November 18, 2016

Rejoice in the Lord

Thanks be to God for special graces during the Year of Mercy

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

This Sunday, Nov. 20, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. Among many other things, this feast, which concludes the Church year, reminds us that the reign of God is characterized not by power or domination but by love and mercy, peace and justice, hope and joy.

This is a special weekend for me and for our archdiocese. On Saturday, Nov. 19, in a special ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the decree of designation for each of the 17 newly-designated cardinals, including me, will be read. Immediately afterward, each of us will receive from Pope Francis the two symbols of our new responsibilities as cardinals. One is a ring. The other is a red hat.

The following day has a special significance for me this year because we new cardinals will have the privilege of concelebrating with Pope Francis the liturgy that brings to an end the Holy Year of Mercy.

When Pope Francis proclaimed this special year of grace, he said he hoped that this would be a time for us to contemplate just how merciful God has been to us and to understand better how we are called to be merciful to others.

Although the Year of Mercy will be officially concluded with the closing of the Holy Doors in St. Peter’s Basilica and in other holy places throughout the world—including our own SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis and the Our Lady of Einsideln Archabbey Church in St. Meinrad—the pope’s profound hope is that the theme of mercy will remain prominent in all our lives.

In his official proclamation (or “papal bull”) titled “Misericordie Vultus” (“The Face of Mercy”), the Holy Father called our attention to the singular role that mercy plays in everything that God has said and done throughout salvation history.

Mercy, the pope wrote, is “the beating heart of the Gospel” (#12). He went on to say, “How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God,” he wrote. “May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the kingdom of God is already present in our midst” (#5). Nothing in the Church’s preaching or witness, the Holy Father said, should be lacking in mercy.

Pope Francis urged us to use this Year of Mercy to seek and find “a genuine experience of God’s mercy, which comes to meet each person in the face of the Father who welcomes and forgives, forgetting completely the sin committed.”

We were not asked to pretend that our sins are “no big deal.” Sin is always horrible, an offense against heaven and Earth, and justice demands that we atone for our sins and accept the punishment we deserve.

And yet, the Year of Mercy has reminded us—powerfully—that God is free to intervene in our lives and to wipe away the consequences of our selfishness and sin simply because he loves us and desires that we be happy with him forever. This is an amazing gift from a loving God, who cares for each and every one of us personally. Our response must be to say, “Thank you, Lord,” and then to be merciful to others!

It’s true that our God is just, but our faith tells us that God’s mercy transforms our notions of justice—allowing us, as Pope Francis teaches, “to be touched in a tangible way by the mercy of the Father who wants to be close to those who have the greatest need of his forgiveness.” The more we seek God’s forgiveness, the more we experience his closeness. And no matter how seriously we have sinned, nothing can prevent us from being touched in a tangible way by the amazing grace that alone frees us from the negative effects of our sin!

Mercy is an essential feature of Who-God-Is. God is love, St. John, tells us, and by his very nature, he is ready to forgive us always and everywhere no matter what we have done, or failed to do, as his children.

As we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King this weekend, let’s remember that while the Year of Mercy is coming to an end, God’s mercy is endless and his love lasts forever.

And while you’re giving thanks for God’s abundant goodness this past year, please also say a prayer for Pope Francis and all the cardinals, especially me, that we will be faithful witnesses to God’s love and mercy this Christ the King weekend and always! †

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