Tag Archives: mercy

Mercy for miserable sinners

September 7, 2016

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St. Paul

Mercy is one of God’s most wonderful attributes.  God is kind and merciful.  Paul was utterly dependent upon God’s mercy.  So was Peter.  So are we.

Paul and Peter had something in common:  both were intensely aware that they were miserable sinners.  Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Of these I am the foremost [the worst]” (1 Tim 1:15); and Peter told Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8).  Paul was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and arrogant.  Peter tempted, doubted, denied, and abandoned Jesus.  They badly missed the mark when it came to doing the right thing.  They were not pleasing to God.  They offended God.

After all of Paul’s wrongdoing, he should have been in serious trouble.  He deserved condemnation and punishment, but he did not get what he deserved.  Instead of a conviction and a fine, prison time, misfortune, or some other penalty, God treated Paul mercifully (1 Tim 1:13,16).  God still loved Paul.  Jesus even asked Paul to preach the gospel.  Paul was completely overwhelmed by such unwarranted kindness.  The mercy of God was a gracious gift.  He did not deserve it but he received it nonetheless.

Paul mentions this to encourage us.  Paul would like to tell us:  “With how bad I was, if God was merciful to me, no matter how bad you may have been, God will be merciful to you, too.”

God is merciful.  There are many aspects to God’s mercy.  God gives us the benefit of the doubt.  God is lenient instead of severe, soft instead of heavy-handed, gentle instead of rough, gracious instead of high and mighty, kind instead of mean, tender instead of harsh, compassionate instead of irritated or irked, understanding instead of aloof, patient instead of perturbed, sympathetic instead of hostile, quiet instead of lecturing or scolding, calm instead of angry, serene instead of furious, accepting instead of rejecting, forgiving and absolving instead of condemning, reconciling instead of isolating, and pardoning instead of punishing.

Each of us is like Paul, a sinner.  It is almost impossible to make it to the end of the day unblemished.  When we add up the sins of the past day or week, it is humbling, and when we add up all of the sins of our past life, it is devastating, downright demoralizing.

Despite our sins we must never lose hope.  Paul states emphatically, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15).  Jesus went to the Cross to save us.  It is through the Cross that we receive divine mercy and the forgiveness of our sins.  God was merciful to Paul, and no matter what sins we may have committed, God will grant us mercy!

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God’s Boundless Mercy and the Forgiveness of our Sins, the Major Point of Emphasis in Lent

February 26, 2016

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UnknownA Vertical Thread.  The readings for Lent in each of the three liturgical years have a “vertical thread,” a unifying theme or topic that runs “up and down” over a series of consecutive weeks.  The thread is not built into the First Sunday of Lent, the temptations of Jesus in the desert, and the Second Sunday of Lent, the Transfiguration, but emerges on the Third Sunday of Lent and continues until Passion Sunday.  In Year C the thread is forgiveness.

Why Forgiveness?  We are sinners.  We have strayed from God and the commandments, been lost in the darkness, frivolous with our gifts, stuck in our ways, impatient and unkind, greedy and self-centered, angry and mean, impolite and impure, dishonest and unfaithful.  Fallen and broken, we are in desperate need of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

The Third Sunday of Lent (Lk 13:1-9).  The gospel is the parable of the unproductive fig tree.  The tree represents each of us.  Over time, because of our sins, we have done far fewer good deeds than we should have done; we have not borne much good fruit.  The owner of the vineyard, God, is rightfully upset, and considering a severe punishment, the removal of the tree.  But the gardener, Jesus, asks for mercy, that we be given a second chance, and he offers “cultivation and fertilization,” more grace and blessings, so we might be given another chance to bear good fruit.  Jesus takes no delight whatsoever in punishment.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Lk 15:1-3,11-32).  The Parable of the Prodigal Son, or better stated, the Parable of the Forgiving Father, is the premier forgiveness parable in the gospel of Luke.  Like the young son, each of us has squandered our gifts from God.  We have offended God, our Father, and no longer deserve to be considered God’s children.  Yet, if we return home to God, God is waiting with open arms, and God will embrace us and welcome us back.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent (Jn  8:1-11).  The gospel is the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery.  Adultery is a grave sexual sin, and in the Jewish faith it was a capital offense punishable by death by stoning. But Jesus in his mercy said, “Neither do I condemn you” (Jn 8:11).  Again, Jesus was incredibly merciful.  If we have committed sins against purity, Jesus would prefer to set punishment aside.  All he wants is that from now on we would not commit these sins any more (see Jn 8:11).

