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From the Bishop - January 2016

As you receive this issue of Harvest, we are in the Christmas Season. I hope your celebration of these days is full of joy, the spirit of the season. In these holy days, we give thanks for the love of God, a love so great that God sent His Son into our world. Jesus became for us the way to God.  Jesus shows us how to love as God loves us and to live as God calls us to live.  As we begin this new year, we are reminded as well that the Jesus who came among us at Christmas “is the face of the Father’s mercy.”  This is our Jubilee Holy Year of Mercy.

It is important to remember that the coming of Jesus is not in the past.  Certainly Christmas is, and His first coming among us in Bethlehem, but Jesus has promised to remain with us. We know Him now in the sacraments and in the love we show to each other.  Jesus remains very much with us.  In his incarnation, His coming among us as man, He made Himself our door to God.  He told us, “I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (Jn 10:9). These words are particularly appropriate for us as we have begun the Year of Mercy given to us by Pope Francis as a special moment of grace. Jesus is the face of God turned toward us in love and mercy. He is the door and the way.

To begin the Year of Mercy, during the month of December, we opened Doors of Mercy in our cathedral and three other churches throughout the diocese. The Holy Doors provide an opportunity for pilgrimage, a significant activity during a Jubilee Year. Making a spiritual pilgrimage gives us time to pause and to pray. We remember that God is with us showing us His mercy.  In naming four churches, we want to offer as many as possible the opportunity to make a pilgrimage in this Holy Year. There will be a holy door in each of those churches.  The graces and indulgences of the holy year, geared toward personal conversion, can be obtained by making a pilgrimage to any of these churches, passing through the holy door, confessing one’s sins near the time of the visit, and saying the prescribed prayers for the intention of the Holy Father and the Church.

Of great importance in this Jubilee Year is, however, the Door of Mercy in every one of our churches. It is the confessional.  There, we find God’s mercy. To remind us of that sacramental grace, we have placed on the door of each confessional or reconciliation room in the diocese a cross with the words “Behold the Door of Mercy.”

Pope Francis recently reminded us of the wonderful gift that is the sacrament of reconciliation.  He told us that the Door of Mercy which is available to us in confession offers us the grace of forgiveness of our sins. He encouraged us to receive the sacrament.  “The door is generously open; it takes a little courage on our part to cross the threshold. Each of us has burdensome things within ourselves.  We are all sinners. Let us take advantage of this moment and cross the threshold of this mercy of God who never tires of forgiving, never tires of waiting for us” (Audience, 18 November 2015). How blessed we are that Jesus shows himself to us here as “the face of the mercy of God.”

We do well to note, however, that Jesus not only shows the Father’s mercy but shows us as well a way to live.  Pope Francis has set the motto of the Holy Year as “Merciful like the Father.” With the grace of mercy received, we are called to become like Jesus, compassionate and merciful toward others.  Like Jesus who models mercy for us, we hear His call to help others through acts of charity so that they, too, will know that God walks with them as He does with us.

Pope Francis teaches us that the way in which we become merciful is through living mercy in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  “Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.  And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do ill, and pray for the living and the dead.”

Through the Jubilee Year, we will seek ways in which we can bring mercy to others even as we experience it ourselves in God’s mercy toward us. With Pope Francis we pray that “the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God!”