Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ Jesus
The Year of Mercy, still in its first quarter, has captured wide interest throughout the Catholic world. When Pope Francis called us to open our eyes to the wonder of God’s mercy, he sparked a flame that is warming hearts as we understand more fully the healing and life-giving power of mercy.
Assuring us that The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis draws us to shed any fear that guilt might impose, and to approach God with trust and confidence, as a child before a loving parent. This “Year” is giving us an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen or renew our personal relationship with God and with one another.
The call to be merciful like the Father takes us to the heart of the Gospel where every action of Jesus, the face of God’s mercy, models that call. His life makes visible the eagerness of God to offer everyone the gift of mercy, seeking only that we ourselves be merciful. Jesus endorses this with his promise that the merciful “shall have mercy shown them” [Matthew, 5: 7].
Mercy is a way of life. It is not a quality that we adopt depending on the mood of the moment. It is not a set of clothing kept aside for important outings. The merciful are people in touch with their own weakness and therefore they do not expect perfection in others.
The merciful do not ignore or minimise wrong-doing, but they seek to understand before judging, and, wherever possible, are ready to excuse. As a way of life, mercy directs our outlook and our expectations, reflecting a particular view of the world and other people.
The strength of gentleness empowers the merciful.
The way of mercy flows from the sacred scriptures that tell of God’s love for our world – a love revealed above all in the gift of Jesus who came not to condemn but to save, not to weigh down but to lift up and set free. He showed this in the way he became involved in people’s lives, touching a leper and the eyes of a blind man, weeping at the death of his friend Lazarus. He suffered with the suffering, compassionately. Mercy becomes possible when the pain of the other becomes your own pain. Jesus illustrates this particularly well in his parables of mercy.
The “Good Samaritan” invests considerable expense and time into helping the wounded traveller, and leaves the lesson that unless we do likewise, helping the abandoned and the most desperate, we will not “inherit eternal life” [see Luke 10:25-37]
The three “mercy stories” in Luke, chapter 15, reinforce the greatness of God’s mercy. The three “findings”: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son, come after much patient searching and heart-breaking effort. The sheep, the coin and the son, speak of the animal, mineral and human world – the whole of creation. God wants nothing to be lost. Seeking out the lost is the mission of Jesus and the mission of all who follow his way.
“Be merciful to me” is not a call to “go easy on me” but rather a plea for help to become better, stronger, more capable of contributing to life. The merciful reach out with encouragement, recognising the potential for healing and growth.
Pope Francis writes that mercy is “the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his (her) brothers and sisters on the path of life.” [Misericordiae Vultus 2] Mercy is therefore a personal choice, freely opening the heart to let the stream of mercy flow, thereby changing the way we see other people. It is not be an easy choice because it goes against the grain. I have to forgo my “right” to be annoyed, to be angry, to want revenge! Yet it is by letting go of these “rights” that we find true joyfulness in living.
As this Holy Year of Mercy continues, we should each give ourselves generously to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, seeing it as an opportunity for wholehearted thanksgiving no less than for sincere sorrow. This is not an encounter to be feared but rather a home-coming to anticipate with joy. You will find a ready welcome from any priest you approach. Remember, God’s mercy, like love, does not come to an end. In Pope Francis’ words, mercy is greater than any sin. [Misericordiae Vultus 3]
The Easter season celebrates the power of light over darkness and life over death. The risen Jesus transformed his weak and unfaithful followers with words of hope and pardon. “Peace be with you” replaced their fear and shame with a joyful awareness of how much they were loved. Loved and forgiven, they become unshakeable witnesses to the whole world of the power of love to overcome evil and to forgive without limit.
Our diocesan cathedrals each have special “doors of mercy” for this year, thrown open in welcome and thanksgiving. They reveal a path to the risen, glorified Christ waiting to welcome you – whatever your failings – into the presence of love, the presence of mercy. Come and visit with family and friends and other parishioners. Pass through these doors and hear the echo of those words that brought cheer and hope to broken friendships. “Peace be with you!” Let them transform you into unbeatable witnesses of a God slow to anger and rich in mercy.
As you experience and hold the gift of mercy let it become part of your daily life. Don’t be too quick to judge or take delight in another’s misfortune. Be generous with compliments and do not withhold your forgiveness when the path to forgive is open to you. Knowing the peace that comes with being forgiven, welcome every opportunity to bring that peace to others.
William Shakespeare wrote, “The quality of mercy is not strained. It drops as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest. It blesses those that give and those that take….Mercy seasons justice”.
The gift of mercy is especially God’s gift to us in this Holy Year with the opportunity to both encounter mercy and share it. With Pope Francis, we, your bishops, look to this time as a way of revealing “the Church’s deeply maternal and merciful side, a Church that goes forth towards those who are ‘wounded’ who are in need of an attentive ear, understanding, forgiveness and love.” [The Name of God is Mercy p53]
Be merciful just as your Father is merciful [Luke 6:36].
Cardinal John Dew
Archbishop of Wellington
Bishop Patrick Dunn
Bishop of Auckland
Bishop Charles Drennan
Bishop of Palmerston North
Bishop Stephen Lowe
Bishop of Hamilton
Bishop Colin Campbell
Bishop of Dunedin
Bishop Peter Cullinane
Emeritus Bishop of Palmerston North
Fr Rick Loughnan
Administrator, Diocese of Christchurch