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Homilies - Bishop Brendan Leahy

Book Launch of The Message of Mercy by Amalee Meehan - 12 January 2016 - Mary Immaculate College


During the Christmas break I watched the film, Les Misérables on television. Based on Victor Hugo’s epic novel, it tells the story of a convicted criminal, Jean Valjean, who lives through a deep experience of mercy towards himself, towards other. The book and the film bring out just how much mercy is linked to the question of his identity and purpose in this world. We find a reference to this work in Amalee’s book when she says that “the ability of Valjean to look deep into his own soul and meet what he finds there; his ability to see and be moved by the plight of the wrongfully accused man is a beautiful example of mercy at work”.

The reference to Les Misérables is just one of many fine references that we find in this book to literature, music, culture in general – from Shakespeare’s writings to Downton Abbey, from Emily Brontë; Wuthering Heights to the popular novels listed in Oprah’s book club, from Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist to Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, from Susan Abulhawa’s novel, Mornings in Jenin, to Wally Lamb, The Hour I First Believed, and more besides.

Written with a enviably light touch, the book gently guides us through deep, up-lifting and challenging thoughts on mercy. It starts with ourselves, then brings us to consider mercy and the family, mercy and the community but then also expands us to look at mercy in the wider world and then finally leads us into a concluding reflection on our relationship with the merciful God.

Amalee provides us with a close reading of Luke’s Gospel in each chapter, opening up for us links between popular culture, literature, music, human experience. As she puts it, the book brings out how “the qualities of mercy which emerge so beautifully from a close reading of Luke’s Gospel continue to resonate with the messiness of life today”. (p. 29). She acknowledges the influence of Jesuit sacred space Scripture commentaries.

As Amalee leads us through her reflection, she offers us a richness of life experience of mercy, including that of Catherine McAuley, Catherine of Siena, the L’Arche community, the former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Gutteres, the mothers of Plazo de Mayo in Buenos Aires.

Of course, it is the Pope who came from Buenos Aires that provides a main source of this book’s theme. I can recall watching his first Angelus message where he referred to Cardinal Walter Kasper’s book on mercy. He commented that he wasn’t doing a publicity spot for a cardinal’s book but wanted to share how much that book did him. Amalee has also drawn deeply from the book.

But, apart from the Pope’s admiration for Cardinal Kasper’s book, it is Pope Francis himself is a major inspiration for Amalee – the man himself, his writings, his letter Misercordiae Vultus, his project of the Year of Mercy and the constant reference to mercy in the ministry of this Pope.

I was struck by a line from Pope Francis in a talk he gave in December – he said this is a year for us to rediscover what God likes most – to show mercy. Other things are things are important in Christianity but God likes nothing more than to offer his mercy. So the Pope invites us to let God surpris take up Pope Francis’ invitation to “let God surprise us”:

“He never tires of casting open the doors of his heart and of repeating that he loves us and wants to share his love with us… From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly. It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people draw from it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends.e us!” (Misercordiae Vultus, n. 25)

It’s wonderful that Amalee got this book together so quickly, providing such a great resource for preachers and teachers, people of prayer and reflection, young and old. I heartily recommend it and I am delighted and honoured to launch it here this evening. It will help us let God surprise us. And while we have had a lot of “river” problems in Ireland recently, it’s good to have a book that helps us wade into a good river, the great river of mercy. It is such a consoling and challenging message for our times when mercy often seems to be fading in our public discourse.

I’ll conclude with a reference to a conversation with her Spanish friend, Silvia, that Amalee tells us about in the Introduction. As Amalee says, for many people it is difficult to get a sense of what mercy actually means. We can find eyes glazing over when we refer to it! But for Silvia, her Spanish friend, it was different. Silvia doesn’t believe in God and has no truck with any form of organised religion. And yet, Amalee writes, she recognises the concept of mercy instantly “Ah si, Misericordia – a deep connection from my heart to yours, especially when you need it most. It will bring a better people, better planet, better humanity”.

As Amelee comments, even Cardinal Walter Kasper couldn’t say it better! I think, however, that Amalee, has managed herself to say this very well indeed, helping us to understand and enter more deeply into the great theme of mercy in this Year of Mercy. I congratulate her, the publishers, Veritas, and all who contributed to this very fine publication.