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By Bishop Earl Boyea

We are never finished with mercy

It seems we are not done with mercy! Pope Francis has decided to continue the fruits of the Year of Mercy even as he concluded the formal jubilee: “The Jubilee now ends and the Holy Door is closed. But the door of mercy of our heart continues to remain open.” (Misericordia et Misera, #16) He wants us to continue to celebrate mercy.

The pope finds that the Church is already celebrating mercy throughout the Mass, as well as in the sacraments. But all of us, especially the laity, can find additional ways to be agents of this ongoing mercy. Pope Francis starts by urging us to be the face of consolation:

“A reassuring word, an embrace that makes us feel understood, a caress that makes us experience love, a prayer that makes us stronger… all these things express God’s closeness through the consolation offered by our brothers and sisters.” (#13) Sometimes, he adds, it is in just being with others in silence that we show great consolation.

However, for all of us, the real path that has been, and remains, open is that of charity, the path of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: “Mercy impels us to roll up our sleeves and set about restoring dignity to millions of people.” (#18) The Holy Father wants us to be a part of the culture of mercy and to realize that our efforts will be unique to each one of us: “The works of mercy are handcrafted, in the sense that none of them is alike.” (#20)

So, my sisters and brothers, perhaps this is an opportune time to reflect on how each of us might be uniquely called to continue the work of creating such a culture through prayer and good works.

Pope Francis also spent a good amount of time in this document on the sacrament of reconciliation, where “we feel the embrace of the Father, who comes forth to meet us and grant us grace.” We know we are sinners and “we bear the burden of the contradiction between what we wish to do and what we do in fact.” But the amazing thing is that “God makes us understand his great love for us precisely when we recognize that we are sinners.” (#8)

After this, Pope Francis gives some directions to priests and then he states:

“The sacrament of reconciliation must regain its central place in the Christian life. This requires priests capable of putting their lives at the service of the ‘ministry of reconciliation,’ (2 Cor 5:18) in such a way that, while no sincerely repentant sinner is prevented from drawing near to the love of the Father who awaits his return, everyone is afforded the opportunity of experiencing the liberating power of forgiveness.” (#11) We are entering the season of Lent, the great time for us to draw back from our own desires and seek the will of God, the time to draw back from our own needs and focus on those of others, the time to draw back from sin and seek out the mercy of God. Sisters and brothers, I invite you to the sacrament of reconciliation. If it has been a long time, do not worry. Your priest will be most helpful and patient in assisting this holy moment for you. Remember, in the sacrament you encounter not the priest, but Jesus Christ, who reaches into our hearts, forgives us, pours the Holy Spirit into us and draws us to the Heavenly Father.

From this sacrament, may all of us, then, be ambassadors of mercy to all we meet.