Year of Mercy
A Reflection at the Close of the Year of Mercy
By Rt. Rev. Sir Alexei Smith, KCHS
First of all, my gratitude and appreciation to all of you for your great cooperation and the excitement evidenced by the many and various ways you embraced our observance of the Year of Mercy.
Cardinal Kasper, in his marvelous book, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life, writes:
“The most important expression for understanding mercy is hesed, which means unmerited loving kindness, friendliness favor, and also divine grace and mercy. Hesed, therefore, goes beyond mere emotion and grief at human deprivation; it means God’s free and gracious turning toward the human person with care. It concerns a concept of relationship, which characterizes not only a single action, but rather an ongoing attitude and posture………”
As we come to the official close of our observance of the Year of Mercy, hopefully each of us has had ample opportunities to experience just that: not simply “mere emotion and grief at human deprivation,” but also – and significantly more importantly – “an ongoing attitude and posture” of being what Pope Francis described as “Credible Witnesses of Mercy.”
The Late Orthodox Metropolitan Anthony Bloom of Sourozh often noted that our contemporary translation of “have mercy” is a limited and insufficient one. The Greek word used in the Gospels and in the liturgies of the Early Church is eleison. Eleison is of the same root as elaion, which means olive tree and the oil from it. Search both the Old and the New Testaments, and you will find a number of parables and events connected with this basic idea. For example, after the flood, Noah sends birds to determine if there is any dry land, and one of them – a dove – and it is significant that it is a dove – returns to the ark with a small twig of an olive tree. This twig conveys to Noah and to all with him in the ark the news that the wrath of God has ceased, that God is now offering mankind a fresh opportunity.
In the New Testament, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan for example, olive oil is poured to soothe and to heal. In the anointing of kings and priests in the Old Testament, it is again olive oil that is poured on the head as an image of the grace of God that comes down on them: in Psalm 133, we pray “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!” – giving kings and priests new power to fulfill what is beyond human capabilities.
The oil speaks first of all of the end of the wrath of God, of the peace which God offers to the people who have offended him. But the oil also speaks of God healing us in order that we might be able to live and become what we are a called to be and yet he knows that we are not capable of becoming on our own – individuals created in his image and called every day to grow more and more into his likeness. Hence, God pours his grace and mercy abundantly on us, empowering us to imitate him in our merciful interactions with our fellow human beings.
I would remind us all of the words of Saint John Paul II in Dives in Misericordia: “The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy – the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and of the Redeemer…..” Hopefully we as Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre have lived “an authentic life professing and proclaiming mercy” during this Year of Mercy. But let us not limit our experience of such “an authentic life” to a single year: may each and every year be for us a Year of Mercy.
Jubilee Year of Mercy pilgrimage takes Equestrian Order through St. Jude Maronite Parish’s Holy Door
The following article and photograph are taken from The Intermountain Catholic, Salt Lake City’s Catholic Newspaper, November 4, 2016:
Members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (EOHSJ) processed through the Holy Door of Mercy at St. Jude Maronite Church in Murray on Oct. 15.
“The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem’s is the only lay institution of the Vatican State charged with the task of providing for the needs of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and for all the activities and initiatives which are necessary to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land,” according to the order’s website, http://holysepulchre.net.
St. Jude is a Maronite parish of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon, headquartered in Saint Louis, MO. St. Jude was declared a pilgrimage site for the Year of Mercy and the Holy Door was opened on Dec. 13, 2015, along with others throughout the world.
Eighteen EOHSJ members, in their robes, processed from the parish hall through the Holy Door to attend the Oct. 15 Vigil Mass. Father Joubran BouMerhi, pastor of St. Jude, welcomed the members. Throughout the Mass he explained those parts that differ in the Maronite Rite from the Roman Rite. Some of the major differences are: most of the Mass is sung/chanted; the sign of peace is passed from the priest at the altar to the deacon and then to the congregation; consecration is said in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke at the Last Supper; and communion is by intinction (the holy body is dipped into the Precious Blood and placed on the communicant’s tongue.)
Following Mass, Fr. Joubran and parish members hosted a dinner for the members of the order.
Throughout the Western Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order, each area has been asked to observe the Year of Mercy not only by participating in a Holy Door pilgrimage but also by having interfaith dialogues about what mercy means to the different religious groups. In Utah, the EOHSJ sponsored an interfaith panel discussion during the Sept. 17 Diocesan Pastoral Congress at the Skaggs Catholic Center, during which members from the different religious communities spoke about the components of mercy within their respective religions.
The EOHSJ members also were asked to submit articles of reflection about receiving or giving mercy in connection with the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. An article written by one of our members, Marie Nelson, was submitted to the Western Lieutenancy to be included in the monthly newsletter.
Dora LaVoie is a Utah member of Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
Phoenix Year of Mercy Events:
By Sir Frank Rivera
Our pilgrimage to a Door of Mercy took place at our Cathedral (St. Simon & Jude) on Dec. 13, 2015. We had 24 Knights & Ladies attend and process at a very beautiful Mass celebrated by Bishop Olmsted and several priests from the Order including Rev. Sir Fred Adamson & Rev. Sir Mike Straley. Lady Julie Nackard and Sir Frank Rivera led the procession. The Blessing and prayers by the Bishop were very spiritual and positive; the very opening of the Doors was a high point of spirituality. Prior to the procession, we were able to visit with people in the holding area and tell them about the Order.
Our next interfaith event is scheduled for Dec. 16, 2016 at Xavier High School auditorium. The program is to have a viewing of the “Open Bethlehem” film. We are planning for about 150-200 in attendance. The staff from Open Bethlehem and their executives along with our co- councilors will lead this event. An interfaith panel discussion will take place after the showing with a panel comprised of leaders from the Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and other faiths. We will report on this event after completion.
As one of our corporal works of mercy, we partnered with SVDP staff at their facility in south Phoenix on April 4, 2016 and assisted their staff in feeding the very poor and working poor. We also assisted in tutoring young children with their homework. We were pleased to have 28 Knights and Ladies in attendance at this very rewarding work. This effort was lead by Lady Julie Nackard and Sir Frank Rivera. We met in the chapel afterwards for our first Monday Rosary lead by Rev. Sir Fred Adamson. A very nice dinner was provided by our host Sir Steve Zablinsky, President/CEO of SVDP. This was a very heart moving experience for all of us; the only negative of sorts was the sad fact that there are so many in need!
The Jubilee Year:
Mercy in Action!
By Rev. Sir Felix Just, KCHS, SJ
Year of Mercy Co-Director, Western USA Lieutenancy
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has invited the whole Church to celebrate a “Jubilee Year of Mercy.” This is not just another in a string of “themed years” that the Catholic Church has celebrated recently (like the “Year of Faith” or the “Year for Priests” or the “Year of St. Paul”). Rather, it is a “Holy Year,” with special opportunities for receiving and sharing God’s mercy and grace. Holy Years are normally celebrated every 25 years, but they may also be called in “Extraordinary” cases, as Pope Francis has done this year. Moreover, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem has been asked to make some special efforts to promote and participate in this Jubilee Year.
The Holy Year of Mercy began on Dec. 8, 2015 (the 50th Anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council) and continues until Nov. 20, 2016 (the end of the liturgical year, on the Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe). It involves many different symbols and possible actions, such as going to confession more often, making a Pilgrimage to a “Holy Door” in the Cathedrals and Basilicas in Rome or in any local diocese, and practicing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy more regularly. Pope Francis has also chosen a motto for us to live by this year: “Merciful like the Father,” based on the words of Jesus: “Be merciful as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
To learn all about this Jubilee Year, I encourage all Knights and Ladies to read Misericordiae Vultus, the letter by Pope Francis, the official “Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.” It is easy to read, only about 12 pages long, and freely available on the Vatican website: http://www.im.va/content/gdm/en/giubileo/bolla.html
In the coming months, various members and friends of our Equestrian Order from all nine Areas/Dioceses in our Western Lieutenancy will write some brief reflections on the various Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Some of these articles will focus on mercy-in-action in our local contexts, while others will highlight something from the perspective of the Holy Land.
In this first article, let me give you some initial observations and overall considerations.
What is “Mercy”? Look in a dictionary and you will probably find several different definitions, ranging from the religious to the juridical, from feelings to actions. But basically, there are two main aspects of mercy: first, the forgiveness of sins, and second, compassion in action! Hopefully, we can all pay attention to both of these throughout this Jubilee Year. 2
The Glossary to the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “Mercy” as follows: “The loving kindness, compassion, or forbearance shown to one who offends (e.g., the mercy of God to us sinners).” In other words, God is merciful in forgiving us. A separate entry of the Glossary then also defines “Works of Mercy” as follows: “Charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbors in their bodily and spiritual needs. The spiritual works of mercy include instructing, advising, consoling, comforting, forgiving, and patiently forbearing. Corporal works of mercy include feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, sheltering the homeless, and burying the dead.”
