Book Review: Remembering God’s Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself from Painful Memories

As a cradle Byzantine Catholic I am well acquainted with the word “mercy.” I once counted the number of times priest and people intoned the words mercy, merciful or mercies in the Divine Liturgy. It’s fifty-four: 54 times in the course of an hour in which we beseech God’s mercy on ourselves and others. Fifty-four uses of the word mercy, not counting the particular propers, verses, and other special prayers of the day. In my lifetime, worshiping in the Liturgy alone, I’ve asked for God’s mercy hundreds of thousands of times – and, God willing, I’ll continue to seek His mercy for hundreds of thousands more. Despite all of this familiarity with mercy from my spiritual tradition, it took Pope Francis’ proclamation of a Jubilee of Mercy to get my attention and prod me to deep contemplation of not just the word mercy, but what it means for my relationship with God and others, and its vital role in my spiritual and emotional well-being. My journey into the heart of mercy has only just begun, and I now understand it’s meant to be a lifelong work. This summer I found a companion for this journey, one that opened me to new avenues of accessing and understanding not only God’s limitless font of mercy, but His enduring and immeasurable love for me.

“I wrote this book to share the good news that Jesus Christ heals our memories.” The opening line of Dawn Eden’s latest book, Remembering God’s Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself From Painful Memories, sets the stage for a spiritual journey written in the simple and effective language of a daughter of God inviting her readers to join in the search for His mercy. What we learn from reading is that the search isn’t really ours at all; rather, God looks for us, invites us, and waits for us to enter into the protection of His merciful love. Despite the emphasis on mercy in the Divine Liturgy, I needed to remember (or perhaps truly learn) that God’s mercy is not a concept, or a “thing” to be acquired, but God’s offering of Himself to me. Remembering God’s Mercy is that reminder – and much more.

I first encountered Dawn Eden when I read The Thrill of the Chaste.  Though I’m a “cradle Catholic,” I was in my post-metanoia phase, having undergone a serious re-conversion a few years earlier. At the time Dawn was a fairly new Catholic herself, and I was drawn to her zeal for Christ, and her poetic yet eminently readable style and good humor. I followed her exploits via her blog, and eventually we met, collaborated, and became friends. Her journey to finding the Faith, finding her vocation, and finding healing through God’s mercy is something I could relate to – especially in acknowledging that it’s not a journey with an end (not in this life, anyway) but a pilgrimage with ever-new and wonderful beginnings.

In some ways Remembering God’s Mercy picks up where Dawn’s second book, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints ends. In that book she gods-mercy-edenreveals her painful memories of sexual abuse and its fall out: from a loss of belief in God to the questionable lifestyle choices that exacerbated her pain instead of alleviating it. My Peace is her story of conversion and healing, told through the example of saints who experienced trauma and abuse, lived through it and became, well…saints! The book is a personal story of hope, but also a primer on the Church’s teaching on the communion of Saints. Sure, they’re in heaven now – but they know all too well our struggles here in the trenches because they struggled too, and they’ve become our companions, intercessors and advocates.

In Remembering God’s Mercy, Dawn turns to Pope Francis’ pastoral sensitivity and emphasis on God’s mercy for inspiration – and the continuation of her pilgrimage of healing. For me, personally, the Pope’s call to embrace God’s mercy has been a profound learning experience. Perhaps my own tendency toward judgment and mercilessness toward others is due (not unlike the man in the parable) to my lack of appreciating the great mercy that has been freely given to me – to each of us. Acknowledging this weakness and learning from it is a big step toward seeking and accepting God’s mercy toward us, and being merciful to others in turn. Using the words of Pope Francis, as well as the particular example of SS. Ignatius Loyola and Peter Faber, Dawn invites readers to bring their personal experience, doubts, and pain to the well of God’s mercy and jump in. It isn’t easy – as Dawn’s story testifies – but it’s a risk we don’t take on our own. Grace is the life preserver that weak and frightened spiritual swimmers (like me) need in order to dive into the ocean of His mercy. “Grace,” says Dawn, quoting Francis, “enables us ‘to enter into dialogue with God, to be embraced by his mercy and then to bring that mercy to others.’”

