P. Juan Pablo Catoggio, Superior Generalof the Institute of the Schoenstatt Fathers. An article in the series: What does the Year of Mercy mean? •
God, what is your name? That is the question Moses asked God before the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-8,13-15). God is the central theme today, the central theme of today’s liturgy (Third Sunday of Lent).
This time of Lent is a time of conversion. Often, we think that conversion is a radical change – profound and life changing – that demands decision, purposes, efforts. And we ask ourselves – perhaps during the time of Lent – what do I need to prune in my soul, what do I need to correct, what do I need to change, where can I fulfill something of this interior conversion?
And in today’s readings, I believe they wish to call our attention or direct our attention to another point. What has to change more radically is “our God.” It is not that God has to change. Our image of God and our experience of God need to change. And perhaps that is the point where a true conversion can take place: if we truly discover the face of our God. At least, that is the experience of great converts like St. Paul or St. Augustine. It wasn’t that they made great efforts and changed their way of living in the first place that was only a consequence of having discovered God and who God is in their life.
Which God is yours, what is the image of God?
And what is this image of God? Because we all believe in God. In all the different religions, we believe in God. The fundamentalists of all religions also believe in God. Many kill in the name of God. It is a fundamentalism that derives from terrorism, many discriminate in the name of God. Many abuse and make ill-use of the name of God, perhaps to justify the things that actually oppose God.
So, which God is ours? Which God is yours? During this time of the Year of Mercy, especially, and during this time of Lent, that is the invitation this liturgy asks of us, one in which you discover who is your God. If you sincerely ask yourself, like Moses, “Lord, if You send me, who am I going to say sends me? Who are You? What is your name?”
Three moments, three names for God
Therefore I would like to pause my reflection on the first reading of Exodus, in this experience of Moses before the burning bush and in Psalm 125. If we look at Moses’s experience, there are three moments, three names for God – we could say – which seem to me correspond to three stages in the growth of our faith when we begin to truly discover who our God is. And everything else depends on this. Tell me who your God is and I will tell you who you are, and I will tell you what others mean to you. Everything, our own conception of life, our life with others, all depends on who our God is.
And I was telling you that there are about three moments, three names for God. Let us recall the previous story of Moses. He was a Hebrew youth who in reality should have have been dead, killed at birth. Nevertheless, he was a charming child, as all babies are charming, the midwife is merciful, hides him in a basket, put him in the Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter sees him and is compassionate; she has him suckled by a wet nurse unaware that the wet nurse is the child’s mother. Then he grows up with Pharaoh who is a prestigious man, but then sees his brethren maltreated and oppressed by an Egyptian. He defends them and ends up killing that Egyptian. The next day, he sees the Israelites fighting among themselves. He tries to separate them and they ask him: “Are you also going to kill us?” He then flees. He realizes this event is known, and he escapes. He crosses the Red Sea and goes to the desert of Midian. He marries there and works as a shepherd. There in the desert, this episode occurs: a bush is burning but is not being consumed. He approaches and hears God speaking to him. And He calls him by his name “Moses, Moses,… Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
To this God who somehow commands so much respect and a certain fear, the one we cannot approach without removing our sandals to be near Him, this God presents himself to Moses and calms him. And He says to him, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” That is the first thing He says to him, “the God of your father,” the first name of God, let us say. And then He tells him: “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters… Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians,… I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
Lord, who are you, what is your name?
Then comes the Moses’ question: “But, who are you? … If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” Who are You? Therefore, this page in the book of Exodus is one of the main ones, if not the most important page in the entire Old Testament where God reveals Himself. For Judaism, it is, at least, the page in Sacred Scripture where God shows Himself for the first time and says who He is. He says His Name, a mysterious name, in fact; a name that is almost unmentionable somehow. The Jews always understood it thus: the unmentionable because it is a name which transcends us, it is not a name like any other name where “we contain” something or someone. We cannot “contain” God in a word or in a concept. It transcends, escapes.
Therefore, it is a very special name. He presents Himself: “I Am Who Am.” And we do not have to understand it like super-philosophy, but like something much more concrete: He is the One who is present. He is the One who is with us. He is the One who is, He is the One who is always present among us. He is the God of our life, He is the God of our history. We could say, He is the God of Providence, also in our language. He is that God who hears the clamor of the people, who listens to us. He is the God who attends to our request, who listens to our need, even when we do not call Him. He is the One who comes to save us.
