The simple words ‘Do not be afraid (Nolite timere)’ very much begin the story of the Incarnation and birth of Our Lord. But as we begin to look back over 2015 we’re probably thinking of the continuing conflicts blighting the lives of millions across the Middle East, of senseless acts of violence in the name of causes that are complex, historical or just unfathomable and mindless. We may be thinking of the way in which our home planet is impoverished year after year by humanity’s greed and the words of Pope Francis in his Encyclical Laudato Si reminding us of our responsibility as stewards of creation. We are still deeply conscious of the plight of migrants now facing the depths of winter as well as the uncertainties of seeking a new life far away from home. Whatever our thoughts it’s so easy for them to take us to a place of negativity or gloom, so easy for us to be afraid. Perhaps all the more timely then is this proclamation of a God of mercy – our God who never gives up believing that we human beings are, in spite of everything, a wonderful idea! The mindset of mercy means we must accept this as true. ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…’ (John 3: 16). Mary, having overcome her fear, is to proclaim in the Magnificat the God whose ‘mercy is from age to age’.
The concept of radicalization is one which has emerged in these past months to occupy newspaper columns and TV documentaries. How is it that human beings can turn to violence against brothers and sisters who are ‘not one of us’? The signs of radicalization are being watched for in schools and institutions and we are trying to discover what lies behind this terrible distortion of humanity. Pope Francis in announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2013 said: ‘we need Christians who make God’s mercy and tenderness for every creature visible to the men and women of our day. We know that the crisis of modern man is not superficial but profound.’ This search for understanding of the many crises facing humanity is certainly one that will demand profound reflection.
So this year with all these things passing through our minds we try to view them through the lens of mercy and hopefully find ourselves renewed in hope as we do so. God remains steadfast in his hope for humanity precisely through being the God of mercy. We have the visible face of mercy in Christ born into our world. Already across our Diocese practical ways of making His face known are coming to light – as we begin this Year of Mercy it is with those words of the Angel Gabriel ‘do not be afraid!’ that we reflect back on the year past and hope in the year ahead.
-Father Martin Hardy, Episcopal Vicar for Catholic Education