A Holy Week reflection in this year of mercy

This Holy Week we come to the depths of Lent, and we struggle to understand the meaning of suffering. Of course, we already have some ideas, especially from the Book of Genesis where it is seen as a punishment. And from the Book of Job, where it is presented as a form of trial to test the mettle of a good person. Both these general meanings are affirmed by the passion of Jesus Christ, with a difference: Jesus is God and, therefore, He is definitely a good person. Still, He goes through suffering. Not for Him, but for us, so that we may be brought closer to God and achieve reconciliation with the Father.

There are a rather good number of references to gold, silver and other precious metals in many Bible stories or passages, and some of them are quite familiar to many of us. But it seems there is little mention of the hands who fashion objects out of metals. Much less of the process that enables those hands to mold the metals as they wish.

A man visits and asks a goldsmith in his shop how he goes through with his work in purifying gold. The goldsmith explains how he puts the gold  in a container over a fire and makes sure that the metal gets melted evenly as he increases the heat, stirring the metal as it melts. Asked how he would know that the gold has been purified, his answer is simple: “When I can see my image in it.”

The metal is so melted that it is capable of reflecting images of real objects—like a mirror.

Purification by fire is a process that has been used to give us a picture of God’s way in purifying or cleansing people, a group or an individual. But the metaphor is not common; in fact, I came upon it almost by accident, and I was immediately struck by its imagery. Striking, and definitely beautiful and powerful, it gives a clear metaphor for the meaning of suffering. Wisdom 3:1-9 uses the metaphor, Malachy 3:1-4, 23-24 gives a more graphic one; more can be found in the Psalms.

“Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of Himself; like gold in the furnace He tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering He accepted them” (Wisdom 3: 5-6).

Thus, God purifies us by “fire.” He melts us to rid us of our impurities. And He is sure we are purified when He sees His image in us!

And what is that image? God is a spirit, so He has no image, except Jesus Christ, God-made-man. We are purified and cleansed by suffering and trials of all kinds until God can see Jesus in us! So when we experience trials and hardships, let us just think that God is purifying us, that He is there with us, and is waiting until He can see Jesus in us.

This very image is the manifestation of the unfathomable mercy of God for us, as Pope Francis expounds in “Misericordiae Vultus” (The Face of Mercy), the document he wrote for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which he has proclaimed to be the year 2016. The reality of sin and suffering, to which we are all subject, calls for a deeper understanding of the wider and all-embracing meaning of mercy as coming from God, as an expression of His love and goodness; and from our part, as our personal and communal response to it in our lives and relationships. “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.”

This Holy Week, Pope Francis encourages bishops and priests to make themselves the concrete expressions of mercy as preached by the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, welcoming each penitent with love, understanding, compassion and joy—like the father of the prodigal son—offering forgiveness, reconciliation and hope, regardless of whatever sins for which they will ask to be forgiven.

The Visita Iglesia, one of our Holy Week traditions, would be the pilgrimage the Holy Father encourages, which should bring us to the Holy Door of Mercy, which can be found in specifically designated churches in dioceses. Each Holy Door of Mercy opens to the welcoming hands of the Father and the reconciliation of the Church. This experience of God’s mercy calls us to practice corporal and spiritual works of mercy, particularly those that benefit the poor, the forgotten, the abandoned, the lost and the least.

Concrete acts of mercy toward others should be the fruits of our own experiences with God’s mercy and forgiveness, leading us to the greater appreciation of the passion-death-resurrection of Jesus.

May the Lord give us all peace.

Antonio Maria Rosales (thinktonymaros@gmail. com) is a Franciscan priest, author, artist and visiting professor of moral theology at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute, Davao City.

He is based at the St. Francis Friary, Punta Princesa, Cebu City.