KEYNOTE ADDRESS AT THE ACCRA WEST REGIONAL CONFERENCE BY VERY REV. FR. FRANCIS ADOBOLI
A KEYNOTE ADDRESS AT THE 4TH REGIONAL CONFERENCE OF ACCRA WEST REGIONAL COUNCIL & COURT OF THE NOBLE ORDER OF THE KNIGHTS & LADIES OF MARSHALL, JULY 16, 2016, AT THE HOLY SPIRIT CATHEDAL, ACCRA.
THEME: MERCY, THE HEART BEAT OF THE GOSPEL AND THE MARSHALLAN
I want to thank the organisers of this Conference for the invitation to share with you on a very important theme: “Mercy, The Heart beat of the Gospel and the Marshallan.” Four years ago, to be precise on 30th June 2012, at GIMPA, I had the opportunity to give the keynote address at the Accra East Regional Conference of the Knights Ladies of Marshall. Four years down the line, I have been offered another chance, this time to address the Accra West Regional Conference. I am hopeful that in another four years I will be in Tema for a similar exercise. And who knows, I may be invited to address another Marshallan fraternity, not in Ghana, nor in any part of Africa, but in Europe or America.
It is obvious that the theme of this Conference is informed by the declaration and the celebration of the year of Jubilee of Mercy currently taking place in the entire Catholic world. Since it was Pope Francis who declared and ordered the celebration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, it is appropriate that we capture and try to understand the celebration from his perspective. In other words, why did he say we should mark the jubilee?
The Pope’s vision is outlined in his Homily at First vespers for Divine Mercy Sunday when he said: “Here, then, is the reason for the Jubilee: because it is a time for mercy. It is the favourable time to heal wounds, a time not to be weary of meeting all those who are waiting to see and to touch with their hands the signs of the closeness of God, a time to offer everyone, the way of forgiveness and reconciliation. May the Mother of God open our eyes, so that we may comprehend the task to which we have been called; and may she obtain for us the grace to experience this Jubilee of Mercy as faithful and fruitful witnesses of Christ.”
The principal objective of the jubilee of mercy is to enable us to be practical men and women. It is not for academic purposes; nor is it meant to satisfy our intellectual curiosity.Rather, the year is meant to be a genuine platform for us to be practical people. This is what I see in the theme you have chosen for yourselves: That as a Marshallan, I shall practice mercy in all that I do because I am convinced that mercy is the heartbeat of the Gospel. Therefore, after this Conference, and having deliberated on the theme, it is my hope that you will do your best to heal wounds, and offer as well as receive forgiveness.
Some definitions of “Mercy”
The concept mercy appears to be huge with many meanings. Let us then attempt to see some of the meanings. Mercy means:
- A kind treatment of someone who deserves to be treated harshly.
- Forgiveness shown someone who does not deserve to be forgiven;
- Help given to a person who finds himself in very desperate situation;
- Some kindness offered to someone in a desperate situation;
- Compassion shown to an offender;
- A blessing that is an act of divine favour or love;
- A fortunate circumstances or happening;
From these brief definitions, we deduce that the concept “mercy” has nuances such as Charity, Clemency, Leniency, Forgiveness, Kindness, Compassion, Sympathy, Empathy, Fortunate situation and Grace.
Origin of the word “mercy”
The word “mercy” is traced to two sources: from the Anglo-French word merci, and from medieval Latin: merced, merces, meaning price paid or wages.
Some sayings and quotes about mercy
Having looked at some definitions and origins of mercy,
Pope Francis:- A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just
- Winston Churchill – All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, duty, mercy, hope.
- Bethany Hamilton: it’s easy to look at the things of this world to solve our challenges and obstacles in life, but when we submit our lives to Christ, His grace, mercy, peace and love will bring true fulfilment to our lives.
- Christopher Columbus: I am a most noteworthy sinner, but I have cried out to the Lord for grace and mercy, and they have covered me completely. I have found the sweetest consolation since I made it my whole purpose to enjoin His marvellous presence.