Obviously for Dawn healing memory has a particular meaning relevant to her past experience of sexual abuse. But don’t let that deter you from reading the book. I admit to having been a little wary myself at the start, wondering if I’d be able to relate to an experience of memory (and mercy) so different from my own. It didn’t take long to realize that this isn’t a book exclusively – or primarily – for sexual abuse survivors. As I read I became aware that my own memory, while not filled with similar traumatic events, is also wounded and in need of healing. I can recall criticisms received when I was a child, embarrassing events from more than 30 years ago, and mistakes ranging from little boo-boos to producing life-altering consequences. Many of these memories are tightly bound and held in my consciousness, popping out in times of anxiety, change, and spiritual unease. I hadn’t realized how spiritually damaging such memories are – not to mention the toll they take on my self-esteem. Nor had I ever considered that God, in His infinite love for me, desired to heal these memories by an outpouring of His mercy. Worse yet, I never thought to ask. This revelation alone made reading the book provided unexpected comfort and hope.

Remembering God’s Mercy is a mini-retreat, an invitation to deep contemplation as well as an instruction on mercy through Scripture and the example of the saints. My favorite parts of the book are those where Dawn asks questions for personal reflection, and when she invites the reader to pray with her. (Her reflection on the Seven Sorrows in chapter 4 particularly touched me, and I will surely use it for further contemplation.) I was also moved by her recollection of being introduced to the Jesus Prayer by her friend and fellow convert Jeffry Hendrix, who later succumbed to kidney cancer. This simple yet powerful prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner – comes easily to my lips as an Eastern Catholic; perhaps too easily. Dawn recounts her discomfort with the prayer, believing it to be more a recitation of her wretchedness than a form of praise and supplication. It seems that trying to say the prayer was a fruitless effort. Only when faced with desperation (Dawn recounts an incident of where a painful memory from her past overtook her, causing great anxiety) did the words of the Jesus Prayer spontaneously arise from deep inside her:

“I said it again. And again. And, as I did, something happened…. The prayer was not leading me to self-pity. It was opening my heart to the purifying love of God.”

This is the beauty of God’s mercy in action, and the lesson we must learn in order to be embraced by it: to simply let go and be loved. Of course, God’s mercy comes with the charge to be formed by it, to be changed. But I must first know that God’s mercy is available to me, that He wants to give it to me, and that I am worthy of receiving it. It doesn’t matter if that knowledge comes as a result of the desperation Dawn describes, or if we can only weakly or even skeptically cry out to Him. God is there in our desperation and weakness and skepticism. As Pope Francis says, God “waits for us to concede him only the smallest glimmer of space so he can enact his forgiveness and his charity within us.”

Remembering God’s Mercy is a book one doesn’t simply read; it is to be contemplated. Dawn generously invites us into her heart and her faith, but the book isn’t a memoir; nor is it a “how-to” on surviving trauma. It is a call to personal reflection and an invitation to prayer. It is a book for everyone because it speaks to that longing in our hearts to be known by God, loved by Him, and held in His heart. Most importantly, the book is Dawn’s (and, if we join her, the reader’s) hymn of praise to the God who will never forget us, “for his mercy endures forever”!

*Final note – In her previous life, Dawn Eden was a rock and roll journalist, and music remains an important part of her life. A song she wrote for The Anderson Council lit up the airwaves on XM Radio this summer, and it’s worth a listen!

Ann Koshute teaches theology for the Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Program.

Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen

A homily from 2nd Sunday of Easter. Divine Mercy. April 3, 2016.

This is the third homily I have given this year. My turn comes on the first Sunday of each month. Each time, this year, the theme has been mercy. So the focus today on Divine Mercy Sunday should not be on “doubting” Thomas! There is something more important than “doubting” going on here. How about “the not-yet seeing” Thomas? How about “the not yet believing” Thomas? Finally, how about the Thomas who “questions”? Only through questioning can we discover the awesome truth of how necessary it was that Jesus should have died an innocent man’s death on the cross. His innocent suffering and death reveal the quality of God’s mercy, the Divine Mercy. Thomas questioned and not only was it revealed to him that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The fuller truth is that Jesus will carry the wounds of his crucifixion, the signs of his suffering and death on his risen body, forever and forever. “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Suffering and death are swallowed up in victory. Death has no victory. But the suffering and death are never undone, only completed. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ last words are “It is completed.” Forever and forever!

At the same time let us remember Jesus’ last words while dying on the Cross in the Gospel of Mark, the first line of Psalm 22, the Prayer of an Innocent Person. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Someone said, “Wait let us see if Elijah comes to take him down.” Of course, Elijah does not come down nor does God. God was silent. God used to be merciful but not now. Or was He? Or is He merciful?

