Amid violence and persecution, mercy is the Christian way, says Patriarch Sako
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy Pope Francis announced for 8 December will not be celebrated only in Rome, but in all the dioceses of the world and in the main religious shrines. As that day approaches, Chaldean Patriarch Raphael I Mar Louis Sako wrote a pastoral letter, sent to AsiaNews for wider distribution.
In it, His Beatitude notes that mercy is the Christian way, especially in times of trial and suffering. It is “not a vague ideal," but a behavior "that is rich, dynamic and open to the light of faith in the manner of Jesus.” For Christians, "martyrdom is the charism of our Church". Addressing Muslims, he calls for building "a common life, in peace and in harmony."
Here is his patriarch’s pastoral letter (translated by AsiaNews):
Mercy is not a vague ideal, but it is a Christian behavior that is rich, dynamic and open to the light of faith in the manner of Jesus. It is his first proclamation, that of the "kerygma". Mercy is the first prayer in the Gospel. "Lord have mercy" means "have mercy on me". In Greek, it means "to anoint me with oil, to be healed." This requires our continued commitment to grow in what is noblest and truest, in the Christian way of a disciple of Christ, which gives us consolation and strength.
The Church has to console. Its mission is not to leave children wounded by sin alone, but to educate them, as does God who is father and mother, who consoles and never tires. Following Jesus, the Church must be a mother and a teacher. But it can be a teacher only because she is a mother. This is why many people expect courageous and prophetic decisions from Pope Francis in this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Mercy in the spirituality of the Chaldean Church
The Chaldean Church, which is one of the oldest Christian churches, has maintained his temperance, far from Greek triumphalism, and its logic, in presenting the faith. Faith, according to Chaldean theology, is a relationship of love, a mystical relationship, sometimes experienced in blood (as a martyr Church). It is expressed in its (Judeo-Christian) liturgy through the threat ‘resurrection, life and renewal (hope),’ and in the texts of the Fathers who tried to help the faithful to be disciples of Christ in the difficult minutiae of everyday life, with absolute fidelity.
Chaldean theology is based on grace. Grace is greater than sin. There is no appeal to the Cross, to suffering or humiliation. It is about the Gospel full of love, mercy, forgiveness, admiration and joy. The Cross in Chaldean churches is without the body, like in the empty tomb, thus symbolising the resurrection and looking to Jesus risen and glorified, who turns to the faithful who live in difficulty.
Jesus is risen and, if we are united with Him, we shall have the same risen fate. Imitating him means taking something from him every day and putting it in us so as to be incorporated and transformed into Him. We mortals, united to him the Immortal, shall obtain eternal life. This gives us great hope and courage. This path, which goes to the core of the paschal mystery, is exhausting; it is a journey of loss and gain, which ultimately leads to new life.
Mercy has a large place in the Chaldean liturgy. It is influenced by the Psalms of mercy and compassion. Mercy creates a positive change in the sinner, gives him confidence and helps him to reconcile with God and other members of the community.
In Arabic, the word rahim-rahma means the womb that welcomes life (children). This is how our merciful God is, welcoming us as his children with love and tenderness. Even our Muslim brothers and sisters, like us Christians, call upon God the merciful. In the Gospel, Jesus invites us to “Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful."
"It is not worthy of God, who is love, to send a poor sinner to hell,” said Saint Isaac of Nineveh, one of land’s spiritual father, who lived in the 7th century AD. “This attitude does not go with his mercy. Sins are acts, not essences." For Simon Taibuteh, a contemporary, "Experience teaches us that when grace works in us, the light of love for our brothers will spread in our hearts so that we do not see their sins." Likewise, "God’s mercy and his love cannot be measured by human sin,” said Narsai, who lived in the 5th century AD.
The Sheol (word), which we translate as purgatory, is a place of mercy. Mercy, like love, knows no bounds. Love is never wrong. God as love and mercy loves us, comes down to us, forgives us, and walks with us. Let us meditate on the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. The father’s mercy awaits us, for “Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger, abounding in mercy. [. . .] As a father has compassion on his children (Ps 103: 8'13).” This is our God.
