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Oh, Lord, Have Mercy

Oh, Lord, Have Mercy

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Oh, Lord, Have Mercy

373 pagine
5 ore
Nov 13, 2020


Every leader stamps the organization he or she leads with his or her own unique personality. It matters little if that organization is a global superpower or a girls' softball team. When the organization in question is the two-thousand-year-old Catholic Church, the leader's personality not only reaches every corner of earth but also touches the edges of eternity. If we want to pluck the chords that produce the melody of the pope's personality, we must learn what tugs at Pope Francis's heartstrin

Nov 13, 2020

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Oh, Lord, Have Mercy - John Antony

Oh, Lord Have Mercy

John K. Antony

Copyright © 2018 John K. Antony

All rights reserved

First Edition

Page Publishing, Inc

New York, NY

First originally published by Page Publishing, Inc 2018

ISBN 978-1-64350-357-8 (Paperback)

ISBN 978-1-64350-359-2 (Hardcover)

ISBN 978-1-64350-358-5 (Digital)

Printed in the United States of America

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

In memory of my nephew

Noah Antony

who, I pray, beholds the face of the Merciful One today.

FOREWORD by Bishop David Konderla

I first met Fr. John Antony when he was just John Antony, and we were together at Holy Trinity Seminary in Irving, Texas. I was two years ahead of him, but having started at age twenty-five, I was about eight years older than he was.

Fr. John was mature beyond his years, was a great athlete, and had a fun sense of humor. He was smart as a whip, but after seminary, I lost touch with him. But because of the man I knew, I am not surprised to discover that he has become such a great homilist and spiritual guide. But I am impressed.

From Batman to Bishop Robert Barron, from The Brothers Karamazov to Bilbo Baggins, from Don Corleone to Pope Francis, and many others in between, this book serves up the fruit of a vivid imagination, a classically educated mind, a deep prayer life, and someone who thinks life and faith are supposed to be filled with fun.

And at a time when our national life and culture seem to have become so coarsened by political and philosophical divides and the ill-mannered communication style so prevalent in social media, a book that focuses on the mercy of God in the teaching of Francis, the pope of mercy, is welcome indeed.

One way to approach the book is as a daily meditation, and if we read it this way, this wonderful book does four things for the reader.

It provides us with a much needed daily dose of scripture. St. Jerome has told us that ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ. The scriptures we hear on Sunday are simply not enough, given everything else we hear all through the week. But here is a way to read the scriptures with the church through the weekday lectionary and to think more deeply about some of the Sunday scriptures as well.

Secondly, the book provides us with an engaging homily especially valuable for anyone who is not able to make it to mass each day. Putting together a homily that is theologically sound, that sees the culture through a wide lens, and that makes us smile is an art, and Fr. Antony is a homiletic artist.

Thirdly and importantly, these homilies provide a much needed window into the heart of Pope Francis by avoiding all the unreliable news reporting about him and going straight to his writings. The year after I was ordained as a bishop and attended the baby bishop school in Rome, we had an audience with the Holy Father. He stressed to this group of new bishops the concern that weighs on his heart that we be apostles of the mercy of God. As the body of Christ, the Church must be the body of mercy. To inspire us to live mercifully, each homily is followed by a quotation from Pope Francis’s writings, drawing us more deeply into his message of the mercy of God.

And finally, these homilies offer us a deeper and personal encounter with God in prayer as we ponder over the question that Fr. John provides at the end of each one.

Whether you are a member of the clergy busily writing homilies or a seminarian preparing to do so or a member of the lay faithful of the church, I promise you will look forward each day to reading another chapter and growing in the art of homiletics and the virtue of mercy.

Bishop David Konderla

April 8, 2018

Divine Mercy Sunday


Anyone who is spiritually awake and aware knows he or she owes a debt of thanks not only to those they can see but also to those they cannot see. Catholics call this vast array of companions on our earthly pilgrimage the communion of saints. (Saints in heaven have a capital S while those on earth have a small s.) We can do nothing worthwhile without their help, least of all write a book.

In regard to those whom I cannot see, I give thanks and praise before all else to the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and, secondly, to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Next, to all my patron saints whose ears I bend every day, asking for their powerful intercession. Also included in the heavenly cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) are those authors whose intelligence and insights have shaped my own thinking; some of them are listed at the end of this book.