BuchenwaldI am reminded of the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Weisel and his famous memoir, Night. If you have not yet read this book, please do read it. It is one of the great religious books of the twentieth century. I am passing around a picture taken on April 11th, 1945, one of the most famous photographic remembrances we have of the Holocaust. That day the American army liberated Buchenwald. Weisel is the last person in the middle bunk in the middle row. Weisel’s literary reference to “Night” comes from the same Psalm 22 that Jesus cried out as he died: “My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief.” God did not answer as six million Jews were incinerated. This has always startled Weisel, especially the death of the babies. They were all innocent.

He says: “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in the camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke, Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky. Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murder my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes. Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”

That “night” Jesus suffered and died an innocent man. That night the babies suffered and died innocent babies. We must ask questions. If there is going to be any final justice in the world that God created where so much innocent suffering takes place, then God’s silence must be suffered. There can be sense here only if God can suffer. But our theology and philosophy say that God cannot suffer. Impassibilis est Deus.  Yes, God cannot suffer. That is true. But there is more to God than God, especially when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Saint Bernard completes the phrase Impassibilis est Deus with, sed non incompassibilis. Pope Benedict translated this as: “God cannot suffer, but he can suffer with. Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way—in flesh and blood.”

The seventh sign in the Gospel of John is the resurrection and the signs of Jesus’ suffering and death on his risen body, forever and forever. I have no answer for Elie Weisel’s questioning. He handles it with his Jewish resources. However, Thomas saw and believed, and now had a reason for hope. When we encounter the risen Christ and believe, we discover the only appropriate response to the Divine Mercy. That response is gratitude and hope. In the deaths of the innocents that cry out for justice, we discover a very strong argument why we need faith in the resurrection. But it works the other around. Faith in the resurrection, blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed, is the only way that those innocent babies will have justice. Jesus did not die in vain. The babies did not die in vain. Jesus’ wounds mark his risen body forever. The babies’ burn scars will mark their risen bodies forever.

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.” Amen.

Daniel Sheridan is Professor of Theology at Saint Joseph’s College and former Director of the Online Theology Program. He is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Portland.

 

 

Do Not Be Afraid

When we talk about mercy, we should remember that it has one range of meanings when talk about the works of mercy and another range of meanings when we speak about God’s mercy. For God, mercy evokes God’s providence, grace, and love. In this Year of Mercy, and at this particular time, we must be careful using military metaphors, although the Lord is presented as a commander in some of the Psalms, “the Lord of Hosts,” and conflict plays a major role in the book of Revelation. I think that there is something inappropriate about singing Onward Christian Soldiers.

“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
with the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
forward into battle see his banners go!”

The Church is not an army with generals, crusades, marches, conquests, victories, flags, and banners. During the Korean War in the early nineteen fifties, Joseph Stalin famously asked, when he heard about the Pope’s power, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” In fall 1951, I started kindergarten at Saint Teresa of Avila’s in Brooklyn, New York. We thought the Pope had lots of divisions. It was an Irish-American parish, and the Irish-Americans were feeling their oats.  There was a senator out west named McCarthy. We learned a song I still remember.

“There’s a crimson banner flying, there’s a bloodstained flag unfurled.
For the knights of Christ are marching to the conquest of the world.”

That it is not so, thank a merciful God.

We see this theme in the three readings from the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time. They feature individual persons meeting God, in fear and trembling, humbled, transformed, one on one. Isaiah saw the Lord. “Woe is me, I am doomed! I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” Isaiah’s lips are burned. “Here I am. Send me.” He prophesied during the momentous Assyrian invasion of 740 B.C. which destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. Do not be afraid.

Paul says, “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective .  .  . not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.” He was put to the sword in Rome in 64 A.D., a martyr. Do not be afraid.

In Luke’s Gospel, Peter meets Jesus in a sinking boat. “They came and filled both boats Peter sinking boatwith fish so that the boats were in danger of sinking .  .  .”  Peter saw this and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus replies, in Luke’s Greek, me phobou, “Do not be afraid;” In 64 A.D., Peter was crucified upside down on Vatican Hill in Rome, a martyr. Do not be afraid. This is motif in the Gospel of Luke. The angel told Zachary, me phobou, “Do not be afraid.” The angel told Mary in Nazareth, me phobou, “Do not be afraid.” The angel told the shepherds outside of Bethlehem,” me phobou, “Do not be afraid.”

