Monday, March 30, 2015

Column: A Church warmed by mercy

This column is the seventh in a series on the readings from the Easter Vigil for CatholicPhilly.  The reading is Ezekiel 36:16-17a,18-28.  You can find all of CatholicPhilly's Lenten material here, including editor Matt Gambino's reflection on the collects for the Sundays in Lent. This piece appeared at CatholicPhilly on 17 March 2015. 

For I will take you away from among the nations, gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land. Ezekiel 36:24

No matter how early or late Easter falls, it’s never as warm as I think it is going to be on the Easter Vigil. I shiver outside in the growing darkness, my coat piled with the rest of the choirs’ in the daily chapel, a candle and my music clutched in my hand. We light the fire, the deacon and acolyte brush past, the Easter Candle held high, and we come streaming into the church, out of Lent’s cold and into Easter’s warmth.

We are coming home, those of us who were here the previous afternoon, and those who have not been through these doors in weeks or months. Among them my oldest son, back from college to celebrate this great feast with the community who first welcomed him in baptism 21 years ago; a parishioner, hospitalized for weeks, steadied by his wife, makes his way to a pew. All of us are gathered by God into this church, drawn by the warmth we find within, literally and metaphorically. We are pulled into Easter’s light by God’s merciful Word.

For the last five years, I have sung the psalm response to this reading, Psalm 51, the Miserere. “A clean heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me.” Mercy is ours, Ezekiel tells us in this reading, no matter what we have done, or failed to do. This is the night, the Exsultet proclaims, that “a pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin.” And yet still I stand in front of the church, shrouded in darkness, surrounded by the assembly and beg for mercy, that God might not cast me out from his presence, that I — that all of us gathered within these walls — might again know the joy of God’s Spirit dwelling within us, sustaining us.

Two weeks ago Pope Francis announced the opening of an extraordinary Jubilee Year. The pope called for this year of mercy, set to begin on Dec. 8, that we might grow in our understand of what it means to be a church of mercy, in particular that we might be “merciful as our Father is merciful.”

Here, on the cusp of the proclamation of Easter’s good news, we hear once again of the enormity of God’s mercy. Not only are our sins forgiven, but we are renewed from within, God’s own spirit placed within us. To guard us and guide us.

Surely it will be cold when the year of mercy begins next December, but I’m hoping that my thoughts will return to the warmth found within the walls of the church, and to this reading in particular, which speaks of the depths of mercy and forgiveness. That I might grasp more profoundly that God has placed his spirit within me, to sustain me, to burn brightly, to warm not only my heart, but those of all I meet.

If you are curious as to the missing half-verse (17b) in this pericope, it's here.

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