Among those I can see, I am indebted to my parents, KK and Raichel, and brother Paul and sister Mary, who have formed my character in ways I will never fully appreciate, and they still do. Bishop Anthony B. Taylor and my brother priests, deacons, religious, and laypersons in the Diocese of Little Rock who inspire me by their selfless service for the kingdom, and Bishop David Konderla, bishop of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who kindly wrote the foreword out of a friendship that goes back to shared seminary days. Countless close friends also made this book possible, notably Cindy McNally, who painstakingly edited the manuscript.

Last but certainly not the least, I am grateful to the benefactors who made publishing this book possible so that all proceeds may benefit Trinity Junior High School, Fort Smith, Arkansas: Susie and Terry Baker, Judy and Dick Belsito, Janell and Mark Elser, Sherry and Marty Grenchik, Kathy Irwin, Mary and Dick Kelley, Carol and Brian Kordsmeier, Pam and Bernard Leonard, Donna and Mark Linker, Patsy and David Louk, Wendy and Bob Martin, Lesa and Jack Otten, Rhonda and Mark Prenger, Hannah and Gary Ritter, Carol Rountree, Margaret and J.P. Sexton, Susan and Joe Terminella.

May the merciful Father richly reward each and every one (and anyone I failed to mention) for their kind help.


A friend in the seminary, now Fr. Ron Escalante was particularly gifted at remembering people’s names. He explained why this skill was so important, saying, Someone’s name is the sweetest word in any language to that person. Anyone can test his theory. When someone calls me by name, for instance, the sound of those syllables stirs something deep in my heart; I feel that other person knows me, and uttering my name creates a connection between us. We might say that knowing someone’s name creates a claim on them. If you know my name, then I owe you something. At the very least, I owe you my attention when you address me. I have noticed this remarkable claim of a name when speaking with teenagers; they immediately perk up when their name is called (maybe because they feel guilty of something). If you cannot call them by name, on the other hand, they blithely ignore you. Knowing a name creates a claim.

What holds true in interactions between human persons may be applied analogously when human beings approach God. The Old Testament demonstrates a marked reticence regarding the name of God, perhaps precisely so as not to mislead the people into thinking that they enjoyed a claim on him. God’s name was the tetragrammaton, YHWH, usually substituted with the less lofty Hebrew Adonai or the Greek Kyrios, both meaning the Lord. With the incarnation of Jesus Christ, however, matters changed and God revealed himself to the world. But learning and uttering God’s name was still not simple or straightforward. God always surpasses all our attempts to categorize or limit him, no matter how exalted the name we conjure. God remains forever shrouded in mystery, beyond any name and, ultimately, any claim.

Nonetheless, the Bible, especially in the New Testament, offers us several options of names we may use to address God. Etienne Gilson, the eminent French Catholic philosopher, reached back into the Old Testament and insisted God had already given us his preferred name in Exodus 3:14 when he revealed his name to Moses, I am who am. Gilson explained, From this moment it is understood once and for all that the proper name of God is Being and that, according to the word of St. Ephrem, taken up again later by St. Bonaventure, this name denotes His very essence (The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy, 51). However, to engage in a conversation with someone named Being does not exactly stir the heartstrings. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would teach how to speak to God in a manner patterned after his own discourse with the Father. Jesus’s most intimate name for God was Abba (akin to Daddy or Papa), which he explicitly used in the Garden of Gethsemane hours before fulfilling the Father’s will on the cross. Jesus pleaded to his Papa with all his heart, Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will (Mark 14:36). Another prominent New Testament name for God is love as St. John highly recommends in his Gospel and letters. We read, for example, Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:8). How often love is invoked as God’s calling card up and down the centuries of Christian history!

But it is the unflinching contention of Pope Francis (without denying any of the foregoing) that the quintessential name for God is mercy. On September 21, 1953, when the young pope was only seventeen years old, he experienced a moment of mercy that would redefine the rest of his life and launch him on an inexorable mission of mercy. Andrea Tornielli, an Italian reporter and author, describes the day the future pope encountered the God of mercy:

That September 21, he was preparing to celebrate Student Day with his companions. They had planned a picnic. But the day took a completely different turn. Jorge actually went to his parish church of San José de Flores . . . found there a priest who . . . conveyed to him a deep spirituality. The young man decided to make his confession to him. And during that confession, Jorge Mario discovered his religious vocation . . . he decided not to meet with his friends, who were waiting for him at the railroad station. He went back home instead, because he had decided to become a priest. (Francis: Pope of a New World, 81)

