My dear sisters and brothers in Christ:
On the solemn inauguration of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, symbolically initiated with the opening of the Door of Mercy on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015, it was fitting that we did so at the mother church of the diocese under the patronage of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The heart of Christ is far more than a symbol; it is the reality of Jesus’ love, which knows no bounds and is overflowing with mercy. In the church’s beautiful treasury of prayers, we have the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in which we unite our hearts to the heart of Christ and plead for His mercy. Among those beautiful invocations, we pray:
Heart of Jesus, burning furnace of charity, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, full of goodness and love, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, patient and most merciful, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, source of all consolation, have mercy on us.
Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation, have mercy on us.
As we begin the holy season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 10, this penitential season receives new invigoration as it occurs during the Year of Mercy. May the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus touch our hearts; heal wounds; renew families; create peace locally, nationally and internationally; inspire us to serve those who have little or nothing, to welcome the stranger, and to recognize the dignity of every human person from the moment of conception until God according to His will calls us home to the eternal house of mercy — the home of St. Dismas, the saints and holy martyrs, all who entered the heavenly kingdom because, having mercy, they loved others as God has first loved us in His Son the Christ!
But mercy is a difficult virtue to cultivate, especially as we observe the contemporary circumstances of our world. After hundreds upon hundreds of years of a developing civilization, we continue to experience war and violence, hatred and prejudice. The most advanced technology has not created that universal peace for which people of good will long. In everyday life technology can even reduce the quality of humanity’s positive possibilities for personal interaction. We speak through text messages, rather than person to person. And quite sadly, we fail to speak to God as often as we should; we fail to encounter Him in the most holy Eucharist.
The Year of Mercy, before all else, is a call to know Jesus, and in knowing Him we discover His mercy, which becomes more than a concept, it becomes real. Pope Francis, in inaugurating this Year of Mercy, continues the same teaching emphasized by Pope St. John Paul II in his beautiful encyclical, Dives in Misericordia ("Rich in Mercy"). In this inspiring encyclical, St. John Paul II called upon us to recognize the extraordinary love of God for every person, demonstrated by His never ending mercy toward His children. Sadly, this is a message often forgotten: "The present-day mentality, more perhaps than that of people in the past, seems opposed to a God of mercy. The word and the concept of ‘mercy’ seem to cause uneasiness in man, who, thanks to the enormous development of science and technology, never before known in history, has become the master of the earth and has subdued and dominated it (cf. Genesis 1:28). This dominion over the earth, sometimes understood in a one-sided and superficial way, seems to have no room for mercy… And this is why, in the situation of the Church and the world today, many individuals and groups guided by a lively sense of faith are turning, I would say almost spontaneously, to the mercy of God" (Dives in Misericordia, 15). How important the message of mercy is to the people of our time; how much does the world, how much do you and I need the mercy of God!
St. John Paul II in writing his encyclical set anew the flame that ignited the heart of St. Paul, who in his Letter to the Ephesians wrote: "But God is rich in mercy; because of His great love for us, He brought us to life with Christ when we were dead in sin. By this favor you were saved. Both with and in Christ Jesus He raised us up and gave us a place in the heavens, that in the ages to come He might display the great wealth of His favor, manifested by His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. I repeat, it is owing to His favor that salvation is yours. This is not your own doing, it is God’s gift; neither is it a reward for anything you have accomplished, so let no one pride himself on it" (Ephesians 2:4-9).
