Monday, 7 December 2015

The Pastoral Letter of the Archbishop

Year of Mercy Pastoral Letter
(A Pastoral Letter to be read during the Mass on 6/13th Dec, in all the churches and chapels of the Archdiocese of Patna on the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy)

My dear brother and sisters,

I write to you this pastoral letter with the happy news that Pope Francis formally announced on 11 April, 2015, the Vigil of the Sunday of Divine Mercy, “Holy Year of Mercy” to begin on 8th December 2015. This Holy Year is to commemorate both the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, which called the Church to proclaim the Gospel to the world in new ways, bringing God’s mercy to everyone. The Holy Year will conclude on November 20, 2016, on the feast of Christ the King.  The message of mercy and joy has been central to Pope Francis’ pontificate, as it was to Saint John Paul II who inaugurated this Sunday after Easter as Mercy Sunday and who canonized the Polish visionary of God’s mercy, Saint Faustina.

The 28-page bull, titled “Misericordiae Vultus” or “The Face of Mercy” opens with the declaration, “Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith.” In the document, Pope Francis says the Holy Year is “dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy” which God “constantly extends to all of us.” The Holy Father develops three main themes.

First, Pope Francis elaborates the theological understanding of God’s mercy, explaining the role of mercy in the life of people and of the Church, who are both the beneficiaries and the witnesses to God’s mercy in the world. “The mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality through which he reveals his love as that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child,” the Pope writes. “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life,” he continues. “The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.” He recalls that the motto of the Holy Year is “Merciful like the Father.” “Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident,” he writes. “Wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.”

Secondly, the Pope offers practical ways to live well the Holy Year: go on pilgrimage as an “impetus to conversion”; do not judge or condemn but forgive and give, avoid gossip, envy and jealousy; have a heart open to the fringes of society and bring consolation, mercy and solidarity to people who live in precarious situations; take up the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy with joy; and observe the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, which encourages prayer and the sacrament of reconciliation, in every diocese during Lent. He also addresses confessors, encouraging them to be “authentic signs of the Father’s mercy.” And, during Lent of the Holy Year, the Pope says he will send out “Missionaries of Mercy”–priests to whom he will grant “the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See.” They will be “living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon,” he writes.

Thirdly, the Pope issues particular calls for justice and conversion, and to change our lives and to embrace God’s mercy. He also notes that both Judaism and Islam “consider mercy to be one of God’s most important attributes.” And he expresses “trust that this Jubilee… will foster an encounter” with these and other religions that will “open us to even more fervent dialogue” toward greater knowledge and understanding, “eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect and drive out every form of violence and discrimination.” He also recalls the relationship between justice and mercy as “two dimensions of a single reality that…culminates in the fullness of love.”“God does not deny justice,” he continues. “He rather envelopes it and surpasses it with an even greater event (mercy) in which we experience love as the foundation of true justice.”

As we prepare for this Holy Year, it is important to remember God’s mercy is his unfailing attitude and actions towards the least deserving, and especially the spiritually poor. Mercy never abandons us in the misery of our sins by pretending sin doesn’t matter. We may easily give up on each other and believe ourselves incapable of the call to holiness; but God never ceases to call us and to offer us his grace which is “the free and undeserved help that God gives to those who respond to his call” (CCC 1996). In the Gospel we see how Christ does not give up on Saint Thomas, despite all of his refusals to accept Divine mercy (Jn 20,19-31). Likewise, Our Lord will never cease to call each of us to rise again from wherever sin has brought us down.

