Catholics need to apply mercy before expecting conversion, rather than expecting conversion before exercising mercy.
Archbishop Jason Gordon shared this view at the February 17 opening Mass of the seventh annual Divine Mercy Conference at the University Inn and Conference Centre, Circular Road, St Augustine. The day’s theme was Extreme Horror Requires Extreme Forgiveness – A Call to Forgiveness and Healing.
The archbishop lamented that most people believe the way of getting people to come to transformation is “rubbing their faces in every piece of foolishness they have done 24 hours a day,” but he said this is not so.
Recounting the gospel account of how Jesus befriended Matthew the tax collector, he said mercy is not a description of something but rather an action or experience, which is the key to unlocking the whole of the gospel.
“We are still Old Testament Christians and still believe that somehow our sin-sickness is an obstacle to God’s grace,” he said. Expressing gratitude that God “mercied” him, Archbishop Gordon directed the over 400 attendees to become “ministers of mercy” adding “When the soul wakes up and follows the mercy of God then it is transformed.” He urged husbands and wives to be ministers of mercy to each other.
His position was echoed by Washington DC priest Fr Charles Cortinovis, who said that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available for all to experience God’s mercy as often as possible, and for spiritual healing, confession should be accessed at least once monthly.
Giving an in-depth descriptive reminder of what sin is, he said when we sin we neglect the rights of others and get into bad habits, and it is really the devil’s way of “getting us to isolate ourselves from others and from God”. Fr Cortinovis said regular confession enables God to show the areas of our lives that need healing since it is really Jesus that is hearing the confession.
He encouraged the conference participants to go to regular confession, beginning immediately, as he made himself available throughout the weekend. There were also other priests administering the sacrament for the weekend.
According to Fr Cortinovis, “Suffering in this life is only temporary but sin is the eternal infirmity…Don’t ever lie in confession or try to hide sin…When we want healing from God, we need healing from confession first.”
He explained that the obstacle to receiving God’s mercy is not sin but “obstinacy in seeking God’s mercy” reminding that God “is able to forgive anything you bring to him”. He added that unforgiveness and an unwillingness to reconcile with others were barriers that prevented people from receiving God’s mercy and these should not be carried.
The problem of carrying around the burden of unforgiveness was further illustrated by Rwandan priest Fr Ubald Rugirangoga who recounted his experiences growing up in a culture of tribal genocide as he spoke on the day’s theme. Although his relatives were killed he grew to forgive and help the murderers. “We need mercy to change people,” he said, telling how he cared for the children of the man who murdered his father, and healed a village from hatred.
Laventille/Morvant parish priest Fr Trevor Nathasingh delivered a talk entitled ‘Resist the devil! Be steadfast in faith! (1 Pt 5: 5–11)’. He called for more fervency, prayer, fasting and the preaching of mercy and forgiveness to assist those severely affected by crime in Trinidad and Tobago.
He challenged Catholics to be examples in living holy lives and encouraged youth to attend Mass. He said God cannot work through Catholics to heal troubled communities if there is no humility on the part of practising Catholics. He commented, “There is a kind of deafness and blindness that has descended upon us that is morphed into spiritual bondage and yet God is calling the Church today.” He said the key to “waking up” is being humble with others and learning how to be a Christian in “this complex world”.
The conference continued the following day with the theme Extreme Evil Requires Extreme Measures – A Call to fight the Good Fight. The Divine Mercy Chaplet was recited, and there were talks by Kathleen Beckman, and Frs Ubald, Cortinovis and Raymond Francis. The event culminated with the Mass at 4 p.m. with Frs Cortinvois, Ubald and Francis. – EH