A Second or Third Go Around

I already read that!  That is a common statement made by high school students when an English teacher announces his/her class will be reading a particular literary work.  As a teacher, I heard this phrase many times and I would simply reply that one can always gain something new from a second, third, or even fourth reading of a novel or other literary genre.  I can remember that experience vividly when I read William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice for a third time.  The first time I read it was when I was in the ninth grade and I absolutely hated it.  It is not written in modern English and so to a teenager it almost seemed like a foreign language.  My second experience with the play was at Queens College and the professor was terrific and I actually enjoyed the experience, and that paved the way for a deeper and fuller understanding of the play when I was required to read it for my MA Degree.

“The quality of mercy is not strained.  It doppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the blessed beneath; it is twice blessed.  It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”  This well-known quote is taken from The Merchant of Venice;  Portia, the heroine of the play pleads with Shylock, a Jewish merchant about the quality of mercy and extending it to her fiancé’s best friend, Antonio who owes Shylock money.  She reminds Shylock that mercy is a Divine attribute. Shylock wants justice, but Portia implies justice belongs to God, but the practice of mercy should be employed by all.  Authors often write about their lived experiences;  just maybe that was Shakespeare’s intention; he may have been the recipient of mercy.  What matters is that he developed the theme of mercy in The Merchant of Venice.

Two weeks ago several parishioners and I travelled to the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC for our Diocesan Jubilee Year of Mercy Pilgrimage.  Our keynote speaker was Dr. Christopher Ruddy, a Professor of Systematic Theology at Catholic University.

 He used a wonderful image of cracks; usually, cracks are a determent most times such as cracks in our ceilings or foundations of our homes where we are required to seal the cracks shut, but Dr. Ruddy put a positive spin on it where our loving and compassionate God seeks out every available opening in our hearts and minds to flood it with His grace a mercy.  What an uplifting and powerful image about the nature of God and to what lengths God seeks to draw us into closer union with Him!

Our day continued with the celebration of the sacrament of God’s mercy where thousands of pilgrims availed themselves of God’s forgiveness, followed by the praying of the Rosary in English, Spanish, French, Italian and Polish in song and story.  The day culminated with the celebration of the Eucharist, again multi lingual, in English, Spanish and Latin.  It was an opportunity for us to come together and celebrate the universality of the Church.  Bishop Murphy reminded us in his homily about the Good Samaritan that we not only need to ask ourselves who our neighbor is, but what can we concretely do for our neighbor?  When we go out of our way for our neighbors, we are usually acting mercifully.  

A priest in one of my former assignments once said, “In the early Church, the Romans threw Christians to the lions; in the 21st century Church, Christians are still being thrown to the lions!  This time, however, it’s not being done by the Romans, but by other Christians!”  Unfortunately, there is much truth to this statement; perhaps we would do well to contemplate the following quotes from Scripture:  “With the merciful, you show yourself merciful; with the blameless one, you show yourself blameless.” (2 Samuel 22-26)  “Be merciful even as your Father in heaven is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)  The authors of the Hebrew Scripture got it right;  Jesus exhorts us in the Gospels to practice mercy and even William Shakespeare gets it!  Why can’t we?

 —Fr. Kevin

Fr. Kevin’s letter appears each week in print and online in the St. Boniface Martyr Parish Bulletin.

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