On the occasion of Divine Mercy Sunday celebrated last weekend, Boston’s archbishop, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, published a pastoral letter titled, “God’s Mercy Runs to Meet Us.”
The letter started by citing some of the numerous Gospel episodes that reveal God’s mercy in the actions of Jesus. “Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy and love,” the cardinal affirmed right in the opening words of the letter.
The letter went on to consider the parable of the prodigal son that, Cardinal O’Malley pointed out, clearly reveals the difference between the ways of the Father and of the world. In fact, he said, it could well be called the “Parable of the Merciful Father.” Reflecting on the loving welcome the father offered his returning son the letter commented:
“All of us need to know how much God loves us and wants to embrace and forgive us. In the parable, the father represents our God who is able not only to satisfy the son’s hunger but also restore his dignity.”
The parable, the letter continued, invites us not only to take the necessary steps to be reconciled to God in this Year of Mercy, but also to imitate God’s mercy in our attitude towards sinners.
Indeed, this is why Pope Francis chose the theme “Merciful Like the Father” for the Year of Mercy, Cardinal O’Malley explained.
A merciful Father
Teaching others about God as a merciful father has been central to Pope Francis’ ministry throughout his life, Boston’s archbishop observed. During his papacy so far the Pope has often visited the sick and the imprisoned and shown to others gestures of love and mercy.
“By practicing mercy, Pope Francis believes we can rediscover the mission of the Church,” Cardinal O’Malley said. His intention is that during this Jubilee we experience God’s mercy in a profound way and then share it with others.
With the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday the Church is now about one-third of the way through the Jubilee Year. It is a time, the letter noted, to overcome any indifference towards the poor and suffering and to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
“When we see with the eyes of mercy, we open the doors of our hearts. We can no longer be indifferent and focused only on our own challenges. We open doors and serve others who desire to encounter God’s mercy,” the letter added.
Cardinal O’Malley dedicated a section of the letter to explaining how Jesus taught about mercy in words and deeds. Firstly, he said that proclaiming the Gospel to the poor is his priority. Secondly, Jesus explained that mercy originates from God the Father. Thirdly, Jesus affirmed that he is the face of the merciful Father.
“As we learn in his first meeting with Matthew, the tax collector who became one of the Apostles, Jesus seeks to be with us who are sinners and helps lead us back to the Father,” the letter said.
Fourthly, Jesus teaches that the true disciple is one who practices mercy. “Often, we can be so quick to criticize, to be cynical and to complain. We must practice mercy with those closest to us and be people of reconciliation in a world of such polarization,” Cardinal O’Malley urged.
Fifthly, Jesus taught us that the Father’s mercy and forgiveness are limitless, and that we should strive to follow this example. Lastly, Jesus promises us that we will receive mercy and forgiveness if we practice it.
These messages of Jesus are of vital importance in a world in which “the extreme individualism of our culture isolates people and promotes choices and options that are self-destructive and alienating,” the letter noted.
Corporal and spiritual works
Another section of the archbishop’s letter spoke of the importance of forgiving others and of performing works of mercy. This includes not only the corporal works of mercy that are often well carried out by individuals and organizations but also the spiritual works of mercy.
“So many of our neighbors here in our area are starving for spiritual food and are immersed in the darkness of religious illiteracy. Our people urgently need faith formation. They seek longingly for hope and meaning – in their families, their work, their social and political lives – just as the hungry seek for bread.”
Cardinal O’Malley’s letter included recommendations specifically for the diocese in Boston. He mentioned activities such as taking time to contemplate the mysteries and messages of God, receiving God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, forgiving others, and helping others to receive mercy.
One challenge the archbishop made was for people to practice each one of the works of mercy at least once during the Jubilee Year.
“My prayer is that we will all become more like Christ during this Jubilee year, that we will become people of mercy, who reveal God’s love and mercy to everyone we meet,” the letter concluded.