Dear Friends in Christ,
In January of 1996, a modern interpretation of Giacomo Puccini’s La Boheme opened off Broadway. The show, called Rent, enjoyed a successful 12-year run and many of the songs of its score still play on in the minds of its fans. One of Rent’s more popular tunes, entitled “Seasons of Love,” asks a simple yet provocative question: How do you measure a year? The lyrics go on to suggest a few ways: You can measure a year “in daylights, in sunsets, in cups of coffee.” In the next stanza, some other possibilities: “In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.” Finally, the song finds its way to the best possible means of measurement: Love. You can measure a year in love; by the way you love and were loved; and to the degree that you held love above every other gift and virtue. Who can possibly argue with that?
And so we, as a church (within a wider Church) within a world, begin a very special year that we would be wise to measure well --the Jubilee Year of Mercy. It was first announced by His Holiness Pope Francis in April 2015 in his letter Misericordiae Vultus. These Latin words mean “the face of mercy” and they are defined in the very first sentence of the Holy Father’s letter: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” The pope’s letter is stunningly beautiful. It’s over 9,000 words long and yet this first sentence seems to be more than enough: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” Francis could have stopped right there!
What does it mean to engage and celebrate a year of mercy? Well, we’re about to find out. On Monday, nine of my Jesuit brothers will make themselves available for what we affectionately call the “Confessions Marathon”, when we take our places in the church twice per year to be humbled once again by the holiness of people who approach us so sheepishly, seeking God’s mercy through the sacrament of Reconciliation. They seem so unaware of how much they teach us about mercy and yet these penitents always do more for the priests than we do for them.
Our website has been loaded with spiritual resources received from the Vatican and the Archdiocese of New York. His Eminence Cardinal Dolan recently sent us a beautiful banner that now hangs in the corridor between our lobby and the Mary Chapel. This thoughtful gift was accompanied by an Advent card wishing all of us a blessed Advent, a happy Christmas, and a year of mercy and grace. Please pray for our Cardinal. He has one of the toughest jobs in the world and is working very hard at it.
We will continue to share guidance from His Eminence and Pope Francis regarding the Year of Mercy. Also, I have asked our priests and all of our parish ministries to pay special attention to the theme of mercy and how it can be incorporated into homilies, meetings, communications, and activities. Early responses from Family Faith, Bible Study, Music, LGBT Ministries, and others are impressive. We have a year to dive deep and I suggest we maximize it as creatively as we can! Because, as Francis reminds us, “mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.”
But, as we know so well, the effects of God’s mercy will go only as far as our hearts allow. A word so beautiful as mercy will be totally empty unless we choose to forgive, from our hearts, those who have hurt us and who wait to be forgiven. And, lest we be misled, mercy is most certainly a choice that we make with the help of God’s grace. We decide to forgive or we decide to hold on to our anger. This is true for bishops as much as it is for neophytes. So let’s plunge ourselves into the depths of God’s mercy as this most sacred year begins. So much can happen within a year! How can we possibly measure it? Let’s measure it in love…and in mercy!