Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 5, 2015 – Spreading Mercy: A Church in the Public Square
A few weeks ago I had the chance to attend the French oratorio “Joan of Arc at the Stake.”  In his review, Anthony Tommasini called Joan an illusive and innocent figure who loved God and country. Even though she helped to save France from the unjust clutches of England she was burned at the stake. Joan of Arc was made a saint in 1920.
This weekend we celebrate independence from a tyrannical King George III. The protests, the battles and convictions of our nation’s ancestor’s were dangerous, visionary and prophetic. And as we know the ideological principles and laws stated in our Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and our Constitution are not yet fully realized.
Consider how long it has taken for the inalienable rights of all people to become law. Consider there is still no guarantee that these laws will be upheld. Power, greed and self-righteousness stand in the way. Apparently, working for justice alone is not enough to bring about equal dignity for all humans? Are there any other strategies?
Theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper wrote that the mercy of God is the essence of the gospels and the key to Christian living.  Kasper describes mercy as “God’s free and gracious turning toward the human person with care.” If we Christians believe that God’s brand of justice is mercy, if we are benefactors of this mercy, how do we share that free gift with others?
The scriptures today are familiar to us. People with prophetic visions and voices are not always welcomed in their own communities. When his own people questioned his authority Jesus was quick to reply. He reminded them how their ancestors did not heed the prophetic wisdom of Ezekiel. Jesus was rejected not only for what he said but also for the mercy, the forgiveness and love he showered upon people suppressed by civic and religious leaders. Yet another and more contemporary model of such mercy is found in our collection of icons — Dorothy Day.
Historian David O’Brien called Day one of the most influential figures in the history of American Catholicism. Founder of the Catholic Worker Movement she challenged civic officials to create programs for people in need. She criticized the Catholic church for abandoning Gospel principles by not showing mercy and forgiveness toward enemies. The icon of Dorothy Day is looking at us asking what injustices do we protest in order to spread the mercy of God?
One finding in a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey said we Americans agree that protesting unfair treatment by the government makes the country better. Emulating the saints depicted in our church many parishioners are active in the public square. In one example, some of you participate in the Moral Monday protests at the Capitol. You have rallied to change laws that are immoral and unfair for the average citizen.
Mercy and love alone are not enough. They require action. We plant trees with branches that hold up all peoples. We learn to survive by respecting nature, animals and each other. We seek ways to renew the face of our own church to keep it relevant. We work to reshape systems that are unjust and oppressive. Our mystical garden is a global one. We labor in this vineyard to bring about what we believe to be the kin-dom of God.
Americans disagree on what it means to be American. Catholics disagree on what it means to be Catholic. Painful societal issues continue to divide us. Religions struggle to maintain a credible voice in cultural affairs. There is, however, a common ground we share with other faith traditions. Fortified by God’s mercy and forgiveness, we can be prophetic in the public square, voices of faithful people calling for liberty and justice for all.
1. Performed by the NY Philharmonic Orchestra. Music by Arthur Honegger. Libretto by Paul Claudel. Marion Cotillard starred as Joan.
2. Kasper, W. Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life. Trans. W Madges. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2014) p.43