Archbishop’s Remarks, Ottawa Conference & Event Centre
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Dear Friends of the Archdiocese of Ottawa
My dear friends of those who are in need:
The Catholic world is praying for a meeting now taking place in Rome. The Synod of Bishops will conclude its deliberations on Sunday. Its theme is “The vocation and mission of the family in the church and the modern world.”
We know the issues well: separation, divorce, and remarriage even among Catholic couples; legislative change in the definition of marriage in some countries to include “same-sex marriage” and adoption; the breakdown in family life, new structures in child-rearing, blended families, et cetera. We see the effects of this in our parishes and in our schools. Adults and children are grappling with their own unique family situations. Our hearts go out to those who face such difficulties.
You can appreciate, then, why in the Archdiocese, we have taken as our theme for this Pastoral Year 2015–2016, “The Family: Home of Love and Mercy.” Children, families, parents and grandparents, siblings, uncles, and aunts crave a hearth where they can find love, affirmation, and support. But because families are also places where hurts occur, misunderstandings take place, and disappointments are common, family members do not find what they deeply yearn for. We need to help the family to be the locus of mercy, of healing, of renewal, of transformation.
Humbly aware that God alone is perfect, we must safeguard each person’s dignity. Every child should know that his identity, his value, is in being God’s handiwork and the adopted son or daughter of God (Romans 8.15; Ephesians 1.5). We have to distinguish between identity and behaviour. Couples, cherish each other. Children, obey and honour your parents (cf. Ephesians 6.1-3). Parents, correct your children’s misbehaviour, but do not anger them; leave their identity intact (cf. Ephesians 6.4; Colossians 3.21). Be kind always. When behaviour leads to offence, we must forgive and seek forgiveness. That is mercy.
So, in the Archdiocese, we have chosen to link the family not only with love, but also with mercy. Pope Francis has invited us to celebrate a Jubilee Year of Mercy from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception—December 8th—this year, until the Feast of Christ the King, in late November 2016.
The Scripture text we have chosen to accompany our pastoral year theme is taken from an early sermon by Jesus. He urges his followers to “Be merciful as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6.36).
In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ address, Jesus phrases his command slightly differently, when he calls his disciples to love their enemies, “Be perfect, he says, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” After all, who else is there to love after one has loved the enemy? The motivation to be “perfect” in love or to be “merciful” is grounded in the Father’s perfect and merciful love. He gives without measure.
God causes rain to fall on the crops of the righteous and the unrighteous and his sun to rise on the fields of the evil and the good (Matthew 5.45), so that each may reap a plentiful harvest. Jesus proclaims that God is kind “to the ungrateful and the wicked” and that is why we, too, should be merciful.
We are designing a Holy Door of Mercy for Notre Dame Cathedral. It will give expression to our desire to receive God’s mercy towards us and to share it with others. I hope you will make a pilgrimage to pass through the Holy Door, beginning December 12, perhaps with members of your parish, religious community, prayer group, fellow Knights of Columbus, Filles d’Isabelle, friends in the Catholic Women’s League, or other associations.
In a pastoral letter, I will shortly invite each of the faithful of the Archdiocese of Ottawa to perform, sometime during the Year of Mercy, one spiritual work of mercy and one corporal work of mercy. I will encourage each Catholic to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation—to go to Confession—during the Year of Mercy.
Tasting God’s merciful love and forgiveness in the confessional or reconciliation room can be a great motivator for expressing mercy to others.
Performing the corporal works of mercy is frequently satisfying and gives us a sense of achievement. To feed the hungry and to give drink to the thirsty at the Hawkesbury Food Bank or St. Joseph’s Supper Table; to clothe the naked; to welcome the stranger; to shelter the homeless through the Catholic Centre for Immigrants, the St. Vincent de Paul Society, or Chez Mère Bruyère; to visit the sick and imprisoned; or to bury the dead through various outreach programs—all can touch us profoundly for the better. Compassion to others changes something in our hearts, in the core of our beings.
The spiritual works of mercy are less known and often harder to perform. They are: to instruct the ignorant; to counsel the doubtful; to admonish sinners; to bear wrongs patiently; to forgive offences willingly; to comfort the afflicted; to pray for the living and the dead. Yet these spiritual works of mercy often are very close to what is done through Kateri Native Ministries to support, heal and renew our aboriginal brothers and sisters or to what we do when we support the struggling parents of our young people, the children themselves, or our fellow workers, relatives, and friends.
One of the Pope’s many titles is the “Servant of the Servants of God.” Pope Francis continues to draw people to him. He humbles himself to go out to the margins. He meets and embraces those who are on the peripheries. He challenges us to do the same: go out to those who are hurting, lost, abandoned, or alienated, and bring them in. Serve them. Humbly remind them of their glorious identity in Christ. This is being a servant-leader.
The great Carmelite mystic and reformer St Teresa of Avila, whose feast was last Thursday, and the 5th centenary of whose birth we observe this year, wrote this prayerful reflection: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless His people.”
The life of a baptized Christian is not meant to be like a shooting star that lights up the world for a few minutes. We are to let our light shine forth every day. We care for our children. We get up and go to work, rendering service with enthusiasm, as to the Lord (Ephesians 6.7). We care for the needy whom God sets on our path. We share our means, our meals, our lives, and our love.
So, I leave you with this question. What can you do to be an example of merciful love and service, reflecting in some small way God’s love and mercy? Whom should you forgive? Of whom should you ask forgiveness? Who needs your kindness? If we seek them, God will provide us with opportunities to be merciful to others, as the heavenly Father has been and will be merciful to us.