Archive for August, 2015


“A Matter of Mercy”, Reflection by Rev. Brian Mullady, O.P.

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    There is a dramatization put out a few years ago by the BBC of an actual correspondence between George Bernard Shaw, Sydney Cockerell and Dame Laurentia McLachlan, the abbess of Stanbook Abbey in England. In this correspondence, George Bernard Shaw, an avowed atheist, writes that he relies on the prayers of the nuns of Stanbrook Abbey. The reason is that his friend, Gene Tunney, the former heavyweight champion of the world was on a vacation with his wife at a remote island in the Mediterranean. She contracted a dreaded disease for which there was no known cure and would have died within 24 hours. Shaw remarks that Tunney dropped to his knees and returning to his childhood faith, prayed for her delivery. Unexpectedly, a doctor who was the world’s only expert in this particular disease arrived on the island the next day and cured her. Shaw, the avowed atheist, was so impressed by this that he recognized the value of the mercy of God, which was, to his mind, God’s response to prayer. For him, the cloistered Benedictine nuns were the perfect intercessors.
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    If an avowed atheist could be so moved in this secular age, the prayers of cloistered and monastic religious must be powerful. This is because they participate in the spousal union of the world with God in a direct way under the special title of their consecration. In the Gospel passage today, Christ explains the origin of this relationship. Asked to resolve a theological dilemma about marriage proposed by the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead Christ replies: “those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage […] for they are like angels” (Lk 20:35-36).
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    The emphasis of Christ’s answer to the Sadducees places in special relief the complete transformation of the soul in God offered to the human race in the resurrection. He does not say they will become angels for grace does not destroy nature. However, Our Lord says they will be like angels because they will experience a new relationship of their bodies to their souls. On earth, the soul comes to exist after the manner of the body. This is why, for instance, intellectual knowledge begins in and depends on the senses for its origin and authenticity. But in Heaven, the body comes to exist after the manner of the soul. Since the soul is a spirit and has its origin in a direct creation on the part of God for each person, this means that the final perfection of each man and woman can only be found in the direct knowledge of God that occurs in the Beatific Vision. In the general resurrection the body comes to life and experiences either happiness or pain according to the experience of the soul of this vision.
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    This knowledge is complete and the degree to which the subject experiences it is determined by how much the subject has loved God on earth. The transformation in love involves a sharing of life between God and the soul through grace. Although all men must experience it to go to Heaven, this transformation is especially the lot of the cloistered religious who are a sign of the mystical “alone with the Alone” which will characterize Heaven.
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    This experience demands through love that the religious adopt the same attitude towards the world as the Trinity that is witnessed in Christ and His mercy. The prayers and sacrifices of cloistered religious offered for everyone see not what is ideal but what others are and what they could be if they would accept transformation in Christ. Though no man can merit the salvation of another, by the proportion of love and because friends love what their friends love, God can use the prayers of someone to bring about the salvation of another. “For if we do God’s will in a state of grace, it is a fittingly friendly thing that God should do man’s will in return and save the other person; though sometimes of course that other person impedes his own reconciliation.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, 114, 6)
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   Pope Francis has proclaimed a Year of Mercy. This is a most important virtue for him. The Holy Father says: “We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” (Misericordiae Vultus, 2)
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    Antiochus Epiphanes died because too late though he did not show mercy, he wanted and needed the mercy of God. Gene Tunney prayed and his prayer was used by God to affect the cure of his wife. The power of mercy shown by contemplative religious is needed for both because of the friendship with God which spousal, virginal love inspires. As the Church celebrates Pro Orantibus Day, a day of spiritual and material solidarity with cloistered and monastic religious, let us always remember that “prayers rely on mercy” (Aquinas, ST, I-II, 114, 6).
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Rev. Brian Mullady, O.P., is the theological consultant for the Institute on Religious Life. Father has a doctorate in moral theology from the Angelicum in Rome and currently teaches at Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, CT, and as adjunct professor for the Vita Consecrata Institute at the Graduate School of Christendom College. Father Mullady also conducts retreats and parish missions, as well as working on Catholic radio and television. His latest book is Christian Social Order (New Hope Publications).