Archbishop’s Homily: Prepare to receive mercy

Tonight we mark one year out from World Youth Day (WYD) in 2016, where the youth of the world will be celebrating Mass with the Holy Father, in Kraków, Poland.

Fr Epeli places Eucharist in the monstrance during adoration at St Joachim’s church, Lidcombe, during Gracefest 2015. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

Some of you will be going there via the Holy Land in the footsteps of Jesus. But whichever way you go, get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

The Princess Bride is a 1987 American fantasy adventure film which has become something of a ‘cult classic’. It is commonly rated among the top 100 comedy films of all time and has charmed audiences ever since. It is structured around a grandfather (played by Peter Falk aka Columbo) reading a book to his sick grandson.

He tells the story of a farmer’s daughter named Buttercup (Robin Wright from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Whenever she gives an order to one of the hired farm-boys, Westley, he answers “as you wish” and happily complies.

Eventually, she realises that by “as you wish” he means “I love you” — and that she loves him too. Westley (played by Cary Elwes of the Saw series) goes off to seek his fortune so they can marry, but his ship is attacked by the dread Pirate Roberts, and he is presumed dead.

Years later Buttercup agrees to marry the unappealing Prince Humperdinck who really plans to have her kidnapped and murdered as a pretext for war. Two separate forces pursue the supposed terrorists: the Prince and his retinue, and a masked man dressed in black who turns out to be our hero, Westley, who has somehow miraculously escaped death.

He catches the criminals first and converts them to being his companions. He is reunited with his beloved, and the duo manage to cross a swamp full of fire spouts, lightning sand, and “Rodents of Unusual Size”, only to be captured by Humperdinck and his sadistic vizier, the six-fingered Count Rugen.

The prince has Westley imprisoned in the Pit of Despair and tortured to death. But Westley, it turns out, is only “mostly dead” and escapes again, rescues his beloved and they live happily ever after.

Now, one of the bad guys turned follower of our hero is a Spaniard named Íñigo Montoya. He is a brilliant swordsman and is driven by one thought: avenging his father’s murder at the hands of the evil Count Rugen.

He is thus responsible for the well-known movie line: “Hello, my name is Íñigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” It has inspired many mimics and memes including one I’ve seen of him saying, “Hello. My name is Íñigo Montoya. You served me decaf. Prepare to die.”

Today is the Feast Day of another Spaniard named Íñigo – Íñigo Loyola – upon whom our hero’s friend Íñigo Montoya was loosely modelled. He, too, had a taste for swashbuckling adventure, even violent revenge, but found his whole life turned around by an encounter with God’s mercy. Íñigo López is better known as St Ignatius of Loyola.

He was born in the Basque country a few kilometres from my own ancestors. As a young man he was page in the royal court and took to its life of wine, women and song, gambling, fashion and brawling.

He became a soldier but was seriously injured in the leg. During an extended recuperation he thought he’d read novels about knights in shining armour pursuing fair damsels, the only books available were about the life of Christ and His saints.

And so he encountered his Westley, his version of the merciful lord who miraculously escaped death and saved others.

Converting to being a disciple of Christ, he continued his romantic adventure by going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, confessing his sins, wearing the clothes of a pauper, and spending ten months in a cave praying. (I’m not sure how many of you have something like that in mind for your WYD pilgrimage next year!)

When he got back he went to uni and he and his mates decided it would be cool to take religious vows as companions of Jesus or ‘Jesuits’.

They travelled to Rome to offer their services to the Holy Father: hence the famous ‘fourth vow’ of the Jesuits of obedience to the pope. This adventurous spirit and fidelity to the Church inspired them to leave home, position and possessions and travel the globe in obedience to Jesus’ invitation in the Gospel to renounce everything and follow him (Lk 14:25-33 etc.).

Wherever they went the Jesuits offered Catholic teaching, retreats and spiritual direction. Many were martyred, as befitted the desire of these soldiers for Christ to do everything ad maiorem Dei gloriam, to the greater glory of God.

