Tomorrow is Divine Mercy Sunday, the apex of the Year of Mercy. This Jubilee Year has very special meaning to me, as it during this year that I will be ordained a permanent deacon, called by the Church to be a servant of the Church. I define my imminent diaconal ministry primarily as a ministry of mercy as I find myself daily experiencing a deeper calling to serve the poor and the homeless in my community.
So you might imagine it caught my attention when I came across the Pastoral Letter on the Year of Mercy published today by Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston and a member of a group of Pope Francis’ closest advisors, the Council of Cardinals. Entitled “God’s Mercy Runs to Meet Us,” it is a true gem and highly recommended reading for anyone who wants to better understand and get the most out of this current Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Cardinal Seán has always been one of my favorite Bishops. He’s the Pope’s top American advisor and recently traveled with him on his historic trip to Cuba. This gentle Franciscan friar has done so much to bring about healing to the Church in Boston in the wake of the terrible sex scandals she has endured there. I first met Cardinal Seán in 2010 when I attended the Catholic New Media Celebration in Boston. I appreciate his dedication to blogging in the midst of an extremely busy schedule and I am always moved by his writings.
Explaining so clearly what the Jubilee of Mercy is all about, Cardinal Seán gives us many practical suggestions as to what we can do to take full advantage of this jubilee year. Although its quite lengthy – give yourself a good 30-45 minutes to read and begin to digest it – his letter provides excellent material for reflection throughout the year. I believe I’ll be reading and praying over it for the next few weeks during my daily holy hours in an attempt to understand just what Jesus is calling me to do for him each day.
In his letter Cardinal Seán references Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, The Joy of the Gospel. This reminded me that the time has come for me to read and reflect on this important document, which I’ve been putting off due to a busy schedule. Here’s the excerpt from it that Cardinal Seán referenced and touched me deeply:
Jesus teaches us many things about mercy through his actions and parables.
First, Jesus taught us that proclaiming the Gospel to the poor is his first pastoral priority. When Jesus announced the Jubilee year in the fourth chapter of Luke, he described his mission as announcing the good news to the poor, liberating captives and giving sight to the blind. This provides us, as Jesus’ disciples, a template for our task in the Year of Mercy. In setting our individual actions and, collectively, our pastoral priorities and plans and strategies of evangelization, let us also prioritize the sharing of the Gospel with the poor.[xiv]
In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis issues the following challenge: “I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessings, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith. Our preferential option for the poor must mainly translate into a privileged and preferential religious care.”
Wow! This certainly is a challenge for the Church and for my diaconal ministry. It is particularly relevant to me right now as I have been thinking a great deal about what I can do to help people I have met on the streets enter the Church and receive the Sacraments. I know at least two such men who wish to enter into full communion with the Church, but their circumstances make our prolonged process for entry (i.e. RCIA classes over several months) extremely challenging and a nearly insurmountable obstacle. In light of Pope Francis’ challenge, I plan to explore how we might offer them “privileged and preferential religious care” so as to remove these obstacles and reach out to them in mercy.
May God bless you and may you find the time this week to read Cardinal Seán’s Pastoral Letter. May you encounter God’s mercy more deeply by doing so and may you share that mercy with everyone you meet. May you forgive those who may have hurt you in the past and reach out to them in love to restore your relationship. May you open your heart wide to the love of Christ so that he may fill it with his mercy.
Happy Divine Mercy Sunday. Jesus I Trust in You.