channel of God’s mercy. Watch AMC. The Almighty Mercy Channel. Not just for entertainment. And not just for information. But, most importantly of all, for transformation. We will first allow God’s mercy to transform us. So that we may, in our turn, go out and transform our world.
Transform our world, by heeding the Lord’s call to live lives of mercy. By showing mercy to others. By feeding the hungry. By helping to fill empty stomachs. And guiding aimless lives. By helping to heal broken bodies and broken hearts. And to mend broken relationships and a broken world. And to be willing to keep on doing this even though we ourselves may sometimes have to go hungry in some way. Even when we may sometimes have to allow ourselves to be broken. Again and again. By disappointment and by misunderstanding. To keep showing mercy, even when it may seem as though, in the process, God has forsaken us. For didn’t Jesus himself feel that way as he hung on the cross? And when he cried out in anguish, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
And when we do this, we will be doing what our patron, St. Francis Xavier, did. Even if we do not actually leave our own country. For, like Francis, we will become servants of Christ’s mission. A mission of compassion and of care. A mission of reconciliation and of love. We will be hearing and responding generously to the same call that Francis heard. So many centuries ago. Our common Christian call to receive and to show mercy.
Sisters and brothers, if it is true that watching TV is very much like eating. And very much like showing mercy. Then how is God feeding you today?