Tornielli goes on to elaborate that young Jorge Mario had secretly planned on asking a young lady to marry him on that outing. But when mercy exploded unexpectedly into his life, the Argentinian youth was convinced that mercy was more urgent than love. The distant and nameless God of the Old Testament had drawn near and touched the heart of Jorge Mario through an encounter of mercy. Francis had learned, and later he would teach, that invoking God as the Merciful One bestows the believer with the audacity to have a claim on God, that is, a claim on his compassion, his forgiveness, and his loving condescension.

Upon his election as pope on March 13, 2013, Francis brought the message he had heard in the confessional on September 21 out to the whole world. The pope preaches and teaches mercy through every fiber of his being, but let me point out two remarkable ways thus far that he has proclaimed the need to encounter the Merciful One. Francis’s papal coat of arms bears the Latin phrase miserando atque eligendo (by having mercy and by choosing). The phrase is taken from a homily by St. Bede reflecting on the moment at which Jesus called St. Matthew (whose feast day, incidentally, is celebrated September 21). The pope explained how he understands those words, "I like to translate miserando with a gerund that doesn’t exist: mercifying. So, ‘mercifying and choosing’ describes the vision of Jesus, who gives the gift of mercy and chooses, and takes into himself" (The Name of God Is Mercy, 15). The pope is not shy about introducing new words into the Latin language (you can do that when you are the pope), not to show how great the pope is but to show how good God is. The Merciful One bestows 2 mercy upon us and changes us into himself by making us merciful as well. To employ the pope’s language, God mercifies us. The freshness of Francis’s name for God demands an equally new vocabulary to express it.

The Holy Father also undertakes his mission of mercy through issuance of major papal documents that express the pope’s apostolic teaching authority. Indeed, they carry the authority of St. Peter himself. St. Augustine taught, Roma locuta, causa finita est (Rome has spoken, the case is closed), not as a gesture of heavy-handed authoritarianism, but rather as the gentle guidance of the Good Shepherd, who infallibly leads the sheep into green pastures (cf. Psalm 23). To date, Francis has promulgated four major documents. Two are apostolic exhortations (Evangelii gaudium and Amoris laetitia) and two are papal encyclicals (Lumen fidei and Laudato si’). The introductions to the following chapters will provide a closer look at these documents. The pope’s underlying message in each document, however, is to introduce his readers to the Merciful One—to facilitate an encounter with mercy like the one that Jorge Mario had on September 21—so that we might experience God’s mercifying grace in the vital arenas of faith, the proclamation of the Gospel, care of creation, and in family life. Pope Francis wants to teach us the radical implications and the far-reaching consequences of knowing the Merciful One and in what sense knowing that name creates a claim.

The pope has been criticized in some quarters as relying too heavily on his personal and pastoral experiences in Argentina to guide his papal teaching. The pope’s perspective, they argue, should be larger and more universal, with necessary nuances for different countries and cultures, not a narrowly provincial one. If that charge is true for Pope Francis, it could equally be leveled at every occupant of the chair of St. Peter. It could just as well be laid at the feet of every Christian. Our journey of faith is simultaneously enriched and limited by our cultural and ethnic identity. The presupposition of the need for such a bridge between the Argentinian pope and the American people is the reason for this book.

To be fair, American Catholics are likewise limited by our cultural experience of Christ, and the Holy Father’s faith can expand our encounter with the Lord. Sherry Weddell, who gives parish seminars to form intentional disciples, reveals a glaring gap in the faith life of American Catholics. She observes, "The majority of Catholics in the United States are sacramentalized but not evangelized. They do not know that an explicit personal attachment to Christ—personal discipleship—is normative as taught by the apostles and reiterated time and time again by the popes, councils and saints of the Church" (Forming Intentional Disciples, 46, emphasis in original). What Pope Francis offers twenty-first century American Catholics is a profound personal encounter with the Merciful One, and how knowing God’s name actually creates a reciprocal claim. What does that mean? Invoking God’s name as mercy gives us a claim on him by which we can request his compassion, which he never denies us. But it also creates a reverse claim on us by which God can request from us a commitment to personal discipleship, something we should not deny him. As we have freely received God’s gift of mercy, we, in turn, are required to mercify others.

