Deacon Tony reflects: Acts of mercy

The readings used today, as we approach the end of the Church Year, remind us that as humans, one day we will die and that when we die, we will be subject to judgement. They make it clear that no-one; not even the Son; knows when the end day will be, but the Gospel speaks of signs.

Over the past two weeks in my home city of Glasgow, representatives from around the world have been speaking about signs and signals that the earth is in trouble. Last week in Bishop Philip’s Pastoral Letter he said that as Christians we have a moral duty to care for the world as we follow the Creator of the world. Alongside the many environmental activists there have been representatives from Christian Communities speaking out for those whose voices cannot be heard. People coming together to pray for the success of the Conference and that the talk will be backed up by action.

November is a month when we, as Catholics, pray for our dead. Today is also National Remembrance Sunday when we as a Nation remember those who have given their lives in service of our country. We pray for all of these people and pray that they receive a merciful judgement. Mercy is key for us as Christians, mercy is love in action. We pray for mercy every day, without using that word, when we say ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. I’d like to share a story I read recently –

In April 1986, two grey haired men greeted each other warmly in Tokyo’s International Airport. Both men had tears in their eye. One man was an American named Ponich; the other was a Japanese named Ishibashi. The last time the two men met was forty years before, as enemies, in a cave in Okinawa. At that time, the American, then Sergeant Ponich, was holding a five year old Japanese boy in his arms. The child had been shot through both legs. Ishibashi was one of two Japanese snipers hiding in a dark corner of the same cave.

Suddenly, Ishibashi and his comrade leaped from their hiding place, aimed their rifles at Ponich, and prepared to fire point blank. There wasn’t a thing Ponich could do. He simply put the five-year-old on the ground, took out his water bottle, and began to tend the child’s wounds. If he had to die, he thought, what better way to die than performing an act of mercy. The two snipers watched in amazement. Then, slowly, they lowered their rifles. Minutes later, Ponich did something Ishibashi never forgot. He took the child in his arms, stood up, bowed in gratitude to the two Japanese, and took the child to an American field hospital.

How did the two men happen to meet again after all those years? In 1985, Ponich wrote a letter to a Tokyo newspaper thanking the Japanese people for the two Japanese soldiers who had spared his life forty years before in that cave in Okinawa. Ishibashi saw the letter and contacted the newspaper who set up the meeting. The meeting was long and affectionate.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.1

You may be thinking ‘that this is a lovely story, and it is an act of mercy in extreme circumstances, but what does that have to do with me? I’m not going to war.’ But we can be exposed to positions which require us to be merciful every day. When someone has upset us; if someone cuts us up when we are driving; when we see a homeless person on the street; when we hear someone is in hospital; when we hear someone is lonely. All of these require us to make a conscious decision to be merciful or not. Remembering that when we get things wrong, we will look for mercy from those we offend and from God.

When we remember our dead in prayer, it is not something done out of sentiment, it is an act of mercy, praying for their souls to be shown mercy. We in turn hope that when we have died and are awaiting judgement, that others will pray for us. That’s why I think it is always important to remember our loved ones in prayer, but also to remember those who have no-one left to pray for them.

Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them, may they rest in peace. Amen.

Further Reading

Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)2

CCC 1038-1050: the Last Judgment; hope of a new heaven and a new earth
CCC 613-614, 1365-1367: Christ’s one perfect sacrifice and the Eucharist

Please keep in your prayers

  • COP 26 that the promises made at the Conference in Glasgow will not just be rhetoric but will bring action to protect the most vulnerable parts of our world.
  • Those who are sick, those recovering from surgery, those who are dying, the recently deceased and those who mourn.
  • As we remember those who gave their lives for our country, we pray that there will be peace on this earth so that no other person should be asked to make this ultimate sacrifice.
  • The Year of the Eucharist, that this will lead to a fresh outpouring of love by the people of God for the Body and Blood of Christ.
  • The listening stage of the 16th Synod of Bishops which is entitled “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission” that all Catholics will take part.
  • The families beginning the latest Baptism Preparation Course this Sunday at St Bede’s Church.

1 William J Bausch, A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers – Old Enemies, (Twenty-Third Publications, Mystic CT, 1998)313

2 Catechism of the Catholic Church (