Military force overwhelmed Isaiah, Paul, and Peter, but they were enveloped in the mercy, providence, grace, and love of God. The important point is that, even if they were caught up in vast and sweeping historical movements, God’s mercy, providence, grace, and love went one on one with them. Do not be afraid. God’s mercy, providence, grace, and love are particular, individual, unique, and personal. Since God sees us as individuals, each one matters. Isaiah, Paul, Peter, Zachary, Mary, and the shepherds matter. So do I, so does Father John, my wife MaryAnn, Desiree, Reid, Molly, Patty, Eban, President Dlugos and his family, each one matters in God’s sight. Do not be afraid.

Let me end with a long quote from a sermon that Blessed John Henry Newman gave to university students in 1833. Note the old-fashioned “thee’ and “thou.” These pronouns refer to you singularly.

God beholds thee individually, whoever thou art. He ‘calls thee by thy name.’ He sees thee, and understands thee, as He made thee. He knows what is in thee, all thy own peculiar feelings and thoughts, thy dispositions and likings, thy strengths and thy weaknesses. He views thee in thy day of rejoicing, and thy day of sorrow. He sympathizes in thy hopes and thy temptations. He interests Himself in all thy anxieties and remembrances, all the risings and fallings of thy spirit. He has numbered the very hairs of thy head and the cubits of thy stature. He compasses thee round and bears thee in His arms; He takes thee up and sets thee down. He notes thy very countenance, whether smiling or in tears, whether healthful or sickly. He looks tenderly upon thy hands and thy feet; He hears thy voice, the beating of thy heart, and thy very breathing. Thou dost not love thyself better than He loves thee. Thou canst not shrink from pain more than He dislikes thou bearing it; and if He puts it on thee, it is as thou wilt put it on thyself, if thou wert wise, for a greater good afterwards. Thou art not only His creature, thou art man redeemed and sanctified, His adopted son, favored with a portion of that glory and blessedness which flows from Him everlastingly unto His Only Begotten Son. Thou art chosen to be His. Thou wast one of those for whom Christ offered up His last prayer, and sealed it with His precious blood. What a thought this is, a thought almost too great for our faith! Scarce can we refrain from acting Sarah’s part, when we bring it before us, so as to ‘laugh’ from amazement and perplexity.

When you meet God, as indeed you already have, and as indeed you will again and again, enveloped in God’s mercy, providence, grace, and love, me phobou, Do not be afraid. Uncle Sam may need an army. You don’t need an army. You do not need a general. Follow in the footsteps of Isaiah, Paul, Peter, Zachary, Mary, and the shepherds. Do not be afraid.

Daniel Sheridan is Professor of Theology at Saint Joseph’s College and former Director of the Online Theology Program. He is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Portland.

Mercy and Reconciliation

Recently, the Vaticanisto Sandro Magister published a letter sent to him by an Italian professor-priest who, despite his academic activity, dedicates a significant amount of time to pastoral work. While the letter addresses somewhat larger issues, what I found particularly significant is the following observation the author makes concerning the Jubilee Year of Mercy and the sacrament of Confession.

The facts are these. Since the opening of the Holy Year backed by Pope Francis and on the occasion of the Christmas festivities of 2015 – as also since Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been sitting on the throne of Peter – the number of faithful who approach the confessional has not increased, neither in ordinary time nor in festive. The trend of a progressive, rapid diminution of the frequency of sacramental reconciliation that has characterized recent decades has not stopped. On the contrary: the confessionals of my church have been largely deserted.

Despite the anecdotal nature of this observation, I have a sneaking suspicion that it rings true throughout much of the Church in Europe and North America. And while it may come as no surprise to many, I am nonetheless saddened to hear it.

By declaring this liturgical year a Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis is attempting to place front and center the very core of Jesus’ own preaching message. At the beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus proclaimed: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent (metanoeite), and believe in the Gospel (evangelio)” (Mk 1:15; cf. Mt 4:17). The word which is often translated as ‘repent,’ more literally means ‘change your mind.’ Jesus’ message is a call to conversion, an invitation to accept God’s abounding mercy into one’s heart, soul, and mind (cf. Mt 22:37; Dt 6:5); dying to sin and living a new life in the Spirit (cf. Rom 6:11; 8:10). God had frequently proclaimed this call to repentance to ancient Israel through her prophets. As the psalmist writes, “Oh, that today you would hear his voice: do not harden your heart” (95:7-8). But in the person of Jesus, God’s mercy has taken on human form.

