Year of Mercy - Consoling the Afflicted
Friday, 01 July 2016 00:00


 The Year of Mercy


 ‘Consoling the Afflicted’

 EDITOR’S NOTE:  We offer this series of reflections on the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy in observance of the Year of Mercy, promulgated by Pope Francis. The jubilee year began on Dec. 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and will end on Nov. 20, 2016, the Feast of Christ the King.

By Father James McKarns

After his baptism, Jesus made a 40-day retreat in the desert. Then he was ready to make a dramatic announcement. 

He chose to make his statement in the Nazareth synagogue, where he had worshipped with his family ever since he was a child.

At the prayer time on a Sabbath day Jesus stood and read a Scripture passage, which he had often done. Selecting a reading from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus applied the meaning of those words to himself. That event is recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel (4:14-22).

Jesus gave assurance to the synagogue assembly that he would fashion a ministry of mercy by which he would bring comfort to the poor, freedom to captives, sight to the blind and spiritual kindness to those who suffered from ills and hurts.

We can imagine how the compelling voice of Jesus would have gathered strength and volume into a ringing crescendo with his concluding statement: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The ancient text of Isaiah was written on a scroll. The passage read by Jesus is in the Book of Isaiah 61:1-2. That chapter is usually listed with a bold printed heading as: The Mission to the Afflicted. 

The ancient Nazareth synagogue would long remember that Sabbath day when Jesus read and explained the sacred Scripture stating that he would be the “Messiah of Mercy” and that those who were afflicted would not be neglected or forgotten.

In both the Old and New Testaments the biblical pages tell many sorrowful stories of those who have suffered from afflictions and about the compassionate helpers who have extended their support and comfort. Jesus has set the Christian precedent to help those who endure various afflictions – whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.

The term, “affliction,” has many synonyms: adversity, misery, torment, distress, suffering, anxiety, heartbreak, and a multitude of tribulations. Some of these sufferings may be congenital and others the results of adverse happenings which occurred along the paths of life.

The ancient question continues to be pondered: Why do deep hurts and sadnesses happen to people, especially to those who are virtuous and innocent? Those who suffer may cry out, “Why me?” They do not expect an answer, because we don’t understand why bad things happen to good people. What we can give is not an explanation but consolation. The wounds of affliction can be countered with comfort, which also has many synonyms: compassion, solace, empathy, relief, calmness and peace. Perhaps it is said best that comfort lightens one’s burden.

          Unlike Jesus, we can’t do the great miracles, but we can perform many other miniature wonderworks. We can be present to another who sits in darkness. We can offer a kind deed, an encouraging word and a hope-filled prayer. Standing by another is a simple and precious way to exercise the ministry of presence. It’s so important to know that someone cares.

          Pope Francis, by his example and words, is leading the world in the way of easing the pain of the poor, the guilt of the sinful, the fears of facing life and the afflictions of many kinds. He is doing his best to teach us about the merciful ministry of Jesus. He hopes we will observe this one year of mercy and extend it to many years, so we will develop a lifestyle of mercy.

Father  McKarns, pastor emeritus of North Canton St. Paul Parish, is a former Exponent Scripture columnist and the author of several books.