- Billy Graham: God’s mercy and grace give me hope – for myself, and for our world.
Billy Graham: The wonderful news is that our Lord is a God of mercy, and He responds to repentance.
- Malala Yousafzai: I believe in peace. I believe in mercy.
- Abraham Lincoln: I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice
- Charles Dickens: I know I do not exaggerate, unconsciously and unintentionally, the scantiness of my resources and the difficulty of my life… I know that but for the mercy of God, I might easily have been, for any care that was taken of me, a little robber or a vagabond.
- William Penn: Kings in this world should imitate God, their mercy should be above their works.
- Lin Yutang: Today we are afraid of simple words like goodness and mercy and kindness. We don’t believe in the good old words because we don’t believe in the good old values anymore. And that’s why the world is sick.
- Pope Francis: The confessional is not a torture chamber, but the place in which the Lord’s mercy motivates us to do better.
- Anne Boleyn: O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.
Mercy is the heartbeat of the Gospel not because of the deed of any person, but because of God. God is the source and indeed the very essence of mercy. He is merciful by nature.
JESUS AND SINNERS
The mercy of God predates humanity’s sin. This is because mercy is not just a response to sin since it exists before the introduction of sin into the world. St. Athanasius will explain that God creates human beings “in his image” and endows them with reason (so that they can recognize him) and with language (so they can praise him). It is by grace and mercy that we are chosen in Christ “before the foundation of the world, …destined…. to be his sons” (Ephesians 1:4-5).
In his prologue, John makes a profound statement when he says that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn. 1:14). The message John wants to convey is that with the incarnation, i.e., the Lord becoming one of us in all things but sin, Jesus has effectively become “the visible face of the invincible God.” Later in the same Gospel, Jesus will tell his disciples that “He who has me has seen the Father (Jn. 14:9). This means that the God who is “merciful gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6) can only be contemplated now in the face of His Son made man.
In his life and ministry, Jesus encountered many people with different backgrounds, most of who had all kinds of challenges and difficulties such as suffering from sickness, grief, painful situation. There were other people who were living in immoral situations.
As the heartbeat of the Gospel, let us now take a brief journey through the Word of God and try to understand how God has applied mercy in the lives of humanity.
- The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18, 12-14).
If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine in the hills and go in search of the stray?
And if he finds it, amen, I say to you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not stray. In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly father that one of these little ones he lost.
- The steadfast Love of God (Lamentations 3:22-23):
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercy never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
- Mutual Forgiveness (Mt. 18, 21 –
“Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus answered, “I say to you not seven times but seventy-seven times”
- The Lost Coin (Lk. 15, 8-10)
- The Parable of the Merciful Father (Lk. 15, 1-32)
The focus is not about the Prodigal Son, but the Loving Father or the Merciful Father. The Younger son went to his Father and asked for his share of the inheritance. This appears strange, but according to Deuteronomy 21, 15-17, it was within his rights under the Law. However, the son’s coming to the father like this was tantamount to saying that he wished his father dead.
Nevertheless, under the law, the father could choose to give his sons his property either while he was alive or when he died. The father had these options. In a case like the present one, the elder son would get two-thirds, and the younger son one-third. He divides his property and off went this son. When he decided to go home to his father and did go home notice what the father did:
- He spotted his son when he was afar, an indication that the father had occasionally being coming to see if the son would return
- He runs to his son
- He Embraces him
- He Kisses him
- He ordered his workers to put on his son the following:
- Finest Robe: (Not any robe, not any ordinary robe, but the finest. To put a finest robe on someone is a sign of giving the person a great honour
- A Ring: As a sign of Authority
- Shoes: As a sign that he continued to be a son. In other words, the son was not to be reduced to a slave because slaves had to shoes
From all these examples, it is to be noted that what makes Jesus’ ministry special and extraordinary was that all manner of persons flocked to him to receive the mercy; he never discriminated against anyone.