Passion Sunday (Lk 22:14-23:49).  When Jesus was condemned and crucified, he was grossly mistreated by the religious leaders and his execution squad, yet he said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34), and when the repentant criminal asked for mercy, Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).  In every case, Jesus had no desire to punish.  His deepest desire was to forgive and reunify the person to God.  May each of us rejoice in God’s gift of forgiveness, and conduct ourselves in a way that is pleasing to God.

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For the Forgotten Babies

August 18, 2015

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flower

The Grandview Farm Baby Cemetery lies about 2 miles south of Divine Mercy Catholic Church in Faribault Minnesota.  The Cemetery is part of  the Minnesota State Hospital System (most recently called the Faribault Regional Center that operated in Faribault from 1879 until 1998. Once called the School for Idiots and Imbeciles (and later called the Feeble-Minded School) in times when we had little sensitivity to the labels we put on people with disabilities, there are three cemeteries associated with that facility.  Two near the facility and one near a farm that the school operated in the early 1900’s.  Here, in this place with no individual markers, are buried the babies that were either born at the hospital and didn’t survive (Men and women were separated at the hospital but it is rumored that sometimes they did get together and pregnancy happpened) or children who were abandoned and left without identification.  It is also rumored that babies were buried there who were born to local women whom, because of the circumstances of their pregnancy, were too embarrassed or weren’t allowed to bury their children in an established church cemetery.

I went out to look at this cemetery about a month ago because I have been working on the Garden of Mercy at Divine Mercy Parish in Faribault.  This garden is set aside as a place where all who seek mercy can find peace.  A section of the garden is dedicated to children who died either before or after birth for whatever reason whether miscarriage, abortion or illness.  As part of the dedication of the garden this Sunday, August 23, rocks with names of lost children will be placed near the water feature.  Through this healing gesture, parents were asked to name their sometimes unnamed children who lost before birth, may not have been given a name.  Three of the one hundred stones that will be dedicated are mine. Jordan David, Katie Shea and James Kevin.

While compiling the list of names, I came across a request for a memorial stone for “All the Lost Children.”

Like the Unknown Soldier monument, this rock and garden is a spiritual resting place for unwanted children, those who have suffered from abuse or are casualties of war or abortion. The garden is a place of healing for those parents and the parents of children lost to illness or accident no matter at what age because we know as parents, the natural order of things is that we die first.

The garden though is not a place just for memorials.  It is a place of mercy; a living place of love and forgiveness.

Pope Francis has called a Year of Mercy starting December 8, 2015.  In the Bull of Induction for the Jubilee of Mercy, the Pope states that:

As we can see in Sacred Scripture, mercy is a key word that indicates God’s action towards us. He does not limit himself merely to affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible. Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviors that are shown in daily living. The mercy of God is his loving concern for each one of us. He feels responsible; that is, he desires our wellbeing and he wants to see us happy, full of joy, and peaceful. This is the path which the merciful love of Christians must also travel. As the Father loves, so do his children. Just as he is merciful, so we are called to be merciful to each other.

A blessing and dedication is planned for August 23 after the 10:00 Mass with Bishop Cozzens in attendance. Let us all pray for this place  to be a place of love, forgiveness and comfort to all who seek it and for it to be a place where mercy lives through this jubilee year and beyond.

All are welcome to attend the Mass and dedication.  Information about requesting a memorial stone will be available at the dedication

Divine Mercy Catholic Church is located at 139 Mercy Drive, Faribault Minnesota.