We should also remember that mercy, just like any other theological topic, involves both giving and receiving, and it includes both God and our fellow humans. In other words, God wants to show divine mercy to all people by forgiving our sins, and so we must ask God for forgiveness, both in our private prayer and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. On the other hand, we must also be willing to forgive others, not just in our thoughts and prayers, but in words and actions as well. Recall how Jesus clearly teaches us that giving and receiving forgiveness are linked together: “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Matt 6:14-15 NAB). He makes this link even more explicit in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matt 18:23-35).
The aspects of giving and receiving apply also to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. In this Holy Year, much of our focus might be on how we will show mercy-in-action to others: by volunteering in a soup kitchen, contributing to a clothing drive, instructing or advising others, comforting or consoling people in their various needs. Yet are we also humble enough to receive the merciful actions of others? Do we allow people to show mercy-in-action toward us, not just in letting someone visit us if we are sick or comfort us in our sorrows, but maybe also in allowing others to instruct us when we don’t understand something, to advise us when we are confused, or even to admonish us when we are sinning?
To conclude, let me again encourage all of you to read the letter by Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus (http://www.im.va/content/gdm/en/giubileo/bolla.html), to participate in any Year of Mercy initiatives of the Equestrian Order (pilgrimages, prayers, ecumenical and inter-religious services), and to reflect on how you can practice “Mercy-in-Action” during this Jubilee Year, both in receiving and in giving: by asking for God’s forgiveness and by offering forgiveness to others; by generously doing some Works of Mercy to help those in need and by humbly accepting the Works of Mercy that others may offer to us. In all that we do this year, let us strive to become more “Merciful like the Father”!
‘Oportet gloriari in Cruce Domini Nostri Iesu Christi’
‘We must glory in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ’
The Church is celebrating the Holy Year of Mercy, a time of grace, peace, conversion and joy. It is meant for everyone: people of every age, from far and near. There are no walls or distances which can prevent the Father’s mercy from reaching and embracing us.
The Western USA Lieutenancy joins in celebrating the Year of Mercy. Rt. Rev. Archimandrite Sir Alexei Smith, KCHS and Rev. Sir Felix Just, KCHS, SJ are serving as Year of Mercy Committee Co-Directors for the Lieutenancy.
The Year of Mercy:
The Practice of Mercy
By Deacon Jim Vargas, OFS
Last year, I had the great fortune to join Father Joe’s Villages, one of Southern California’s largest homeless services providers, as its President and CEO. In so doing, I became part of a sacred mission—the mission to end homelessness in San Diego. In a very practical way, the heart of our mission at Father Joe’s Villages relies on the everyday practice of mercy.
I see the enormity of the problem of homelessness, and how vulnerable and stigmatized the impoverished population really is. So often, as a community, we rush to judgment. We assume. We believe that people who are living on the street have done something to get there—they became addicted to drugs, burned bridges with friends and family, don’t want to find work.
We come to the Village every day not ‘to work’. We respond to a calling. We join each other in the center of our community, in one of the lowest-income areas of our city, to serve our neighbors in need—and by doing so, we change lives, we change San Diego, and we change the world for the better.
Mercy is the core of our daily duties, because it transcends judgment. At Father Joe’s Villages, we believe that it is our calling to support our neighbors through love and compassion, and in no small part, with the help of Divine intervention. It is our obligation to help the men, women and children living on the streets of San Diego find a permanent place to call home. With a heart for the mission, and with the help of God’s guidance, we practice mercy every day to help those in need.
I believe there are three ways that mercy manifests itself in our daily work: in compassion, in forgiveness, and as love in the action of faith and hope.
- Mercy brings us to be compassionate toward others, to take part in their suffering and become one with them. We choose to transcend the judgment that comes so naturally to us and see people for who they really are—human beings created in the image of God, with inherent dignity and incredible value.
- Mercy brings us to forgive, to stop wondering what choices brought someone to homelessness, because, simply put, it doesn’t matter. What matters is helping them reclaim their lives. With that in mind, we will give them a second chance, a third chance, a fourth chance. With mercy, redemption is always a possibility. There is always a chance for salvation.
- Mercy is love in action. We open our minds and our hearts to those in need, and that allows us to serve in gratitude our God who is always so very merciful to us. It is His Face of Love and Mercy that we make visible in our work. It is His Face that is reflected back to us in those we serve. Mercy is also a great act of faith, because it is not rooted in worldly wisdom and reason. It is rooted in eternal hope. It is not gained or deserved, and it is not conditional. Through mercy, we extend the love of God to those most in need—and it is life-changing, for those who serve and those who are served.