The Holy Year of Mercy
The Holy Year of Mercy, which begins on 8 December 2015 and end on 30 November 2016, is an important time for us, pastors and faithful, for it calls upon us to be true "Missionaries of Mercy," as Pope Francis put it. It is an opportunity for conversion, first for us pastors, in particular, for those who are "far away" like the Good Shepherd. He, the Son of God, whilst fighting sin, never turned down a sinner.
In Syriac, a bishop is called Hassia, which means the bearer of forgiveness. We must keep alive in our hearts the grace of mercy and speak about God to the men and women of our time in a more understandable way, with appropriate and clear language, without ambiguities or vagueness. We must proclaim the Gospel in a new way and with enthusiasm, like Pope Francis, who called upon us during the Synod on the Family to use beautiful words like ‘Please, excuse me, may I, and thanks’.
The Bull of Indiction begins by stating that "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith." Mercy is not an abstract notion, but a face to discover, recognise, contemplate and serve. Faced with the misfortune of poverty and injustice, the works of mercy must motivate us to go deeper into the heart of the Gospel, where the poor are the privileged of God's mercy." The Church must become the voice of every man and every woman and repeat confidently and relentlessly, "Remember your compassion and your mercy, O Lord, for they are ages old" (Ps, 25:6).
We need to understand better the reality we live in, in light of the spirit and not in a mechanic or legalistic way. Let us deepen our thinking about the word of Jesus. The Sabbath is for man and I desire mercy, not sacrifice (Mt, 7:12). Let us seek the spirit and the meaning of [his] deeds and internalise this as Mary did, for she “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (Lk, 2:19).
The importance of silence and contemplation in our lives is essential. Our goal is to listen, engage others in dialogue, give hope to young people, open up the future for them, and help the old, the poor and the persecuted. We must feel their suffering.
Mercy in the present sufferings in Iraq
"For us Iraqi Christians, martyrdom is the charism of our Church. As a minority, we are faced with difficulties and sacrifices, but we are conscious that we are Christ’s witnesses and this can entail becoming martyrs” like our martyrs throughout history, and those of today: the archbishop of Mosul, Mgr Paul Faraj Rahho; Fathers Raghid Ganni and Wassim Thair; and many faithful. Faith and martyrdom in Arabic have the same root, Shahid wa shahad.
For us, faith is a mystical reality of love, not an ideological issue or theological speculation. It is the DNA of our existence. Faith is a personal encounter with Christ, who knows us, who loves us, and to whom we totally give ourselves. For him, we must always go further, as far as the sacrifice of ourselves, as did the Christians in Mosul and villages of the plain of Nineveh a year ago, in the summer of 2014. For us, they are an honour and a sign of generosity.
We do not want to leave our homeland without a Christian presence. Iraq is our identity. We have a vocation; we must bear witness to the joy of the Gospel. Like Abraham, a native son who hoped against hope. Abraham was for everyone and we are for everyone. As patriarch, bishops and priests, we are for everyone, to serve Christians and Muslims. This is also our mission and absolute commitment.
In the circumstances in which we live, we have to be more attentive to our suffering brothers and sisters, to displaced people, migrants, the poor, orphans and widows. We need to stand by them, be present and close to them, accompany them with all we have in terms of power and money, and give them a sign of hope.
How beautiful it is to share what we have with others, with joy, as witnesses of our faith in Jesus Christ. How beautiful it is to show friendship, solidarity and support to our Muslim brothers and sisters. We must work with them to build a common life, in peace and in harmony. May our shared suffering becomes strength, so that the storm may pass!
For us, mercy must be the way to bear witness to the presence of God and Jesus in our world. The door of mercy must always be open. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Mt, 5:7).
This is our Gospel!
* Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans and president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Iraq