Msgr. Joseph G. Prior

Msgr. Joseph G. Prior

(See the readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 17)

Pope Francis began his letter announcing the Year of Mercy with these words: “Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” We have been observing this “Year of Mercy” since Dec. 8 and have had wonderful opportunities to reflect on and appreciate the great mercy the Father has shown us in Christ Jesus. Now in the Easter season we continue to encounter, ever anew, God’s merciful love.

The short sentence that opens the papal bull is a powerful way to draw us into the mystery of divine love. In our encounters with fellow human beings, the “face” is the normal way in which we visually identify someone. When we think of an absent loved one or friend the image that comes to mind is that of their face. When we converse with someone we look at them and speak “face to face.”

The desire to see someone’s face is evident even in our technology-rich culture. “Skype” and “Facetime” are very popular in speaking to someone who is not physically present. There is something in being human that wells up in us the desire to speak “face to face.”

When we consider the transcendence of God the Father, the almighty creator of the universe and our creator, we recognize in ourselves a longing to see God, to know him and to love him. Psalm 42 captures this longing in these words: “My soul thirsts for God, the living God. When can I enter and see the face of God?” (Psalm 42:3)

St. Paul speaks in similar terms when he writes concerning that ultimate encounter with the Father after death: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Yet God, who is so far above us, sends his Son to be not only with us but to be one of us and to lead us to him. Jesus is our gateway to the Father. In Jesus who walked among us, who lived as we live, who shared all aspects of human life, we encounter the almighty Father in an intimate way. The Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy is taken from the Gospel according to John. In this passage Jesus says: “The Father and I are one.” An encounter with Jesus is an encounter with the Father.\

The passage begins with Jesus saying: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He knows us by name. He gathers us together as a shepherd gathers the sheep. Today he tells us where he, the shepherd, leads us – to eternal life. He leads us to where the Father is.

This is the greatest experience of Mercy – to be invited to be in the presence of God. The Father sends Jesus to be the shepherd. Through his passion, death and resurrection he opens the way to the Father.

The Father sends Jesus as the shepherd of all his people. The covenant with Israel prepared the way for the Good Shepherd. Jesus came as one of the covenant and as he fulfills that covenant he opens the way for all peoples to encounter the merciful love of the Father.

The first reading from Acts of the Apostles recalls the expansion of the Gentile mission by Paul and Barnabas. Peoples from all different races, cultures and languages will be invited to know Jesus and through Jesus to encounter the Father.

The second reading also speaks of the universality of the new covenant sealed in the blood of Christ. The passage is from the Book of Revelation. John recounts his vision of the heavenly court: “I, John, had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.”

These are the ones whose robes were made “white in the blood of the Lamb.” They have been purified of their sins, they have encountered the mercy of the Father through Jesus. Now they share the fullness of life that that mercy makes possible.

As we continue to celebrate Easter and observe the Year of Mercy we once again this week have an opportunity to encounter the Father’s mercy through Jesus. We meet Jesus in the Word, in sacrament and in the prayer of the heart. He is never far from us.

As Jesus the Christ is never far from us, the Father is never far from us, nor his mercy. “Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.”