“Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”
Pope Francis sent out this tweet on April 3rd, just a few weeks ago. And for so many of us, these tweets from Pope Francis have become a daily reminder of our shepherd, caring for his flock. This Jubilee year of Mercy is such a gift to the Church. We as Catholics are called to reflect on God’s unfailing, mercy and love. And when I begin to reflect on this theme in my own life, I can’t help but see how prominent it has been. You see, for the past nine months I have been serving the Catholic Church as a Cap Corps Volunteer, where it is my duty to spread God’s message of love and mercy through my words, actions, and the many retreat programs that Capuchin Youth & Family Ministries runs. Part of my ministry this year is reflecting on God’s grace in my own life so that I may share that witness with the many middle schoolers and high schoolers who come to our center each and every day.
I’m sure that many of us can think of a time when the Lord’s mercy truly changed our lives. And as we sit here in adoration of the Eucharist, in adoration of our Lord, I ask you to let his mercy shine upon you, to let him love you, because he so desperately wants to.
There were many years when I was so afraid to let God’s love into my life. And this is something that I still struggle with from time to time. However, in high school, all I wanted was to be ‘okay’. The only thing was I wouldn’t let his unfailing love and mercy into my heart. I was afraid to let Love himself in, because of the way others had hurt me. I didn’t feel worthy of His Love.
There have been other people who haven’t felt worthy of Christ’s love. However, one thing always happens. There is an encounter with our Lord, who is Love, and one cannot stay the same after that encounter. St. Matthew was one of these people. His story of conversion is a favorite of mine:
“As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew- sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13
I hope and pray that each of us has this moment, this moment where we encounter a God who is Love. And like St. Matthew, I hope that you’re life can never be the same, and that you choose to follow Him and bring those around to his merciful love. Each of us is asked to accompany him on an adventure that we were made for.
My adventure in faith started out like many others. It was quiet. I grew up on Long Island, went to public school, lived with my family, and went to Mass on Sundays. I played with neighbors as a kid, and loved to draw and write stories. For me, this moment of encounter didn’t happen as a child, at my baptism, first communion, or confirmation, but rather, it happened on a retreat, during Eucharistic adoration.
I’m sure St. Matthew didn’t feel worthy to follow Christ. He was a tax collector, a man who took advantage of people and their money. People were surprised when Christ asked Matthew to follow him. And while I’m sure other people didn’t judge me for following Christ, I sure didn’t feel worthy to receive his love and mercy, and to be a follower of him. I didn’t feel worthy to have the responsibility of doing all that comes with being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
I had a few really rough years in high school. I was struggling with anxiety, and depression. I had lost friends, and a boyfriend who I was too dependent on, and soon after that my Dad had moved out and my parents divorced. By the time I was a senior in High School, I wasn’t living a life for Christ, even though I had gone to Church, to youth group, and volunteered my time to the poor and to the younger children at my parish.
For me, life was trying to get through each day, often times faking a smile, and acting as though everything was okay. While on the inside, I was falling apart. I couldn’t see my worth in Christ. I knew that I was loved, but couldn’t grasp what that meant or how it could affect my life, and I certainly didn’t feel that love.
Being a senior, I didn’t want to miss out on any of my favorite High School experiences, so I went on the youth group retreat through my parish for one last time. I had prayed that something wonderful would happen on this retreat. I wasn’t sure if God would hear my prayer, or if anything would actually change in my life. But I knew that I was ready, that I wanted to live a life of Joy again. And although I still didn’t feel worthy, I prayed that somehow my heart would be opened to this love that I had experienced years before. That Friday night we took a walk down to the beach and had a prayer service. We were asked to quiet ourselves, and to think of what was burdening us. There were thousands of pebbles on the beach. We each picked up two rocks, one representing our burdens, and one representing a promise. We each threw our burden into the Sound, and held on tight to our promise. I handed God all that I had been carrying, the hurt and the sadness, and I promised to never deny his love in my life again. My heart began to break open then. God was beginning to answer my prayer. By the time Saturday night came around, my heart went from hard to being broken open by his Divine Mercy. And after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, I sat in adoration of the Eucharist.
I desired mercy; just like St. Matthew.
And as I sat, for the first time feeling peace in front of the Eucharist, I cried, and felt a whisper in my heart to come, and follow Him. I no longer felt unworthy. Instead, all I saw was the Eucharist, and beautiful light surrounding it. I felt love, and finally understood in my heart, that despite my weaknesses and failures, Christ still died for me. I felt an overwhelming sense in my heart that I was loved. Truly Loved. In that moment, just like St. Matthew, I got up, and followed Him. I was drawn into the mystery.
Each time we are brought to adoration of the Eucharist, we are given the opportunity to gaze upon Love, and to let him gaze upon us. The creator of the world wants nothing more than to love you. Let us always remember what Pope Francis keeps reminding us of, that mercy is the bridge between God and man, “opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”
During this Easter season, let his Divine Mercy break open your heart, so that he may lavish you in love, and transform your life, just like he has done in mine and in so many others.
This reflection was given to a group of students at the New York Catholic Youth Day on April 30, 2016 at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, NY. I hope that it has inspired you as it inspired the students earlier this week.