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Hope amid upheaval

July 2, 2015

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The Cathedral of St. Paul, cathedral of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

The Cathedral of St. Paul, cathedral of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

I woke up the morning of June 15, and in typical morning fashion I scrolled my newsfeed. The first story I came across was the news that both Archbishop John Nienstedt and Bishop Lee Piché had resigned. I then read the comments that followed. Some were of those who had been advocating (and hoping) for resignation, and others were from those who felt they were mourning the loss of their shepherds.

I then began to examine my own conscience.

“What opinion do I have of this situation? What opinion should I have? I work in the trenches of the Church daily. My co-workers, our parishioners, the teens I serve — they will be talking, and Michelle, you need to be ready. You need an opinion — and a good, well-articulated one! What will you say if you someone asks you if it was right that they resigned?”

Neitzke

Michelle Neitzke

After some self reflection, I realized I didn’t have all the answers I wanted. I want to believe that truth will have its reign, that justice will be made known and that mercy will follow. I want to trust the decision of the bishops who resigned and that they were cooperating with their consciences. I want to trust that the Holy Spirit will appoint the right bishop to serve our archdiocese.

As of yet, those were the only conclusions I could come to. I resolved that this situation was, in a way, beyond me. I want answers just as much as the next person, but as of now, I still remain a spectator.

The questions that became pertinent to me were: How do I minister to the faithful who may be confused or hurt? How do I as a faithful daughter of the church, speak hope and truth to a local church that is bruised and hurting? How do I show them that I have trust and faith in the Church, the hierarchy, and the office of the episcopate, but yet at the same time realize the humanity and frailty of those who are appointed?

How do I show them that the church is constant, strong and as history shows, capable of enduring a storm? How do I tell of a God, who is full of mercy and who weeps with those who weep, a God whose heart beats with love and that bleeds with compassion for his children?

And yet, I know the world is watching, and local Church is asking:

Will the archdiocese recover?

Where do I place blame?

Can the Church withstand this?

In times turmoil, angst and scandal it is easy to look to the outside for answers and consolation. The answers do not come from the outside, but from the inside, and not even within those who hold offices in the Church, but in the Church herself, and how she prevails against the cursory and transient epochs of her time here on earth.

I believe that there is hope amidst upheaval and that the Church will endure.

The church can withstand this — but not because of the actions of man, but by the power of Christ and what is promised to us. The Church is not merely an institution — who is certainly subject to the struggle and sins of her human members — but a body of believers, who groan and travail until our final sanctification.

She exists now, and there at the same time.

She is in time, but rooted eternity,

is immanent, yet transcendent.

Suffering, while at the same time gloriously triumphant.

A shelter for its members, but is not contained by her walls.

She is ever ancient, and ever new.

And until the end of time, she will remain so.

And she will prevail.

I have promised and I will do it, says the Lord.

I really do believe this. I realize to many the beliefs I hold and the life I live is one of wonder. I have spent six years studying theology. I’m in my 20s and I have chosen to work for the Catholic Church, and so far, I have dedicated my career to it.

Many people unabashedly ask me, “Why would you work for that Church? The Church that can’t stay out of the headlines, and has many times been wounded by its own members?”

My answer to them is the same as it is to those who are angry, hurt and confused by the current events in our archdiocese.

The Church is a human body, but also a mystical body — mystical because its head is the one who is Glory Himself. Our Church is a pilgrim, susceptible to the failings of its members but never defeated by them. Imperfect now, but perfect then, and continually holding on to the promise of restoration and renewal. Christ will not abandon his church and the Holy Spirit will not be quenched. Renewal and sanctification are not far off possibilities but obtainable realities.

Hope is not mere sentimentality but a virtue, which certainly requires humility and trust. Hope demands that we trust not in ourselves, but in the power of God. Hope is not weak, but rooted in an expectant faith. Hope believes that God will deliver what he has promised. We hope in the glory to come, but are also aware that this glory can be present here and now, just as the sun  peeks rays of its light, God will show his glory through cloudy and dim circumstances. He will make things new.

My prayers are with the Church, and those who are confused, suffering, hurt and lost.

My hope is in Christ.

Michelle Neitzke is the director of senior high faith formation at All Saints in Lakeville.

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