ENDLESS PURSUIT: Citing Old Testament, New Testament and historical figures, Father Willard Van De Loo demonstrated the gift of mercy that God gives to all. (Renae Bauer photo)
Year of Mercy reminds us that God pursues us to love our Creator & others
by Renae Bauer
(September 2016) -- We are more than our mistakes.
For Father Willard Van De Loo, the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy helped bring this concept into focus. Declared by Pope Francis to be celebrated from Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016, the Year of Mercy was a time to re-awaken Christians to God’s merciful love and to practice it in our daily lives.
“Pope Francis starts with the premise that all people are holy,” said Father Van De Loo during his presentation to Sisters and Associates in September. “We are created in God’s likeness.” And what did God say in the Story of Creation after creating day and night, earth and sea, sun and moon, creatures and humans? “God looked at everything He had made, and found it very good,” Father said quoting from the Book of Genesis.
The Story of Creation is followed by the Story of Adam and Eve, demonstrating that God gives us everything we need. And even though we sin, God “never stops calling us to make a covenant with Him,” said Father Van De Loo. God’s relentless calling is found throughout the Old Testament and New Testament. For example:
- The story of the potter’s vessel (Jeremiah 18:6) illustrates how the potter – God – shapes and molds us in ways that are pleasing to Him. “God never tires of shaping mud. Can I dare to believe there’s more than mud to people?” asked Father Van De Loo.
- At the Last Supper, Jesus blesses bread and wine, and declares a new Covenant for us to take, eat and drink, and do again and again in His memory. “We are called to do this (give our lives to Him in service to others) but it’s not easy,” Father says.
- After His death and resurrection, Jesus visits the Apostles in the Upper Room. His first words are, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then He breathes on them, signifying the gift of the Holy Spirit.
- Before His Ascension, Jesus appears on the seashore and asks Peter three times: “Do you love me?” Each time, Peter says yes to which Jesus responds, “Feed my sheep.” Says Father Van De Loo: “That simple image … God never tires of seeking us.”
But our ability to see the goodness in others and show God’s mercy isn’t perfect. Referring to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Father Van De Loo reminded the audience about our first reaction: We stopped what we were doing, found the people who are dear to us, and told them, “I love you.” Then, our second reaction was to “teach a lesson” to the terrorists. While we have a right to protect ourselves, Father asked rhetorically whether war has served us well. Where would we be if we had forgiven?
If we look to Jesus’ examples, we see forgiveness over and over.
- When teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus prays The Lord’s Prayer which refers to forgiving the transgressions of others as well as God forgiving ours.
- During the Last Supper, Jesus washes all the apostles’ feet including Peter and Judas. Jesus knew Peter would deny Him and that Judas would betray Him but He still washed their feet, He still taught them the importance of serving and forgiving others.
- From the cross, Jesus implores, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
Using vignettes from the lives of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, Father Van De Loo illustrated how God’s ancient call – to love God and love others – has been and continues to be exemplified.
More recently, we heard God’s words of love and mercy through the lives of Sister Margaret Held and Sister Paula Merrill, who were murdered on Aug. 25 in Durant, Miss. Rodney Earl Sanders has been charged with the fatal stabbings. Despite the brutality, the Sisters’ religious congregations have collectively appealed for mercy. Paraphrasing someone close to Sister Held, Father Van De Loo said, “Marge would want to know what we can do to help this man.”
“Can we believe that good is greater than evil?” asked Father. After all, we truly are more than our mistakes.
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