Mercy: A way of life for Christians
“Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” These are the words that open Pope Francis’ letter announcing the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Accordingly, we have been engaged since December bringing to life the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We will continue to lift up different acts of mercy all through the year. These acts of mercy are the works of the disciples of Jesus. As we serve one another, we know that we serve in the name of Jesus, and in fact, we bring His mercy to those who receive our acts of mercy. Visiting the imprisoned, clothing the naked, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, and burying the dead: these are the ways in which we show mercy. How important as well, however, are the spiritual works of mercy: counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead. Conscious of these attitudes, we work to better our world as we strive to improve the way in which we relate to one another and care for one another. It is difficult to feel ill toward someone for whom I am praying. Pope Francis is convinced that our world needs a deepened appreciation of mercy so that we might live together with a real wish to serve one another. This is clearly the way of the Gospel, the message of Jesus, a way of life for Christians.
“Behold the Door of Mercy”: these are the words you will read on the door of each space reserved for confession in our diocese. As you read this issue of Harvest, we are in the midst of Lent, our annual time of spiritual renewal, our time to reflect on what it means to be a baptized Christian, a person who has been touched by the mercy of God in Jesus. This year, as we celebrate mercy, there is a special part of the invitation of Pope Francis we might concentrate on during Lent. We need to think about why we do the things we do. Why is it important that we show mercy? Why do we want to make these works of mercy central to our lives? We are not just doing good things. We are responding to good things done for us.
We need, in these days of Lent, to deepen within ourselves our own appreciation of the mercy of God in our lives. God has forgiven us in Jesus. In our world today, it is difficult to see that we need that forgiveness. We find it hard to admit that we sin, that we may offend one another. Sin is often explained away as something unhealthy. It causes guilt. To know the mercy of God, we must begin with confronting our own human condition and acknowledge that there is sin in our lives.
Pope Francis encourages our honest acceptance of ourselves as he tells us that it takes courage to admit our need for forgiveness. He tells us, “Each of us has burdensome things within ourselves. We are all sinners!” But that is precisely why he wants this year. He wants to bring us closer to the mercy of God who never tires of forgiving, never tires of waiting for us. In the encounter with the person of Jesus, through the priest, we experience the Father’s immeasurable love for us. It is that encounter with Mercy which makes us want to be merciful. During Lent in this special Jubilee Year, Pope Francis invites us to “place the sacrament of reconciliation at the center once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands. For every penitent, it will be a source of true interior peace.”
In this same vein, Pope Francis speaks of his own appreciation of confession in his new book on mercy, “it is important that I go to confession, that I sit in front of a priest who embodies Jesus, that I kneel before Mother Church, called to dispense the mercy of Christ. There is objectivity in this gesture of genuflection before the priest, it becomes the vehicle through which grace reaches and heals me” (Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy, pp. 22-23)
Take up the invitation. Come to confession in the sacrament of reconciliation during the opportunities available in Lent. I am grateful to our priests who will make themselves available at extra times during these days, particularly during the week in which The Light is on For You (March 14 -18). Opportunity abounds that we might receive forgiveness and know the mercy God shows us. With that, we will know the better, why we want to show mercy. We show mercy to others because we know mercy received from God. “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you” (Ps 33).
Most Rev. Robert P. Deeley, J.C.D.
12th Bishop of Portland