It is no wonder that in the Scriptures of various religions, mercy is portrayed as the very essence of God.
- The Book of Exodus describes how God always awaits our return in the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, the core of the Selichot prayers.
- The Qu’ran states. “We have not sent you except as a mercy to the worlds” and “Those who believe and do good deeds—the Gracious God will create love in their hearts.”
- The Letter of James speaks of God’s mercy: “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
At Father Joe’s Villages, we do God’s work, and we practice God’s unconditional love, mercy and compassion. Our door is always open. We do not judge. We see our clients as individuals, and we meet their unique needs. We believe that each and every one who comes to our door—no matter their past, present or future—deserves mercy.
As we continue to face the very real problem of homelessness, I am reminded that one of the most important qualities of mercy is that it is limitless. As long as there is pain in our community—as long as there are those living on the streets of San Diego without a place to call home, those who are hungry, those who need healthcare and clothing and a safe place to sleep—our call to show mercy will not end.
At Father Joe’s Villages, we are committed to the belief that homelessness in our community should not be considered a given. It is a problem that can be solved, with God’s direction and a commitment on the part of the community at large that none of our brothers and sisters suffer that condition. Mercy and justice demand it.
Missionaries and the Year of Mercy
By Sr. Susan Sheehan DC, of St. Vincent’s in the Holy Land
Mercy is defined in the Catholic Catechism as “The loving kindness, compassion or forbearance shown to one who offends. Others define it, in substance, as the Works of Mercy.”
Jesus defines it for us in that he SEES with compassion changing the lives of many by his loving look. He sees the widow’s only son has just died and acts. Is touched to the heart and restores him to his mother. Peter after denying Christ three times gets a compassionate and forgiving look from Jesus. He is ashamed and is totally crushed. He realized what he just did, that he is pardoned and still deeply loved. With that one glance of Jesus he is healed, freed and is later given the mission to lead the Church.
Jesus SPEAKS with compassion again changing lives. He calls Matthew the tax collector telling him that he wants to eat in his house thus creating a new Matthew. He also is called to be an apostle. The Samaritan woman at the well was the shaded woman of the town who converses with Jesus. She is transformed as she runs to announce Jesus’s presence to the others. She has been given a mission.
Jesus HEARS with compassion the cry of the outcast. The blind man beside the road in Jericho cries out to him for sight. Jesus is sensitive to this one man’s cry among a crowd of people. He hears the Phoenician woman who wants her daughter healed. Her humility and faith he praises.
Jesus TOUCHES with compassion bringing wholeness. To a leper an unclean outcast, who the law forbids to be even near the village. He makes whole again. He takes by hand the young girl saying ‘Talitha Kum’ and brings her back to life. At the last supper he washes the feet of his disciple’s one of his last gifted signs for them to do likewise. Their mission – our mission is to serve.
He want us to use our eyes, ears, tongs and hands to heal, pardon, give new life in the lives of the outcast of society. We can make a difference if we are attentive as Jesus was. Gradually these children of God can be healed and freed to become even an agent of their own promotion.
This isn’t only a challenge for missionaries but to all the faithful. What is unique to those of us working in the Holy Land which is far from HOLY in the nitty gritty of life here?
Our realities in 2016 are: there are less than 2% Christians left of the Arab population. When I came here 40 years ago there was 5%. Those who left became educated, middle class and wanted a better life for their children. They wanted security and a gamut of opportunities which were denied them. They left for fear being squeezed between Jews and Muslims cultures, morals and political orientations. Few have remained being bridges between the two peoples. Those remaining are the elderly and those without the skills to advance. They need to tell us; they need to tell their story.
Who is the local church now? The majority are the foreign workers many of whom are illegal in the land. They work long hours under stressful conditions their children are not recognized by the government. Injustices to these people of God are plenty. They are Filipinos, from Thailand, Ethiopia, Eritrean and many are from North African countries. From the Philippines there are 60,000 alone of whom the majority is Catholics. These peoples need religious priests and sisters who can speak their languages, share the Eucharist, listen to their stories and have the know how to help them legally, pastorally, and economically. Meeting these people’s needs is a huge challenge to the local church that needs missionaries.