The Latin word for ‘mercy’ (misericordia) contains within it the word ‘heart’ (cordis). To be merciful is to share in the ‘heavy’ (miseria, misery) heart of another. In this regard, God’s mercy is made flesh in the incarnation of His Son; who entered into a fallen world, i.e., “became sin” (2 Cor 5:21), for the sake of our salvation. In Christ, God has taken on our ‘heavy hearts’ in a unique and definitive way. Thus, as the letter to the Hebrews states, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy” (Heb 4:15-6). This is indeed ‘good news’ (evangelion)!

In synoptic gospels most especially, it is clear that Jesus’ mission is one of healing and Rembrandt's Prodigal Sonforgiveness. Again, at the beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus proclaims that he “did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mk 2:17), and Jesus’ capacity to forgive sins is a sign of his divine authority (cf. Mt 9:6). This ministry of mercy is one that he enjoined to his apostles (cf. Mk 3:15; 6:7; Mt 18:18); they were to participate in Jesus’ own ministry of healing and forgiveness (cf. Jn 20:21-23). Only God can forgive sins, and this ‘capacity’ (potestas) to forgive sins comes not from priests, or bishops, or even the apostles themselves, but from God’s “Word made flesh” (Jn 1:14), Jesus Christ.

And so, when the Church, Christ’s body (1 Cor 12:27), forgives sins through her ministers, she is participating in Christ’s own ministry and has done so throughout the ages. What we Catholics call the sacrament of Confession or Penance or Reconciliation, is an extension of various scenes contained throughout the New Testament of Christ forgiving the sinner: the woman caught in adultery (Jn 8:1-11), the paralytic – lowered down from the open roof of a house (Mk 2:5, 9), and the ‘sinful woman’ who bathes Jesus’ feet with her penitential tears (Lk 7:48).This mercy, Jesus’ own, is offered to us every time we visit in the confessional.

Often, we view the sacrament of Reconciliation as a “duty” or, even worse, as something

Pope Francis - penitent

Pope Francis – penitent

superfluous. It is no more a duty than it would be to seek Jesus’ forgiveness if he were standing right here before you. It is no more superfluous than it was for the adulterer, or the paralytic, or the sinful woman. Rather, the sacrament of Reconciliation is supreme gift. Through it, and the other sacraments, Jesus fulfills his promise to be with us “until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20). In fact, in the confessional, the mercy of God is being offered exactly as if Jesus were standing right here before you.

Thus, for this Year of Mercy, what’s more important than visiting a ‘holy door’ – with all due respect to those involved in this activity – is to visit the ‘holy door’ of the confessional. In the sacrament of Reconciliation, you have an opportunity to visit Jesus. Make that your first stop before visiting his house.

Anthony Coleman teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

The Domestic Church, Mercy, and Christmas

Today’s liturgical readings—especially the Gospel—highlight, among other themes, the importance and dynamism of the mission of the Christian family.  This is significant in light of the recent Synod on the Family, and because of our pilgrimage of faith within Advent and Christmas of this holy Jubilee Year of Mercy.

By “mission of the Christian family,” I am referring to its three-fold baptismal priestly, prophetic, and kingly calling: to be holy; to proclaim and witness to the truth about Christ and His word (John 14:23); and to be an instrument of love and mercy in our world so much in desperate need…(see Lumen gentium, or LG, 9-13, 31 and Familiaris Consortio, or FC, 50-64 for roughly equivalent explanations of the mission of the Church, shared by its laity and the domestic Church, the Christian family).

Dom church

Mary, a “type and outstanding model in faith and charity” (LG 53), also is a type of the Church (LG 63).  As such, she reflects the three-fold mission of the Church—and therefore of the domestic Church.  Her words at the Annunciation, “May it be done to me according to your word,” from today’s selection in the “Alleluia,” echo the reference to Christ in today’s reading from Hebrews 10, “Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’“   This sacrificial self-offering underscores the core meaning of the baptismal priestly calling of holiness of the Christian family—self-oblation and corporate familial self-giving through prayer and the sacraments (FC 55, 62).  In a special way, in this Holy Year of Mercy, the Christian family must seek forgiveness from God and each other and contemplate the face of mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Misericordiae Vultus, or MV, 4).  In today’s Gospel Reading (Luke 1:39-45), Elizabeth proclaims that Mary is blessed among women, and blessed also by believing that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.  Her tenacious trust in and loyalty to God’s will is the baptismal priestly model to which the domestic Church must aspire.

