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Homily for Catholic Advocacy Day
St. Michael's Church, Olympia
February 8, 2016 


     It’s Catholic Advocacy in the Year of Mercy.  To be honest: if I had gotten to pick the readings, I doubt very much that I would have picked the ones we just heard!  But we play with the cards we’re dealt, don’t we! 

     As I reflected on those readings, one word that kept coming to mind was touch.  The reading from the First Book of Kings was all about touching God.  The Ark of the Covenant was a work of human hands but was much more than that, wasn’t it?  We would call it a sacrament: it’s where the Israelites came closest to God and God to them; it’s where they got to touch God.  The Ark, housing as it did, the two stone tablets of the Law, went before the Israelites on their march through the desert; it went before them when they went into battle; it went before them when they crossed the Jordan, parting the waters so they could pass through dry-shod.   Today’s passage from First Kings was the culmination of all of that as the priests carried the Ark in solemn procession into the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s newly completed temple.  There, the Ark, enveloped in cloud, wrapped in mystery, would continue to be the place where the people would touch God, touch the Mercy, if you will.

     In the reading from Mark’s gospel, we encountered Jesus, the Sacrament of Mercy, the one in whom we touch God in a most profound and unique way, and God touches us.   Mark tells us that when Jesus arrived at Genneserat after crossing the lake with his disciples, the people scurried to get to him, bringing their sick on bedrolls.  They begged him to let them touch him - there’s that word again! -  to touch him or to touch even the tassel of his cloak.  And all who did touch him, got well.

     A couple of observations.  Scholars like to point out that the real sense of that word, “begged” (“the people begged to touch him”) is that the people were asking Jesus to be on their side, to be their defender, their advocate.  That’s a nice connection with today, isn’t it!  The people were looking for an advocate and they found one in Jesus.  And I like this other little detail that Mark gives.  He says that whenever Jesus entered a village, city or hamlet, the people placed their sick in the town marketplace.  You can picture that, can’t you?  The messy marketplace with all its comings and goings, pushing and shoving, buying and selling -- and in the midst of it all, sick people lying on their pallets and Jesus right there with them.   I love that picture of mercy in the marketplace!  It’s a perfect picture of what with this day is all about!

     Catholic Advocacy Day is all about mercy, mercy in the marketplace.  It’s about being merciful, asking for mercy, even demanding mercy.  It’s about being ministers of mercy, too -- messengers of mercy, martyrs for mercy. Which is another way of saying that it’s about us!  For the truth is, my friends, that some people will only touch God and God’s mercy by touching us.  That’s certainly true when it comes to the Works of Mercy both corporal and spiritual, but it’s also true when it comes to our taking a stand for mercy: a stand for life; a stand for the homeless, the imprisoned; a stand for the immigrants and refugees; a stand for expanding healthcare benefits for seniors, the poor, and the mentally ill; a stand for better, more humane, more just budget priorities across the board.  Which is another way of saying that mercy means more than just loving, caring, encounters with people – it means that, for sure - but mercy also means going beyond the personal encounter.  Mercy is a personal gift, yes, but it also needs to be a public act, even a political action.

     Let me quote for you some words of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in his recent Christmas Message.  “Mercy is not limited to individual relationships,” he said.  “Mercy embraces public life in all its sectors at all levels and in all directions.”  And then he went on to say, “Mercy is a political act par excellence. When mercy becomes a component of public action, the world can be transformed from the sphere of selfish interests to that of human values.”

     My friends, that’s what today is about.  Mercy as “a political act; mercy as a component of public action.”  And that’s what I had in mind a moment ago when I talked about our becoming not only ministers and messengers of mercy, but martyrs for mercy.  Martyrs.  That’s the witness part.  That’s the prophetic part.  That’s the part that is ours because of our baptism and confirmation.  That’s what makes us advocates, Catholic advocates.  That’s what brings us to Olympia today.  And that’s what will prompt us to speak up and speak out not just today but every day.

     My friends in Christ, it’s Catholic Advocacy Day and it’s the Year of Mercy.  Think of it this way: there are some people who will touch mercy only through you and me - through our witness, our advocacy.   And because of us, they will even touch God whose very name is Mercy!

     Father Michael G. Ryan



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