Holy Land Pilgrimage

Following the “Mercy-Steps” of Jesus

February 24, 2018

Last week, the Catholic Church started the Lenten season. It is a time of prayer, reflection and, of course, a time of grace. I always say that this is privileged time to “snatch” mercy from the Lord.
This year we were blessed to start this special season with a canonical retreat in preparation for Holy Orders on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. This is where “Jesus went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people” (Matthew 4:23), and where He, without doubt, offered forgiveness of sins.
The experience of following in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land has also given me an opportunity to follow his concrete signs of mercy. He leads by example. Right after we finished our retreat, we visited the city of Magdala. I am sure that this name makes us think of the provocative figure of Mary Magdalene; however, this Lenten season, my retreat, and the visit to this site made me think about two things: first, the position of Jesus before sin, and second, the example of Jesus before the sinner.

Regarding the position of Jesus before sin, the first thing I discovered is that Jesus and sin are two totally opposite, contradictory words. Visiting this place (Magdala), walking all along the sea shore, and listening to the Biblical passages where Jesus shows himself as a merciful man, I discovered that God is strength (Jesus as the image of God), and sin is weakness. God is unity, and sin is dispersion. God is the covenant, and sin is the breaking of this alliance. God is depth, and sin is frivolity. God is Eternal, and sin is provisional, fleeting.
But it was because of our sins that God sent His Son into the World to repair a broken order. God wanted to bring us back to him by letting us know that sin is a rupture. “O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer.” And even before the coming of Christ, the idea of sin as a severance was strongly preached by the Prophets who saw sin as a refusal to obey an order, or to follow a call. Each one of the Prophets denounced sin in a different aspect. For example, Amos denounced ingratitude, Isaiah denounced pride, Jeremiah denounced falsehood hidden in the heart of humankind and Ezekiel denounced rebellion. But at the end of all this, the general impeachment is the breakup of an alliance. From there, we can understand that God reacts before sin not as violated law but as a betrayed friendship, as a falsified love.
Second, concerning the position of Jesus before the sinner, there is his declaration to the sinful woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11). I found that inspiring example of the free gift of God’s love. As future ministers of this same Love and participants in that same Mercy, we need to make a radical distinction between sin and the sinner. We can see that distinction in Jesus Christ who took the whip to expel the shop keepers from the temple, and in that Jesus who condemns the Pharisees. In spite of these examples, that same Jesus is full of tenderness and compassion when He is before a concrete sinner. His words soften, his phrases are not condemnatory, and his tone of voice softens as well. He runs to embrace and forgive people even before the sinners show any signs of repentance, just like the Father who ran out to receive his prodigal son with wide-open arms.

In conclusion, the pilgrimage in the Holy Land, framed now in this Lenten period of grace, is a time of vocational strengthening, but also it is a time of spiritual conversion. Every one of us brings to the ministry our own humanity and it is very important to recognize ourselves as sinners before the Lord in order to “snatch” His mercy. We know that as future ministers of mercy we have to be touched in our hearts by Christ because we are also “products” of God’s mercy. So, please keep us in your prayers as we continue following the “Mercy-Steps” of the Lord, that we may be a visible sign of a restored covenant (friendship) with God.

By Marco Franco, Archdiocese of Chicago
Photos by Declan McNicholas, Diocese of Gary, and Peter Pedrasa, Diocese of Tucson

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