January 18, 2016
Last week in my sixth grade Narnia class, I had my students play a card game that identified different saints and associated them with a Beatitude that they lived out. When we came to the "Blessed are the merciful" card, there was a picture of our friend Bl. Pier Giorgio.
I asked the students, who already knew Pier Giorgio's story, how he demonstrated mercy. As often happens in class, I didn't get quite the answers I was hoping for: "Because he climbed mountains! Because he made a miracle happen for that boy who fell off his roof!" They could remember the more dramatic parts of his story, but they forgot about Pier Giorgio's humble service to the poor, which is the more obvious connection to mercy.
But even in the other examples they gave, evidence of Pier Giorgio's merciful nature is there. He didn't just climb mountains, pushing himself higher and higher toward God and toward a life of real virtue—he helped lift others up, too. He drew everyone toward the heights of goodness and holiness, caring for all those who were downtrodden and giving them the hope and inspiration to keep climbing, to seek to dwell in the presence of God instead of settling in the valleys of complaisance and despair that trapped them. And the miracles that have taken place through his intercession show that his mercy continues today, that it is now magnified by his union with God. He was deeply compassionate during his time on earth, and now he has the power to extend that compassion to each one of us when we call upon his name. He wants to lift each of us closer to God.
Today's Gospel reading tells us: "[N]o one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins." In order to receive the new wine, the wineskin must be able to breathe and adjust; it can't be too rigid or brittle like an old wineskin would be. It must respond to the reality of the wine it holds and have enough "give" to work with it.
This "give" in the wineskin is a metaphor for mercy. Jesus was telling his disciples that the rigidity of the old law would need to give way to a new order of mercy to hold the rich new wine of His sacrifice for us. His death and resurrection—the ultimate expression of mercy—ushered in a new order that requires us to take on a new spirit, His merciful spirit, in order to receive Him. It is not enough to desire holiness for ourselves. When we truly draw closer to Him, He will instill in us a desire to help our brothers and sisters, to bring them along with us on our journey toward God. This can be very difficult in practice: to be forgiving of others' faults, accepting them for who they are instead of who we wish them to be, loving them despite their transgressions. It's something that I continue to struggle with daily. But it becomes easier when we remember Christ's mercy toward us and when we see true mercy modeled for us through the saints. Pier Giorgio gives us a heroic example. When he received Christ daily in the Eucharist, he did so as a new wineskin, an open vessel ready to receive Our Lord and bend to His ways. He embraced this new wine, softening and adjusting his own heart in order to hold on to it, ready to pour it out to others.