Michael C. Barber, SJ
"Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us!" said the blind men who begged Jesus to heal them. Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I can do this?" "Yes, Lord," they said. Then he touched their eyes and said, "Let it be done for you according to your faith." And their eyes were opened.
Whether Catholic or not, each and every man who came forward begged for forgiveness: from the priest, from the Church, from Jesus — the visible face of the Father's Mercy! One heavily tattooed man cried as I held his hands and we prayed together. No one had ever prayed with him before or blessed him, or told him that his true identity was a child of God, created in the image of the Father.
They could see!
This episode encapsulates the Church's Holy Year of Mercy which Pope Francis inaugurated on Dec. 8. The blind men knew they needed healing. They knew Jesus could heal. They came to him ... and were healed because of their faith.
Recently I went with three priests, two deacons and some faithful lay volunteers to Santa Rita County Jail in Dublin. We went to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation to as many of the 4,000 inmates as we could, in honor of the Advent season. We went in small teams to the cell block "pods," which house 15-20 inmates in each. The deacons and lay folks led prayers, read scripture and taught the examination of conscience to any inmates who wanted to attend in each "pod."
We priests sat apart in as quiet a place as possible for any who wanted to receive the Sacrament of Confession, or who wanted to speak with a priest. I was astonished by the number of inmates who lined up. There were so many we could only make a dent in the jail population.
In declaring the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis said "Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident." Yes! It was palpable that night at Santa Rita jail. Now we as a diocese must make sure this holy mercy is more evident in our parishes and schools in this Holy Year.
The Holy Father also said "Mercy becomes a criterion for ascertaining who the Father's true children are." That's our call to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in this year. We as a Church are "the mystical body of Christ." Therefore when people cry to Jesus for help, we, as the extension of His body in the Diocese of Oakland, respond from our hearts.
Wherever we hear the cry of the poor, we must respond. To those that are hungry or naked, we can join St. Vincent de Paul and feed and clothe them. To those who are homeless, need a job, need legal papers or fighting an addiction, we can join Catholic Charities and help them.
To those children and young people who don't know the message of Jesus' life-giving Gospel, we can become religious education volunteers and teach them. To those who mourn, we can join bereavement ministry in our parish. There are countless ways to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to heal those who cry for help. Please visit our Jubilee of Mercy website for more ways to participate:
As a diocese, one extraordinary corporal act of mercy we are doing in honor of the Holy Year is to create a safehouse for children who are victims of sexual trafficking: those minors on the streets or the Internet who offer themselves for sale, and have no way out of their situation. I am pleased that Catholic Charities, in cooperation with Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, is taking the lead. But we, all of us in our parishes, will need to support them. There is no other program or place offering hope or a future for these poor girls and boys.
And we can all PRAY — calling down God's holy mercies on those who are suffering. As we celebrate the greatest gift of Mercy the world has ever known, the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, let's offer the newborn King all the suffering we see around us in our diocese.
Whether you are as poor as a shepherd or as rich as one of the Magi, let's kneel before the manger in adoration of our God-made-man, and beg His abundant mercies on our brothers and sisters.
A blessed and holy Christmas to you and your families!
The Mercy Project in the diocese
Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, introduces the Year of Mercy, and invites the people of the Diocese of Oakland to become involved:
"When I became bishop of Oakland, 2½ years ago, I had to choose a motto for my coat of arms to put over my chair. What immediately came to me were the words I said every day as a priest because I used to hear confessions every day.
"When I started to give absolution I would say, 'God the Father of mercies,' then I would go on to forgive someone's sins. That's the motto I took: God the Father of mercies. I wanted the word mercy to be in my coat of arms because mercy was the central core of what I wanted to be as a bishop. So when I heard Pope Francis just decide, really out of the blue, that he had declared a Holy Year Jubilee of Mercy, I was really thrilled. I said, This is exactly what we need. It's something I want to do, and it's something our whole diocese wants to do. What's mercy? What do you think is the definition of mercy? The best definition of mercy I ever heard is this: When love encounters suffering, it becomes mercy. Isn't that great? Love meeting suffering equals mercy."
Pope Francis has designated The Year of Mercy will take place from Dec. 8, 2015, until Nov. 20, 2016.
(See the diocesan video at www.jubileeof mercy-eb.org. New videos will be posted each month, showing mercy in action in the Diocese of Oakland.)
An open door to mercy
Rev. Jim Schexnayder stands next to the left main doors of the Cathedral of Christ the Light, 2121 Harrison, Oakland. At the 10 a.m. Mass Dec. 13, Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, will open the Holy Door signifying the beginning of the Jubilee of Mercy in the Diocese of Oakland. Through that door, it is hoped, that pilgrims from throughout the diocese will come and sign their names in the book that will commemorate this holy time.
ALBERT C. PACCIORINI/THE CATHOLIC VOICE
Catholics around the world and in our Diocese of Oakland can look forward to the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy beginning Dec. 8 through Nov. 20, 2016.
I was excited to be present in April inside St. Peter's Basilica in Rome when Pope Francis stated that "I will open the Holy Door on the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. The Church feels a great need to keep this event alive."
The Holy Door is a sealed door into the Basilica that is opened only on Jubilee Years, usually every 25 years. Through that doorway and designated cathedral doors around the world millions of people of faith will pass to seek God's mercy for our times.
Our Holy Father speaks of mercy as "the force that reawakens us to new life and instils in us the courage to look to the future with hope." For many among us and around the world/ hope for the future is not easy.
St. John Paul II said "The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy — the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and of the Redeemer — and when she brings people close to the sources of the Savior's mercy."
Pope Francis goes further, "The Church's very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love ... wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy."
That is where all of us are involved. Francis reminds us that all of us are sinners and all need to be open to God's extravagant love and mercy so that we can share it without judgment or exclusion.
He says there is no opposition between justice and mercy; "God's justice is his mercy" (Ps 51: 11-16). The Jubilee Year of Mercy is the perfect time for barriers between persons and communities to be broken down, for forgiveness to be offered, for our systems of criminal justice and incarceration to be examined, for the struggling poor and physically and mentally challenged to be uplifted in community and national priorities.
Francis recommends dialogue with Muslims and Jews and other religious traditions "so that we might know and understand one another better."
In this holy year let us prepare to receive divine mercy and to share it generously.
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