Our Lady's Missionaries of Mercy: Sunday, August 28, 2016 (The Holy Year of Mercy)

J.M.J. The following was submitted and published by the Catholic Herald.

Last summer, I saw a notice in the Catholic press about the desire of Pope Francis to commission priests, possessing the approval of their bishop or superior, from dioceses and institutes as “Missionaries of Mercy” who would become visible signs and instruments of mercy during the Holy Year of Mercy.

When I asked my Bishop what he thought, he gave his endorsement to my application to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, the Vatican dicastery assigned by the Holy Father to prepare for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.

A few months later, I heard from Archbishop Fisichella that I had been chosen.

The Holy Year of Mercy began on December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and ends on November 20th, the Solemnity of Christ the King. Its inspiration is the imperative of Jesus, “Be merciful, even as Your Father is merciful” (St Luke 6:36).

On February 9th, the Missionaries of Mercy attended an audience with Pope Francis in the Sala Regia of the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City. He challenged me and over 720 priests present of the approximately 1,200 Missionaries of Mercy: “Being a Missionary of Mercy is a responsibility that is entrusted to you, because it calls you to testify firsthand to the closeness of God and to His way of loving. Not our way, which is always limited and sometimes contradictory, but His way of loving, His way of forgiving, which is truly mercy.”

The next day, Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father, who had commissioned us by decree, offered these words to us. “Dear brothers, may you help to open the doors of hearts, to overcome shame, not to avoid the light. May your hands bless and lift up brothers and sisters with paternity; through you may the gaze and the hands of God rest on His children and heal them of their wounds!”

Pope Francis asked us to make ourselves available to hear Confessions and preach on the theme of mercy throughout the Holy Year, especially during Lent.

He also granted to the Missionaries of Mercy the faculty to remit, for the duration of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, the penalty of automatic excommunication, reserved to the Holy See, attached to the following four canonical delicts: profaning the Most Blessed Sacrament by taking It or retaining It for a sacrilegious purpose; use of physical force against the Roman Pontiff; absolution of an accomplice in a sin against the Sixth Commandment; direct violation against the sacramental seal by a confessor. (For a useful discussion of the difference between a sin and a delict, see Ed Condon, “Before calling someone a ‘heretic’, you might want to check canon law” in Catholic Herald, posted on 6 May 2016.)

During the three months after I was commissioned, I have found great interest among practicing Catholics about my presence as a Missionary of Mercy and, above all, what it stands for: another opportunity to reflect on and be grateful for God’s incredible gift of mercy and our subsequent obligation to be merciful to our neighbours.

Since Ash Wednesday, I have traveled to parishes, a Marian shrine and a retreat centre, both within and outside of my diocese, to offer Holy Mass, preach, hear Confessions and present conferences and days of recollection. I have encouraged the fulfilling of the Corporal and the Spiritual Works of Mercy—veritable treasures in the life of the Church. And I have visited the sick and met with many people pining anew for the Lord’s unfailing mercy.

As a friend told me, I am to share the light that is Christ Jesus. And that realisation has positively coloured my appreciation for this unique privilege.

Isn’t this what all priests, deacons, consecrated persons and the laity are perpetually “commissioned” to do by virtue of the Sacrament of Baptism? Isn’t each of the baptized always to be a missionary of mercy?

Yes! Each of us is to proclaim boldly Jesus Christ as Lord. During this Holy Year, priests, who are appointed by Pope Francis as Missionaries of Mercy, forgive sins, even some normally reserved to the Holy See, and serve as “heralds of the joy of forgiveness” (Misericordiae Vultus, 18), inviting all to consider afresh within the context of the Jubilee the mercy of God and our sacred duty to dispense it freely.

The heavenly intercession of Mary, the Mother of Mercy, keeps me aware of her Son’s words: “You received without pay, give without pay” (Mt 10:8). Being a Missionary of Mercy is not a personal honour. Rather, by calling attention again to God’s mercy, it is another way to serve Christ and all peoples. 

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