Our Christian life begins with an act of mercy, an act of rescue in Baptism. And this work of rescue becomes the pattern of our life in Christ. Since our Christian lives are always lived at a crossroads, the Catechism describes: “There are two ways: the one of life, the other of death”’ (CCC 1696).  The Church always puts before us the distinction between the way of Christ leading to life and the false path which leads to death. However, God’s mercy does not abandon us even if we follow the lure of the false path. His mercy goes before us; it also follows us, as Saint Augustine taught. This call is compared in the Catechism to ‘Jesus’ look of infinite mercy’ that ‘drew tears of repentance from Peter’. It is this gaze of love that leads each of us through a process of ‘uninterrupted’ conversion as God makes our hearts new (CCC 1428-1432). The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation entrusted to the Church is the merciful means by which we continue to choose life and bring all of our unruly thoughts, words and actions into conformity with Christ. The Father of Mercies continues to rescue us and helps us in our thoughts, our words and our actions to the life of his Son, since it is only in this Divine life that we can ultimately find happiness.

 At the same time the Church teaches us how the gift of the Holy Spirit sets before us a well-established path so we may unite ourselves to Christ and follow this way of mercy: the path is called the ‘works of mercy.’ The works of mercy help us respond to the generous mercy of God. Many of us will have been taught them from our earliest years and we will return to them in the Holy Year ahead. The seven corporal works of mercy are: 1. Feed the hungry. 2. Give drink to the thirsty. 3. Clothe the naked. 4. Shelter the homeless. 5. Visit the sick. 6. Visit the imprisoned. 7. Bury the dead. And the seven spiritual works of mercy are: 1. Counsel the doubtful. 2. Instruct the ignorant. 3.Admonish sinners. 4. Comfort the afflicted. 5. Forgive offences. 6. Bear wrongs patiently.7. Pray for the living and the dead. These works mark-out the path by which we must each seek to be merciful ‘as our Father is merciful’ (Lk 6,36).

The Holy Father requested that every diocese in the world open a “Door of Mercy” to mark the Year of Mercy. A Holy Door (porta sancta in Latin) has been used since the 15th Century as a ritual expression of conversion. The Pilgrims pass through it as a gestures of leaving the past behind and crossing the threshold from sin, from slavery to freedom, and from darkness to light. In the words of Pope Francis, “There is only one way that opens wide the entrance into the life of communion with God: this is Jesus, the one and absolute way to salvation”. During Jubilee year, when pilgrims enter through those doors to gain the plenary indulgence connected with the Jubilee. I will open the Holy Door at St. Joseph’s Pro-Cathedral (13th Dec), the Church of the Queen of the Apostles at Kurji (20th Dec), The Church of the Visitation of BVM, at Patna City and the Shrine of Our Lady of Divine Grace at Mokama.

·         I encourage during the Year 2016, every parish to organize pilgrimages to the Shrine of Our Lady of Divine Grace at Mokama for Krus Veer, Youth, Parish Council, Mahila Sangh, Village groups, etc. Encourage them to take part in the Shrine feast in the beginning of February 2016.
·         Pilgrimages aloes could be undertaken to the parishes with the Holy Doors for special indulgences.
·         Please consider the possibility of an Adoration Chapel in the parish for the Adoration of the Eucharistic Lord. The Priests, Religious, and the Laity can spend time before the Lord.
·         4th March, 2016 will be a day of “24 Hours Adoration” in the parishes in the Archdiocese along with the Universal Church.
·         Reciting the Divine Rosary in the parishes either before or after the Holy Mass and in the family during the evening prayers.
·         Pope’s message on the Year of Mercy and the Pictures of Divine Mercy will be made available to the families.
·         I encourage all the parishes to organize parish retreat during the year 2016, with emphasis on God’ Mercy.

In this Jubilee Year, let us remember that God is slow to anger abundant in Mercy and Love (Ex 34,6). At times we may easily give up on each other and believe ourselves incapable of the call to holiness; but God never ceases to call us and to offer us his grace which is ‘the free and undeserved help that God gives to those who respond to his call. Let us echo the word of God that resounds strong and clear as a message and a sign of pardon, strength, aid, and love. May we never tire of extending mercy, and be ever patient in offering compassion and comfort. May we become the voice of every man and woman, and repeat confidently without end: “Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old” (Ps 25,6).

Yours in the Service of the Lord,

+William D’souza, S.J.
Archbishop of Patna