Mercy and the Healing of One’s Family Tree
When one examines either critically or even at a cursory glance, one is likely to discover that among some of us, our family history has shown unhealthy and unpalatable traits and disorders that appear to confirm what the sacred writers have said: Lamentation 5:7 says: “Our fathers, who sinned, are no more; but we bear their guilt,” and Isaiah 14:12 says “Let the slaughter begin! The sons of this king will die because of their ancestors’ sins.” These traits and disorders manifest themselves in bondage to sinful habits and negative behaviors such as: the affliction with excessive fears and phobias, rage, outbursts of temper, anger, resentment, and strong guilt feelings. Others are addictions to drugs, addictions to alcohol, sexual perversions or sexual drives that have become difficult to control, strong temptations to infidelity, fornication and adultery. Mention can also be made of different relationship challenges, of which he prophet Hosea (5:4) says “A spirit of prostitution is in their heart.” Though there is a clear hit that our sins, that is, spiritual inaptitude on our part can bring about the wrath of God on our descendants, for many of us the last place that we look for the cause of our various problems and challenges, is in the sins of our ancestors.
The consequences of ancestor sins are real. Nevertheless, let me be quick to add that not every problem is rooted in the sins of our ancestors. This is because God at times uses sufferings such as sickness for a higher purpose. This kind of suffering, known as redemptive suffering, is meant for a person to go through for the sake of the kingdom. Just as we should not attach false value to suffering, even though some sufferings are for higher purpose, it is a fact that most sickness do not appear to be redemptive.
The Lord has declares that he will punish “to the third and fourth generation.” This is what we appear to consecrate our attention on, removing out gaze from or forgetting that the same God promises blessings “to the thousandth generation” as ancestral reward. Hence, we find that the God who has vowed to punish also promises to bless and even in a much greater quantities. This then should make you, my brothers and sisters of the Marshallan fraternity, to constantly plead to God on your own behalf and that of your families both maternal and paternal, living and dead, that He the God of Mercy should cancel the sins and transgressions in the family tree, and instead allow you and your families including those yet to be born benefit from His oceans of mercy.
Experiencing God’s Mercy in the Eucharistic Celebration
The Holy Mass has been identified by spiritual writers and by numerous testimonies that it is by far the most appropriate place and means through which the mercy of God powerfully descends on all. At every Eucharistic celebration, we encounter Christ in a unique way. This happens, first, through the Liturgy of the Word which is the memorial of Christ’s preaching, and second, in the Eucharistic liturgy which is the memorial of his death. The memorial of Christ’s death is also the memorial of God’s mercy for humanity, including the Marshallan.
The structure of the Mass, as we all know, has the Penitential Rite at the very beginning of the celebration, where among other things is the Greek invocation “Kyrie eleison,” Christe, eleison, Kyrie eleison, rendered in English as “Lord, have mercy,” “Christ, have mecy,” “Lord, have mercy.” It is possible that a number of us have over the years said the Kyrie eleison or sang it without pausing to have a deeper reflection of the meaning it conveys to us penitents.
Kyrie eleison could, in line with biblical teaching, be translated, “Lord, let the tenderness of your mercy come down upon us.” This way translation finds greater meaning in some of the concrete ways God in which God speaks about his people in Jeremiah, for example. In Jeremiah 31:20, God says, “My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him.”
Father Robert De Grandis who has written a very resourceful book titled Healing Through the Mass says that we are like sponges floating on an ocean of mercy, crying “Mercy.” All we need is the capacity to receive, like the sponge. When a sponge has the capacity to receive, water rushes in and the sponge is filled. As we forgive, and receive His forgiveness, then we can soak up the mercy. Mercy means love and forgiveness in action. When we therefore pray the Kyrie eleison, we are joining the psalmist who prays by saying “Have mercy on me, O God, in You kindness.” (Psalm 51:1). At the saying of this prayer, the Lord reacts positively by extending His arms to us and says in response “Receive my forgiveness, my pardon, my mercy.” At that moment that we open our hearts and say, “Lord, I receive,” the dry sponge that has been floating on an ocean of mercy begins to soak up all that waiting grace.