By the time he died on this day, 31 July, in 1556, Ignatius’ Jesuits were well on the way to becoming the biggest and most influential order of priests in the world.

A third adventure: WYD16 in Kraków. On St Ignatius’ Day in one year’s time, those of us lucky enough to be on pilgrimage to Kraków will be celebrating Mass with the pope, after spending time in the home town of St John Paul II and other holy places.

For young Catholic adults of the archdiocese of Sydney it promises to be the adventure of a lifetime, an encounter with divine mercy, and an important step on the spiritual journey to maturity in Christ and hopefully sainthood.

Like Íñigo Montoya and Íñigo Loyola, that adventure will be marked by friendship, mercy and the pursuit of a difficult but obtainable goal, which is what fosters our hope.

During your WYD exploration you’ll cross the world to visit places, meet people and experience things that will affect you deeply. You can expect an immersion in full-on Catholic life, when faith goes public, goes viral, among millions of your peers from every nation on earth. They are ordinary young people like you, yet God has extraordinary plans for them.

In cultures that say young people aren’t up to much, are no longer as idealistic as they used to be, no longer have the courage to pursue a high goal, but are only interested in themselves, in getting ahead, in fleeting experiences of pleasure and accumulating possessions; in a culture than runs young people down in so many ways and sells them short, the Church is saying, you are saying by your very presence, that young people want more and better.

Ignatius of Loyola tried it all and in the end found the high life wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It didn’t satisfy him deep down. He knew he was made for more. As Pope Francis says in his brand new encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, our gadget culture peddles technology and consumer goods as the way to happiness; but any culture that leaves God and His mercy out of the picture impoverishes the human spirit, abandons the poor and ends up eating up and then excreting the world.

Like Íñigo Montoya and Íñigo Loyola, we will discover that the greatest adventure in life is not the vain pursuit of fame and fortune, but the sane pursuit of love and truth.

Like Westley pursuing his beloved across land and sea, through danger and ‘death’, Íñigo Loyola channelled his desires for courtly love and the ideals of knighthood into a chaste love of the Church and passionate desire to serve her Lord. Catholicism is the greatest truth-and-mercy adventure that there is!

My hope is that your WYD preparations and subsequent pilgrimage will jumpstart you into that epic adventure, sometimes comic, sometimes heroic, that is life in Christ; that it will set you up for such a life in your future studies, work and leisure, friendships, marriage and family, and the rest.

That means the next twelve months are especially important. Our catchcry is from the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5:7). In his conversion from a life of earthly distractions, St Ignatius received God’s mercy. He faced up to the reality of who he’d been till then, confessed his sins, and asked God’s help to turn his life around.

It was only through God’s providence and mercy that this could have occurred. In The Princess Bride, we saw Prince Humperdinck renege on his word and act mercilessly to Westley, who had generously offered himself up for the sake of Buttercup. God is not like this. God shows his power by exercising mercy, and He does this most visibly on the Cross. Christ’s passion-for-us proves He loves us and wants us to receive his mercy.

In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit follower of Ignatius, says we are only going to turn around the problems of disadvantage and environmental degradation in our world if we are turned around ourselves. He says “profound interior conversion is needed” (217). He calls for “new habits” (209) and “little daily actions” (211). We need to lead the way in living simpler, humbler, less greedy, more ascetical lifestyles. So let’s try this ourselves for the next twelve months. Try to be less selfish in your habits and think of your God, your neighbour and your world.

Try to spend less on yourself (that’ll also help saving for WYD!). Try to face up to yourself, in the spiritual mirror that is Confession, and receive that great sacrament of mercy. Let’s spend time in the society of Jesus, in company with Christ and His saints, by regular Mass and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

Tonight is great practice for this! Let’s practise the virtues of simplicity, humility, receptiveness to mercy. Having received mercy yourself, be merciful to others. Become agents of divine mercy, mercy men and women! And get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

This is the edited text of the catechesis on WYD given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP to archdiocesan youth on 31 July.

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