“A good way to start the New Year is to ask how you can be different than you are now”— said Archbishop Fulton Sheen in a speech on December 31, 1944. His suggestion spiritualizes the essence of many New Year’s resolutions. In his talk, “Who Can Re-Make You?” he explains, “We were like a clock whose mainspring was broken. We have the ‘works’ but we do not ‘go’. Man cannot redeem himself any more than the clock can fix itself. If man is ever to be redeemed, redemption must: 1) Come from without human nature, and 2) be done from within.” Sheen continues, “human nature has contracted a bigger debt than it can pay. In sinning against God we piled up an infinite debt, and we have not enough balance of merits in our finite bank to meet the burden. …Evil is too deep-seated in the world to be righted by a little kindness or reason or tolerance.”
From the pierced Heart of the Redeemer flows blood and water, the medicine that cures the infection of Original Sin. Yet, as Sheen writes, “human nature in some way must be involved in its own redemption.” The Catechism (1847) teaches the same truth quoting St. Augustine, “God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us.” To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 8-9). Sinners all, we repeatedly fail to live the standard of Christ’s self-emptying love.
The Eternal Father made a provision for us: Incarnate Divine Mercy. Jesus re-makes us, “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself…”(2 Cor. 5:17-18). In moments of truth we long for our transformation into Christ; we desire to become the best version of our redeemed self, and to fulfill the unique mission imprinted into our spiritual DNA.
For most believers, the arrival of a new year brings hopeful expectations. Perhaps this is the year that we allow God to radically change us into an icon of Jesus, ever humble, patient and kind, but also ever zealous to build up His Kingdom. The saints, echoing the Gospel, tell us that Jesus seeks to walk the earth again through your footsteps, seeks to heal humanity through your prayerful hands, seeks to find the lost sheep through your missionary work, seeks to transform the world through your spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Will you ardently confirm your “yes” to God’s love and plan?
Mary, Mother of God
On January 1st, the Church liturgically honors Mary, Mother of God. We are encouraged to entrust ourselves to her maternal love and protection just as God the Father entrusted His only begotten Son to Mary. St. John Paul II writes of her, “Mary, then, is the one who has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God’s mercy. She knows its price, she knows how great it is. In this sense, we call her the Mother of mercy: our Lady of mercy, or Mother of divine mercy” (Dives in Misericordia). This year the liturgy for the Mother of God is uniquely situated in the Jubilee of Mercy. In the papal bull for the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis wrote:
“My thoughts now turn to the Mother of Mercy. May the sweetness of her countenance watch over us in this Holy Year, so that all of us may rediscover the joy of God’s tenderness. No one has penetrated the profound mystery of the incarnation like Mary. Her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh. The Mother of the Crucified and Risen One has entered the sanctuary of divine mercy because she participated intimately in the mystery of His love. (Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Paragraph 24).
Who better than Mary can help us “rediscover the joy God’s tenderness”, and why is it important to that we do so? Deprived of “the joy of God’s tenderness” we wither and are vulnerable to the temptations of the flesh, the world and the devil. “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Neh 8:10b). Mary is the perennial woman of praise joyfully proclaiming the greatness of the Lord. This is her mantle and armor. We think of Mary who first kissed the face of God, who embraced the Christ Child with the gentle strength of maternal love. His Mother is ours also. Mary’s maternal kiss of grace deepens our experience of divine mercy. Mary is perpetually interceding for our transformation into Christ before the mercy seat of the Father.
The papal bull helps us to understand Mary’s vital role:
Chosen to be the Mother of the Son of God, Mary, from the outset, was prepared by the love of God to be the Ark of the Covenant between God and man. She treasured divine mercy in her heart in perfect harmony with her Son Jesus. Her hymn of praise, sung at the threshold of the home of Elizabeth, was dedicated to the mercy of God which extends from “generation to generation” (Lk 1:50). We too were included in those prophetic words of the Virgin Mary. This will be a source of comfort and strength to us as we cross the threshold of the Holy Year to experience the fruits of divine mercy. (Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Paragraph 24).
Mary experienced the fruits of divine mercy through the joyful, sorrowful, glorious and luminous mysteries of the life of her Son Jesus. She was more intimately intertwined with incarnate mercy than any other human being. Mary’s knows the beauty as well as the challenge of living merciful discipleship.
Merciful Discipleship: 10 Resolutions
The following list is suggested at the start of my book, “God’s Healing Mercy”. While researching various persons to highlight as “profiles in mercy”, I discovered that Cardinal Francis Xavier Van Thuan, while a prisoner of war in Vietnam, wrote a “rule of life” for his time of confinement. He made a decision to live the grace of the present moment, not to live only in waiting for liberation. He decided to make the jail his cathedral, the prisoners and guards, his parishioners. Though he was severely abused in prison he exercised merciful discipleship. Thus, he brought many non-believers to Christ by his witness to divine mercy. It struck me that the Cardinal made a plan at the onset of his prison confinement and that his intentional “rule of life” proved to be transformative not only for him but also for the prison population.
For the Jubilee of Mercy, we might consider these resolutions as appropriate for living merciful discipleship. With God’s grace we can be re-made.
- I will decide to believe and trust in God’s mercy.
- I will live the present moment in Christ’s merciful love.
- I will hold firm to one secret of mercy: prayer.
- I will see in the holy Eucharist my only power and stream of mercy.
- I will have the wisdom of mercy: the science of the cross.
- I will be faithful to my mission in the Church as a witness to Divine Mercy.
- I will seek the peace the world cannot give and rest in God’s merciful love.
- I will carry out a holy mission of renewal in the Spirit and works of mercy.
- I will speak one language and wear one uniform: mercy.
- I will have one unique love: Mary, Mother of Mercy. (God’s Healing Mercy, pg.1)
Prayer: Beloved Mother of God, Mary, Mother of Mercy, please take us by the hand and guide our steps over the threshold of the holy door that represents God’s Heart. Graciously lead us to see the face of divine mercy. Show us how to receive anew the gift of Incarnate Mercy, Jesus. With maternal grace, help us to be re-made into Christ-like love that forgives. Gently apply the salve of healing mercy to our wounds and guide us to be vessels of merciful love. O Mother of God, please form us to live merciful discipleship. Like you, we desire to magnify Jesus and bring many souls to the knowledge of God’s healing mercy. Amen.