In the Gospel reading, the Virgin Mary also illustrates the prophetic calling of the domestic Church by bringing Jesus to others, i.e., to Elizabeth and the unborn infant John the Baptist, and then proclaiming His power and salvation in her subsequent Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55 (just beyond the reach of today’s Gospel reading). The third calling of the Christian family’s three-fold mission—to advance the kingly reign of love—we see as well in our readings.  In Luke 1:39-45, Mary exercised empathy and compassion toward neighbor in her fearless and other-centered journey to Elizabeth, six months into her pregnancy.  “Showing mercy” (from rahkam and Ἔλεος), practically the equivalent of “having compassion,” is the virtue—grounded in humility—most supremely demonstrative of charity.  Pope Francis also specifically beckons us to exercise this virtue during this Year of Mercy: “Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are.  In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us…” (MV 9)

What gift can the Christian family—including each of ours, and any family, to the extent possible—give this Christmas to the Christ Child?  As the magi did, so too our families can each (try to) give Him three gifts.  The first is the baptismal priestly gift of itself—of dedicating ourselves as a family, by sacramental grace and prayer, to loving Christ and keeping His word.  The second is the prophetic gift of bringing the truth about Christ and His teachings to others.  And the third is the kingly gift of loving neighbor especially for God’s sake.  In offering this, our families will exercise great compassion, first on members of our own, but also on others most in need—even enemies.

The sacrifice of our wills, our passionate effort to share Christ and His words, and our compassionate love for Him in our neighbor, at home and far away—inspired and guided by the Mother of the domestic Church—will transform our families, our culture, and our Church.  This can be our gift to the Christ Child during this Advent and Christmas season and Holy Year.

Mark Koehne teaches moral theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Open the Doors Wide – Let God’s Mercy Flow!

This Tuesday, Pope Francis ushers in the Jubilee Year of Mercy! I have waited for this day, since the announcement occurred this past spring, via the reading of Misericordiae Vultus, the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Jubilees do not come along every day; that is why the magnitude of this event is deemed extraordinary. The graces offered this year should not be taken for granted, or worse, dismissed by the faithful.

Our world suffers from turbulent events; abortion, suicide, euthanasia, gun violence, terrorist attacks and wars. Bottom line we kill each other, and/or ourselves. We do the farthest thing from God’s will; to love one another as the Father has loved us. We desperately need God’s Mercy. As a human race, we have truly spiraled downward. We need His loving touch of Mercy to lift us from our self-made abyss of sin and suffering.

Through God’s mercy we heal. Through God’s mercy “we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives” (MV 3). When we receive God’s mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God replaces our guilt and shame with joy. That joy emanates outward for others to see. He fills us with true Christian serenity; Christ’s Peace. That sense of Peace also emanates outward in our Christian witness.

What can we expect during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy?

  • On December 8, 2015 Pope Francis will open the Holy Door of Mercy, “through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope” (MV 3).
  • On December 13, 2015 the Holy Door of Mercy opens at all cathedrals throughout the world.
  • During Lent 2016, Pope Francis will send out Missionaries of Mercy; designated priests, enabled to “pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See” (MV18).
  • On March 4-5, 2016, we can participate in a worldwide initiative called “24 Hours for the Lord” where the Sacrament of Reconciliation will be offered in every Diocese (MV 17).
  • On November 20, 2016 the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy will come to an end, but with the knowledge that Christ’s Mercy is endless and always readily available to everyone.

What can we do to make the most of this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy?

  • Allow God to surprise you (MV 25).
  • Embrace the call to mercy (MV 18).
  • Listen to the Word of God (MV 13).
  • Make an effort to reconcile yourself to God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
  • Refrain from judging others.
  • Be merciful toward others.
  • Recognize the suffering of others and express compassion.
  • Partake in the Corporal Works of Mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead) (MV 15).
  • Partake in the Spiritual Works of Mercy (counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently, and pray for the living and dead) (MV 15).

I’m psyched! I’m ready to receive an outpouring of God’s Mercy. I’m ready to do my part in participating in the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. How about you? Open the doors wide! Let God’s Mercy flow!

Virginia Lieto teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. Her new children’s book Finding Patience was recently published. She blogs at www.virginialieto.com.