Another reason why it is important to attach greater seriousness to the penitential rite during Mass is that the rite gives us the opportunity not only to repent of our sins, but it enables us to include also the confessing of the sins of our ancestors, who are either alive or dead. This is in fulfillment of Leviticus 26:40 when the Lord declares “Thus they will have to confess that they and their fathers were guilty of having rebelled against me and of having defied me.” Other important verses on this injunction are Jer. 3:12-15; 14:20; Ps. 106:6; Neh. 9:2.
While seeking the Lord’s forgiveness for ourselves and ancestors, we are to be channels of the Lord’s mercy (II Cor. 2:10) and forgiveness during the “sign of peace,” ritual within the Mass (Mt. 5:23). As Mark 11:25 warns, without this, our prayers would be useless. It is therefore important at this time to experience deep level of forgiveness as possible as one can for all who have offended us, whether they are alive or dead. Our dead relatives may be eagerly awaiting our forgiveness, if we have been withholding it from them
Because asking for and receiving of mercy is important at the beginning of liturgical celebrations, so it is noted that the conclusion of the penitential rite also assures us of mercy when the presider prays: “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.” God’s mercy overshadows his justice since “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more” Rom. 5:20).
Praying All Ways
I have said a number of times in this talk that God offers us his mercy; and it our duty to also give this to others. It may appear that to receive mercy from God is an easier task to undertake. On the contrary, it is not that easy as history and even our own experiences have taught us that can be extremely difficult at times for us and for other persons to accept God’s mercy, let alone to try to give it to others. For instance, have we not on countless occasions, hold on firmly to the mistakes and sins of others and have refused to let go? Since the receiving of mercy and the passing on of mercy to others may be a challenging responsibility, I wish to suggest strongly that we take to serious prayers. We should do this by adding to the ways and methods we use in our private and communal prayers. I therefore suggest we learn how to “pray always ”with our tears, with our nose, our feet.
- Praying with Tears
Tears and laughter are known and understood by people of every place and nation; hence they can be described as universal languages. Crying is part of our basic birth equipment and so is a gift from God. Crying is a bodily prayer that reaches the ear and heart of God. In the story of the woman of Naim whose only son died in Luke 7:11-15, Jesus was touched by scene and said to the woman “Do not cry,” and restored her son to life. Jesus’ heart was deeply moved and without request from any the mother, He performed a miracle. Her tears were her prayers and those prayers were heard. Tears are indeed powerful prayers, for they possess the power to move even heaven. They express what even words convey. In your tears, may.
- Praying Through the Nose
While we easily forget our noses except when we contract cold, it is also a marvelous organ of prayer. The book of Genesis tells us that humanity’s spiritual creation was achieved through the nose. This was when “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life and so man became a living being.” The use of incense is both a sacrifice and an aid to prayer. When its aroma arises, the nose prays and, it seems, God’s nose is delighted. Incense is a smell of prayer and adoration. The use of incense in our personal prayer, family prayer or society prayer adds much to our devotion. On the question about the right way to heaven, a common folk expression says: |Don’t worry; you can’t miss it; it is straight ahead. Just follow your nose.
- How to Pray with Our Feet
We pray with our feet through pilgrimage. Christ Himself was often a pilgrim, travelling from Galilee to the Temple in Jerusalem. The simplest way we can pray with our feet is to pass through several times the Holy Door here at the Cathedral because:
- A central component of the Jubilee of mercy is that Holy Doors will be opened throughout the world during this Jubilee year.
- They are opened at the Cathedrals and significant shrines
- These doors are symbols of God’s mercy open to welcome everyone into the compassion of God’s love that Christ proclaimed.
(John 10, 9: “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture”
I will like to conclude this address by paraphrasing the prayer and wishes of Pope Francis. May the Mother of God open your eyes during this conference, so that you may comprehend the task to which you have been called; and may she obtain for you the grace to experience this Jubilee of Mercy as faithful and fruitful witnesses of Christ.”
Thank you for your attention.