This book is structured in order to facilitate a conversation between the pope and modern American readers. Each chapter draws attention to one of the pope’s four major documents. A plethora of homilies are provided per chapter, each reflecting on scripture passages plucked like low-hanging fruit from the tree of the church’s liturgical year. The index lists these scriptures in order. Every homily is then followed by a substantial quotation from the papal document directly related to the theme of the homily. This creates the effect of the same point being heard in two different languages—in American speak vis-à-vis with pope speak. Finally, a question is posed—ponder with the pontiff—which ties together the homily and the quotation, building a bridge between our two cultures and continents. Ultimately, however, the pope’s intention (and mine) is not for you to get to know the vicar of Christ (Pope Francis), but rather Christ himself. We both hope that you experience an enduring encounter with the Merciful One.

Chapter 1

Lumen fidei (The Light of Faith)

Introduction to Lumen fidei

Two heads are better than one, especially if those two heads belong to two successors of St. Peter. Pope Francis collaborated closely with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on writing his first encyclical letter Lumen fidei (The Light of Faith). He happily acknowledged his debt to Benedict saying, [Benedict XVI] had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith. For this I am deeply grateful to him, and as his brother in Christ, I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own (7). To see these two popes working on the same document reminds me of the delightful description of fraternal harmony in Psalm 133:1, How good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together as one! Both popes agree that universal brotherhood cannot be achieved without the light of faith even though many have tried to do it in the shadows and darkness (cf. 54). Perhaps to underscore precisely this point of fraternal collaboration, Francis promulgated his encyclical on June 29, 2013, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, two saintly brothers sharing the same faith.

As I read the encyclical, I was curious to try to figure out whose hand had written different parts to see if I could guess if it was Pope Benedict’s or Pope Francis’s pen that made certain points. For instance, I might suggest that Benedict was behind the heavily philosophical sections dealing with faith as truth and love and incarnate memory (40) although Francis is no philosophical amateur! On the other hand, perhaps Francis’s few contributions can be detected in the paragraphs touching on God accompanying us on the journey of faith, the notion of time is always much greater than space, which he will expand further in Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) and, above all, in how faith reveals the merciful face of God. It would not be a stretch to say Francis wrote this line, Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history (13). In the end, it does not really matter what sections were articulated by Francis or Benedict. What matters is that the entire encyclical was written by the successor of St. Peter.

The 265 successors of St. Peter (Francis is number 266) write their encyclical letters as shepherds of the universal church, as did St. Peter himself. Their eyes survey the vast array of the experiences of people living in diverse cultures and continents, and their message must be applicable to all of them. As a consequence, their universal message could be spiced up with a little local flavor. The homilies in this chapter, therefore, take one or more themes of Lumen fidei and apply them to English speakers living in the United States at the beginning of the twenty-first century. For over the course of two thousand years, and spread out among the 266 occupants of the chair of St. Peter, the Gospel message has always been the same: faith sheds light on our path, a pilgrimage home to the merciful Father. Seeing the unity of the faith shared by a billion Catholics worldwide and handed down through an unbroken line of successors of St. Peter, we can agree with the psalmist and say today as well, How good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together as one!

A Hand in History

Seeing the Deeper Undercurrents of Divine Providence

When Isaac was so old that his eyesight had failed him,

he called his older son Esau and said to him, Son!

Yes father! he replied. Isaac then said, "As you can see,

I am so old that I may now die at any time.

Take your gear, therefore—your quiver and bow—

and go out into the country to hunt some game for me.

With your catch prepare an appetizing dish for me,

such as I like, and bring it to me to eat,

so that I may give you my special blessing before I die."

Rebekah had been listening while Isaac was speaking to his son Esau.

So, when Esau went out into the country to hunt some game for his father . . .

Rebekah [then] took the best clothes of her older son Esau that she had in the house,

and gave them to her younger son Jacob to wear;

and with the skins of the kids she covered up his hands and the hairless parts of his neck.