In the Old Testament, the Psalms express so eloquently the theme of mercy. Psalm 26 recalls the continuous solicitude of the Lord for His people: "Remember that your compassion, O Lord, and your kindness are from of old." This confidence in God’s mercy causes the author of Psalm 28 to pray: "Hear the sound of my pleading, when I cry to you, lifting up my hands toward your holy shrine." And again, in Psalm 51, the psalmist humbly begs: "Have mercy on me, God in your kindness, in your compassion blot out my offense, O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin." This same theme is repeated in Psalm 86: "You are my God; have pity on me, O Lord, for to you I call all the day." In Psalm 52, united with the psalmist, we, too, place ourselves in the hands of a merciful God: "I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever," and rejoice in His mercy with the words of Psalm 136:
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
for His mercy endures forever;
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for His mercy endures forever;
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for His mercy endures forever…
In his introduction to a work of St. John Eudes, my predecessor Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, the sixth bishop of Rochester, wrote: "To be Christian means to discard self as the supreme determinant of actions; it means to put on the mind of Christ so as to be governed by Christ’s truths, to surrender the will to His Will, and to do all things that are pleasing to Him, not to self " (St. John Eudes, Life and Kingdom of Jesus, 1946, p. xxiv). Mary, the Mother of God, surrendered her will to the Will of God and so became the Mother of Mercy. In the New Testament, Mary rejoices in the merciful acts of the loving Father in her hymn of exaltation, the Magnificat. Our Blessed Mother Mary, our dearest Mother of Mercy, proclaims: "The Almighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him… He has upheld Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." Mary’s fiat was supported by the Lord’s tender mercy as He "looked upon his servant in her lowliness," and "all ages to come" would call her blessed (Luke 1:48-50, 54).
In celebrating the Virgin Maiden as the Mother of Incarnate Mercy, we pray in her Litany:
Virgin most merciful, pray for us.
Refuge of sinners, pray for us.
Comforter of the afflicted, pray for us.
In all the ages to follow, God’s children would stand with the beloved disciple, St. John, aside of Mary, once again at Golgotha as humanity’s crosses would be carried on the shoulders of those making their way home. Cardinal James Hickey, who ordained me to the priesthood on Dec. 17, 1971, wrote: "We too take our place next to John near the foot of the Cross. With a lesser love than John’s, we approach the Cross, conscious of our sinfulness and weakness, conscious of our fear and hesitation. Mary our Mother casts her loving gaze upon us. She has been told by God’s Word to see us as her children. Mary looks at us with ‘eyes of mercy.’ She does so because of her loving obedience to ‘the Father of Mercies’" (Mary at the Foot of the Cross, Teacher and Example of Holiness, A Retreat Given to John Paul II and the Papal Household, 1988, p. 208).
Mercy was the Father’s gift in the Old Testament; the culmination of this mercy bursts forth in the marvel of the Incarnation and is God’s gift to all humanity in the New Testament. In assuming our very human nature, Jesus becomes the personification of mercy, and His Sacred Heart would never cease to beat with love for all who would call upon the Savior with a contrite heart. To those who would scold Him for His kindness to tax collectors and sinners, He would respond: "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners" (Matthew 9:12-13). So very true the words of the Easter Virgil Exultet:
Our birth would have no gain,
Had we not been redeemed.
O wonder of your humble care for us!
O love, O charity beyond all telling,
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son!
In November 2015, I noted that in "celebrating the Opening of the Door of Mercy in accordance with the Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae Vultus ("The Face of the Father’s Mercy"), the imagery conveyed by passage through the Holy Door is that those who enter the House of the Lord will experience His mercy most especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession, and be renewed in mind and heart as they unite with Jesus in Holy Communion." I once again call to mind that I have asked our parishes throughout the diocese to cooperate with each other to provide extended times for confession, eucharistic adoration, while encouraging the practice of attending daily Mass whenever possible. A special schedule of events on the First Fridays of the month has been arranged at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, and is available on the diocesan website, www.dor.org.
As we strengthen our relationship with the Lord, we then are inspired to imitate our Savior in fulfilling the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, assisting willingly our brothers and sisters in need: the poor, the forgotten, those incarcerated, the victims of abuse, those from other countries seeking to make a new home among us and the victims of violence fueled by prejudice.
Throughout this Lenten season and this Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us fix our eyes upon the crucifix, the greatest manifestation of charity, the supreme act of mercy, and pray:
Look down upon me, good gentle Jesus
while before Your face I humbly kneel and,
with burning soul,
pray and beseech You
to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments
of faith, hope, and charity;
true contrition my sins,
and a firm purpose of amendment.
While I contemplate,
with great love and tender pity,
Your five most precious wounds,
pondering over them within me
and calling to mind the words which David,
Your prophet, said to You, my Jesus:
"They have pierced My hands and My feet,
they have numbered all My bones." Amen.
Invoking the intercession of Our Mother Mary; our patron, St. John Fisher; St. Dismas; Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta soon to pass through the portals of sainthood; and all the saints who give us hope and plead our cause, while always with an assurance of my prayers and asking a remembrance in your good prayers, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester