For many, the liturgy on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, accompanied by soaring, celestial notes from St. Robert Bellarmine’s choir, resonated with lingering hope that the “heart of Mercy” as the Bishop called it, would, like balm in Gilead, heal a contemporary landscape beset by “bitterness, incivility, harsh judgments and division.”
Concelebrating the Mass with Bishop O’Connell were Msgr. Sam A. Sirianni, pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine; Father Edward Jawidzik, parochial vicar; Father Joy T. Chacko, parochial vicar, St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro, and Father Vincent T. Euk, pastor of St. Veronica Parish, Howell.
In his homily, Bishop O’Connell noted the significance of the fact that the Holy Year of Mercy was closing on Christ the King. He asked the throng in the wide expanse of the nave to consider the imagery in the day’s Scriptures of a king described as beaten, bowed and anything but what we think of as royal.
The crowds assembled in St. Luke’s Gospel were “watching the final, dramatic moments of the Lord Jesus Christ as he hung on the Cross,” the Bishop said.
The scene described in the apostle’s narrative wasn’t a royal “vision of triumph, pageantry and majesty,” the Bishop explained. Rather, “the only triumph was that (Jesus) succeeded in carrying the Cross to Calvary.” And the only pageantry Luke describes was the “mockery of the crowd of leaders and soldiers” and even the taunts of one of the criminals crucified with him.
On the Cross, the Bishop said, Jesus showed the kind of “King he was and is: no royal display; no pomp and glory; none of the trappings that usually surround a ‘king,’ no. As he hung on the Cross, he was watching us,” the Bishop said.
“He died for us, this ‘King’; he brought our sins, our lives to the Cross and forgave us; he promised us – ‘good thieves all’ – that we would be with him in his Kingdom, in paradise … His royalty, signified by the Cross, is a Majesty of Mercy.”
Throughout the past year, the faithful have been encouraged to rediscover and embrace the Corporal Works of Mercy by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, healing the sick, visiting the imprisoned and burying the dead.
They were further asked to concentrate on the Spiritual Works of Mercy by counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing sinners, comforting the afflicted, forgiving offenses, bearing patiently those who do us ill and praying for the living and the dead.
After the Mass, Regina Purcell, a member of St. Robert Bellarmine for 22 years, wiped away tears as she spoke of the comfort and hope she and her family experienced in the Year of Mercy observances.
One of 13 parishes throughout the four counties designated by Bishop O’Connell as pilgrimage sites with special Mercy Doors, Purcell said that words aren’t adequate to describe the strong feeling of support and love from the Church throughout a “very rough year” in her family’s lives.
“The world is very difficult,” said Purcell, a catechist for 10 years who is about to become a member of the parish RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] team. She especially appreciated that the parish made the Sacrament of Reconciliation available every Tuesday night throughout the year, something that not infrequently brought her four sons into church on Tuesday nights.
The emphasis on forgiveness was so very meaningful, said Purcell, who said she was touched by the example Bishop O’Connell gave in his homily of God as a paternal presence who “loves and forgives us.”
Calixto and Flor Huerta spoke of the fact that as the Year of Mercy began, St. Robert Bellarmine welcomed their prayer group, Hijos de Maria Sontisima.
“We were so blessed,” said Flor Huerta. “We had been praying really hard for a place to pray.” When they heard from members of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Freehold that St. Robert Bellarmine might be the place, the couple reached out and the Blessed Virgin Mary, they said, opened the door.
“She came here and opened the door for us. We are very happy,” Flor Huerta said.
The group has a presence on the Internet and focuses on prayer and introducing participants to the importance of the sacraments. “We just really keep praying. Thank God, we are here.”