JUBILEE YEAR OF MERCY REFLECTION: April 2016

By: Father Reginald Martin, OP

We are used to thinking of gardens as places of beauty, peace and quiet. However, this is anything but the picture we encounter in the gospel reading for Easter Sunday. St. John begins the 20th chapter of his gospel account by telling us Mary Magdalene came to Jesus’ tomb “early, while it was still dark.” In John’s gospel light and dark don’t always refer to times of the day. They sometimes they describe spiritual realities. To grasp this, imagine what night would be like without artificial light. Without it, we would be unable to do many of the things we take for granted. Not only because we could not see, but because it would be too dangerous. And very cold. The tomb itself is a dark place, so John has multiplied the natural gloom by danger and cold. When Mary notices the stone has been removed from the tomb, we might ask what else can go wrong?

The gospel describes Mary Magdalen running to Peter and John, and John and Peter running to the tomb. The Garden is a scene of chaos – no one walking, a woman running around – in the dark. Here is a picture of the world, the Church, and the disciple, as we so often are: disoriented, depressed, disarrayed, disappointed.

But once Mary looks into the tomb, the angel asks why she’s weeping. A moment later Jesus asks the same question. The implication is that, despite the world’s darkness, neither the Church nor we should ever weep. And then, that wonderful exchange, “Mary.” “Rabboni!” (An intimate term of endearment.)

Someone has said the most beautiful word in any language is our name, spoken with love. When Jesus calls Mary Magdalen by name, her world changes. Radically. It’s the same with us. Noli me tangere. “Don’t hold on to me, but go….” And preach. Mary Magdalen is the evangelist to the evangelists, and preacher to the preachers. In this Year of Mercy our Holy Father calls us embrace our evangelical vocation, “…to bring a word and gesture of consolation…proclaim liberty to those bound by new forms of slavery in modern society, restore sight to those who can see no more because they are caught up in themselves, to restore dignity to those from whom it has been robbed.” (MV, 16)

When we think of the works of mercy, the corporal come immediately to mind, and our membership in the Order of Malta offers manifold opportunities to feed the hungry and heal (or, at least, minister to) the sick. But what of the spiritual works? To counsel the doubtful, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, and bear wrongs patiently? On that first Easter morning Jesus calls Mary Magdalen by name, and that single word consoles her and resolves all her doubts.

That word also transforms her from a disciple, someone who learns, into an apostle, someone who is “sent.” Our theology teaches that gifts are never given simply to enrich the one who receives them; they are given to be shared, and to build up the Body of Christ. Our Holy Father reminds us, “The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which…must penetrate the heart of every person.” (MV, 12) Once we have embraced the gift of God’s mercy, we must be the ministers by which this commission strengthens others to embrace their call to leadership in Christ’s Church.

May these Easter days strengthen us, and equip us to strengthen every person we meet, to become eloquent preachers of Our Savior’s eternal Mercy!