But furthermore, He is the God of forgiveness. And that is the third experience of Moses, which is not in the text that we hear today, but a bit further on. This first experience of Moses continues in the liberation of the people, He sends him to Pharaoh, the plagues come to Egypt. Finally comes the exodus, the people who miraculously cross the Red Sea and are freed from slavery. Then they are led into the desert; they have there, as a people, perhaps their most important encounter with God on Mount Sinai. The Sinai Covenant, the Commandments, the law entrusted by God through Moses to his people. That constitutes that faith and that experience of God, of salvation, of encounter, of covenant, the Name of God…..that defines, in reality, is the religious foundation of the chosen people.
But that people, when Moses is on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain,…” naturally being whiners who complained of everything, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us;” So they create the golden calf, trying to see the God they could not see and wanted to see. Then, God gets very angry with the people. Moses implores Him. Moses tries to placate God a bit, negotiates with Him. “Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.” And forgiveness comes, the experience of forgiveness.
And God reveals Himself there, in the most profound way of all. He is that God rich in mercy and in forgiveness. A generous and compassionate God, slow to anger and rich in forgiveness for thousands of generations (NU 14:18). A definition of God that will later penetrate the entire Bible, which is in the Psalms (Psalm 103:8 – Psalm 145:8). God rich in mercy, compassionate and generous.
Three experiences of God in our life
There are three experiences of God. And I invite you to think of your own life. I believe that, somehow, we also go through these three steps. We knew God as the God of our parents, at least many of us have. We have received the faith from our parents, from our family; other people have nurtured it or some in a good school. He is the God of our parents and grandparents, possibly in the majority of our cases. He is the God we have received; He is somewhat, the God of our tradition, of our legacy. He is the God of our parents, the One who has accompanied the generations before us. He is the God we have received from the teaching of the Church, the God of the Catechism.
But then there is a second stage in the maturity of our faith. At some moment, often in our adolescence, we say “I do not want to go to Mass simply because my parents send me. I do not want to go to confession because I have to go or because of obligation. Now I do not want to simply follow the God of my parents or of tradition, the God of the Catechism. I now want to discover my God. And often we discover Jesus in a very personal way, very intimate and we decide for HIM. Now that God of our parents becomes my God, the God of my life, of my history, of my Providence, my Yahweh. He is God present, the One who is in my life, the One who is with me.
And then, often, a thousand times, we have the experience, perhaps like Israel, the most profound one that God sees in his infinite love and mercy my own smallness, my misery, my sin. That is when I return with head down, like the prodigal son, to ask forgiveness and He receives me with the arms of his mercy. And there the God of infinite Mercy is revealed to us. It is the deepest revelation, the most profound of our God.
Three moments on the way of faith for Fr. Kentenich
And I am encouraged to also make a parallel, with the way of faith of our Father and Founder, Father Kentenich. Even more so, if one goes through his writings throughout the years, the development is noticeable. The first courses, especially in the 1920’s, which he gave to seminarians, priests and others were, let us say, very doctrinal courses. They spoke of God who dwells within us, of being members of Christ, of childlikeness before God, of being children of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. Of course, it is about accents and nothing more. But I would say it was a bit more “the God of the Catechism.” That was the image of God that the entire Church taught us. That which he transmitted, that he preached, and that he proclaimed. Always with a few other nuances very proper to him, but I would say that the accent was perhaps there.
Soon, already in the 1930’s and from then on, a very central aspect for our Father and Founder was added to which is the God of Providence. It is faith in Divine Providence. He is the God of my life, the God of my history, the God who leads my life step by step, who has an itinerary and calendar planned for me. He is the God who is making history along with us and who is behind all things and happenings. God Yahweh, the God present, the God today, the God in my life and in the life of the world and of each one of us.
And let us see the last stage in the life of Father. In the collection of Father Kentenich’s texts on the Mercy of God, with the motive of the Year of Mercy, I especially recommend, a letter that our Father and Founder wrote at the end of the exile when he was in Rome in 1965. He wrote that letter to the Family as a Christmas letter. And he says: “What experience have we had, what have we gained in all these years? We have discovered a new image of God and therefore, of man and the community also.” And what is that “new” image, which is not new but “new” in regard to the very powerful experience? It is of the Father of infinite Mercy. We always had it clear, God is our Father, God is the generous Father, God is a just Father, God is a wise Father. But the fundamental experience is a God of infinite Mercy who loves us in spite of our smallness, frailty, of our sin, of our falls, not by our merit but because of Him; not because we are good, but because He is good, therefore He loves us. And therefore, He makes us good. He is a God who does not set conditions and who does not love me or forgive if I do this or that… No! It is an unconditional love! He does not set conditions. He creates new conditions in my life, He changes my life through his infinite Love, absolutely free. Without my merit, without my works in the first place, but through his infinite Mercy. That is the great experience and I believe that is the main teaching for this Year of Mercy.
Point of encounter between Pope Francis and Father Kentenich
Perhaps in this point is where Pope Francis, with his great desire and concern, and with this initiative of the Holy Year of Mercy, where he might more coincide, where they may meet the most, so to say, Pope Francis and our Father and Founder, in the same concern, in the same desire: in the conviction that this message of Mercy is what modern man needs today above all things. And that the Church should especially be Mother, should be Home for everyone, receive everyone.
And undoubtedly that is the message of Schoenstatt. It is the message of our Covenant of Love and of our Shrine. If there is something that Mary wants to give us in the Shrine, it is that deep experience of children, beloved children, favorite and forgiven by that favoritism on God’s behalf. Mary, when she receives us in the Shrine, wants to make us feel that the Father embraces us in his mercy. That is the great experience that she wants to give us.
Father’s legacy and the mission of Schoenstatt
And what he has left us as a legacy here in our homeland is the National Shrine of the Shrine of the Father, it is that message. We speak of Father’s message, of a mission, of proclaiming Father, of course, also through his earthly representatives because that is the only way. But it is the message of the heavenly Father and His infinite Mercy. When we speak of this Father current or of this patrocentric mission, it is about that message that for Father Kentenich was so central in his life and entrusted to us as a mission, especially to Schoenstatt and to our Schoenstatt in Argentina, perhaps in a very particular way.
I believe that in this Year of Mercy, of the Merciful Father, it is about us asking ourselves and asking Him in prayer, in dialogue with Him, “Lord, what is your name?”
One of the last books published on Pope Francis, very good, in the context of this Holy Year, has a very beautiful title that in reality is a phrase of Pope Benedict XVI: “The name of God is Mercy.” That God who is Father, that God who is Providence, that God is Mercy.
Two dimensions for living the Year of Mercy
And that is the key for living this year of graces and for being open to what Blessed Mother wants to give us in the Shrine. This mercy that is especially the experience of encounter with HIM, like the prodigal son, but also a mercy that HE wants us to transmit to others. Therefore, the two dimensions. The motto says: “Merciful like the Father.” To experience the mercy of the Father but also to be merciful like the Father. They are the two dimensions: in our personal encounter with God, in forgiveness, in mercy, in that experience of favoritism from God and in addition, to express, to transmit that mercy to all our brethren in corporeal and in spiritual works of mercy, serving in body those in need, serving those poor in spirit. Also experiences in the spiritual works of encounter, of dialogue, acceptance, forgiving one another, teaching one another, allowing ourselves to be corrected, accepting those who think differently, knowing how to forgive, leaving aside unnecessary divisions, clashes, tensions, revenge, so many things which in our country perhaps we would learn or perhaps receive as a gift in this Holy Year of Mercy.
Perhaps the two parables which will accompany us throughout the entire year are of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the mercy that we experience from God as a child who is embraced by the Father in his mercy, and the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) that is to be merciful as HE is, with the one who has fallen, the one who has been wounded.
To be merciful like the Father because as children, we have also experienced his mercy most profoundly. We ask the Blessed Mother to give us that profound experience. Amen.
(Text taken from the sermon at the Sion Feast in Florencio Varela, Argentina. Edition: Claudia Echenique)
Original Spanish: Translation: Carlos Cantú, La Feria, Texas USA. Edited by: Melissa Peña-Janknegt, Elgin, TX USA