The Holy Land calls out in agony for peace between the peoples of the three religions. Most of us are well placed to witness as we live among Jews, Muslims and Christians in hospitals, schools, homes for the seniors, handicapped, and have guest houses. We have the occasions to rub shoulders with the middle class who are often those who are important collaborators in the assistance to the very poor. Many of us religious have passed from having gray to thinning white hair; aging brings questions about our future. Can the dwindling numbers of local laymen replace us? Can Jews and Muslims interiorize our values so the weakest is heard?
Politics doesn’t lend to justice solutions, those that heal. We religious keep a low profile in this area as we need to have our residency renewed regularly. A misplaced comment could be detrimental. We watch the ever changing scene and pray.
A faithful life is in listening and in dialogue with the Lord is essential as one stands before these brothers and sisters in need. The Eucharist is center; it is the place we receive our strength and insights. It heightens our sight, hearing, well tunes our speech and helps us know when a touch can bring healing. As sinners we are healed here also.
We need an extra dose of HOPE. Otherwise realities get to heavy to witness mercy in daily encounters. As the political, economic, moral and social realities change, they influence our ministries. We must be grounded in HOPE. I like the song “You have to have Hope at the Crossroads”.
“Counseling the Doubtful”
By Very Rev. Tom Enneking, OSC, KHS (Phoenix)
The Octave of Easter, the eight days of celebration beginning on Easter Sunday, offers a perfect starting point for reflection on the spiritual work of mercy of “counseling the doubtful.” Let me quote some verses from the Gospels of that week that describe the response of the close circle of apostles and disciples to the death of Jesus and the “unbelievable” news that he was now risen.
“After Mary Magdalene and the other Mary had heard the message of the angel that Jesus had been raised from the dead, they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” (Matt 28:8) “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!’” (Luke 24:25) “He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?’” (Luke 24:38) “When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.” (John 21:7) “When the disciples heard that he was alive and had been seen by her (Mary Magdalene), they would not believe it… And they (the two disciples ‘walking in the country’) went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them.” (Mark 16:11, 13)
We certainly see in the experience of the early Christian community that doubt was part of the process of coming to faith. Counseling the doubtful requires that we not judge or criticize the lack of faith of a person experiencing doubt. In the Emmaus story, Jesus provides a model of this spiritual work of mercy. He listens to the disciples recount the pain and suffering they have experienced because of the violent death by crucifixion of their beloved friend, Jesus. Doubt often arises from these kinds of experiences. Something happens that seems like “the end of the world” for the person. Everything held dear or taken for granted is snatched away, to the point that belief in God is severely shaken and tested. Counseling the doubtful involves listening and accompanying people in their suffering and confusion. It is important to take the time necessary for them to share their story before providing counsel with the aim of reminding them of a long journey of faith and experience of God prior to the crisis they are experiencing. Jesus reminded the disciples on the way to Emmaus of the evidence in God’s word that what had happened needed to happen. Our listening and providing counsel to the doubtful offers the space and time people need in order to move through a process of deepening their relationship with God and coming to a new experience of faith.
“Giving Drink to the Thirsty”
By Sir Stephen Zabilski, KCHS (Phoenix)
“Aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled,
Jesus said, ‘I thirst.’” (John 19:28)
These two simple words, “I thirst,” extend to each of us—to every man, woman, and child—and not simply to the one billion people in today’s world who do not have regular access to clean water. For just as Jesus was referring to the physical thirst from which he was suffering on the cross, he was equally referring to his spiritual thirst for the salvation of all people.
It is this latter thirst—a thirst to provide love and kindness and compassion to our brothers and sisters, a thirst for meaning in our lives, a thirst for truth—that unites each of us with Jesus, particularly in this Holy Year of Mercy when we are asked, among other things, to give drink to the thirsty.
When we see a homeless man on the side of the street with a cardboard sign containing the scrawled printed words, “Will Work for Food,” do we not thirst to ease his burden?
When we discover the single mother, working two minimum wage jobs in order to provide her young children with life’s most basic necessities, do we not thirst to assist her in this struggle?
When a close friend informs us his wife is dying of cancer, or that his daughter is addicted to drugs and lives on the streets, or that he recently lost his management job after 25 years of service, do we not thirst, not only for the right words of comfort but also for the wisdom to know what to do?
I thirst: Occasionally for water, but daily for meaning.
I thirst: For the recognition of my other self within all those I encounter.
I thirst: For my personal salvation, for the salvation of my family and friends, and for the salvation of all people.
I thirst: To translate the Gospel into action; to become closer to one another; to be united with Christ. For as St. Augustine teaches us, “Our hearts are restless Lord, until they rest in thee.”
I thirst: The common bond that unites each follower of Christ.