Then she handed her son Jacob the appetizing dish

and the bread she had prepared. (Genesis 27:1–5, 15–17)

Have you ever heard of the proverb God writes straight with crooked lines? It means that what looks insensible and incongruent on the surface potentially carries a deeper meaning and message, namely, God’s plans and purposes. A perfect illustration of this proverb is the history of the proverb itself. I tried to find its origin—who used it first—but had no luck. Some scholars attribute it to the Portuguese in the sixteenth century while others say it goes back to St. Augustine in the fifth century. In other words, the history of the proverb—from its obscure origins to this homily—is full of crooked lines, but perhaps the hand of God was on its history, helping it find its humble way to our attention in this homily, or, as I like to say, The Holy Spirit is driving the bus.

The Catholic historian, Christopher Dawson, argued that God’s hand in history can be perceived best on the macro level, that is, on the level of nations and cultures. He wrote, Certainly religion is the great creative force in culture and almost every historic culture has been inspired and informed by some great religion (Dynamics of World History, 114). Dawson might say that the faith of religious people is the fuel that fires the engines of history moving it forward. The dynamics of world history, therefore, are really divine, thanks to the presence and practice of world religions. What happened in the history of that little proverb also occurs in the stormy history of humanity; what may look like crooked lines to us is really God’s hand in history. Someone is driving the bus of history, namely, the Spirit of God working through believers in every century.

Genesis 27 recounts how Isaac eventually bestowed the blessing of the firstborn son upon Jacob instead of Esau (the true firstborn son). Skimming the surface, it seems that it was only by knavery and treachery that Jacob receives Isaac’s blessing instead of Esau. With his mother’s prompting, Jacob disguises himself as his older brother, Esau, fools his blind father, Isaac, and receives the blessing of the firstborn. This coveted blessing entitled the recipient to a double share of the inheritance and assume the role of father figure over the family. The blessing of the firstborn was not a small thing. To the casual reader, that moment in Israel’s history appears as a crooked line, drawn by a crooked kid.

But take a couple of steps back and we can see how God’s hand guided that crooked history to his holy purposes. That blessing established Jacob as the father of the twelve tribes of Israel and, ultimately, as the forefather of Jesus, the Messiah. There is always a hand in history: the history of the little proverb, the dynamic history of the whole world, and, in particular, the history of the Chosen People—Israel. I would suggest to you that the hand guiding history is a holy hand.

I was watching the movie Batman: The Dark Knight Rises recently and was struck by something Commissioner Gordon said. He promoted a police officer to detective when he saw his impressive research on a crime. The new detective said, It’s inconclusive, just a bunch of coincidences. Gordon replied, You’re a detective now. You’re not allowed to believe in coincidences. That is also true for every Christian. People of faith are not allowed to believe in coincidences or even in crooked lines. Rather, we must open our eyes to the deeper undercurrents of history and perceive the holy hand of God guiding it to his goals and achieving his purposes. In short, providence prohibits coincidences.

Think over the history of your own life and study and scrutinize the people and places, the events, and encounters that carved your milestones. As you peruse your past, remember that people of faith are not allowed to believe in coincidences; there is no such thing as happenstance. Also, do not focus exclusively on the pleasant and profitable points, but take time and stop at the dark and depressing moments. Seen in its totality, your personal history is a rich tapestry of triumphs and tragedies. But more importantly, there has been a hand in your history—God’s loving hand—guiding it to his ultimate purposes.

And what are those purposes, you might ask? We find the answer in Jeremiah 29:11, from a prophet keenly aware of the purposes of divine providence in spite of seeing the crooked lines of the Babylonian captivity. Jeremiah said, For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. Perhaps it is only at the end of all human history—when we will have the privilege to look back over the ground we have covered—that we will see the trajectory of that history, namely, heaven. From that lofty viewpoint, it will be apparent there never were any coincidences or any crooked lines.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Pope Francis says, Faith-knowledge, because it is born of God’s covenantal love, is knowledge which lights up a path in history . . . Through the experience of the prophets, in the pain of exile and in the hope of a definitive return to the holy city, Israel came to see that this divine ‘truth’ extended beyond the confines of its own history, to embrace the entire history of the world, beginning with creation. Faith-knowledge sheds light not only on the destiny of one particular people, but the entire history of the created world, from its origins to its consummation (Lumen fidei, 28).

Ponder with the pontiff: Can you think of one instance in your past that seemed, at first, to be a crooked line but, in fact, turned out to be a blessing?

All Girls

Praying in Order to Change Ourselves Rather than Changing God

Jesus said to his disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,

what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.

Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds in the sky;

they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,

yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’

or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’

All these things the pagans seek.

Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,

and all these things will be given you besides.


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