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    The Jubilee Year of Mercy comes to a close on Nov. 20, 2016.

    However, the Year of Mercy is not a "one and done" event. The Year of Mercy was set aside as a period of intense training intended to shape how we would live the rest of our lives. How can we live out mercy continually?

    During the Jubilee Year, Pope Francis appointed over 1,000 priests as "missionaries of mercy." Two of them reflect on their experience forgiving sins ordinarily reserved to the Holy See. 


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    A Holy Year for contemplating the face of mercy

    By David Gibson

    Catholic News Service

    A picture is worth a thousand words, or so they say. But for revealing what "mercy" truly entails, a picture may be worth many more words than that.

    For Pope Francis, mercy is meant to become visible. Because it must be put into action, mercy can be seen or heard or touched or tasted.

    The pope drew a little word picture of mercy Sept. 3 when he addressed an international gathering in Rome known as the Jubilee for Workers of Mercy and Volunteers, an important event in the church's Dec. 8, 2015, to Nov. 20, 2016, Year of Mercy.

    He viewed this event, which arrived on the eve of St. Teresa of Kolkata's canonization, as a good opportunity for a catechesis on mercy.

    Someone cries out for help in the picture Pope Francis drew, and someone offers a hand of assistance, hoping to make the "suffering person feel loved." This is mercy in action.

    "Your presence is the hand of Christ held out to all and reaching all," the pope told the workers of mercy. "You touch the flesh of Christ with your hands."

    He said, "You are crafters of mercy -- with your hands, with your eyes, with your hearing, with your closeness, by your touch."

    The Year of Mercy was entering its final phase when Pope Francis addressed this jubilee event. The entire Holy Year served as an invitation to "contemplate the face of mercy."

    Pope Francis said in "The Face of Mercy" ("Misericordiae Vultus"), his April 2015 proclamation of the Holy Year, that he hoped it would be a period "steeped in mercy so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God."

    He spoke of the "balm of mercy" as "a sign that the kingdom of God is already present in our midst." He wanted that balm to "reach everyone, both believers and those far away."

    God's mercy, Pope Francis explained, is "a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as that of a father or a mother moved to the very depths out of love for their child."

    It is hardly an exaggeration "to say that this is a 'visceral' love," he insisted. "It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy."

    Pope Francis emphasized that "everything in (Jesus) speaks of mercy," and "nothing in him is devoid of compassion." So "the signs (Jesus) works, especially in favor of sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the suffering, are all meant to teach mercy."

    Jesus "read the hearts of those he encountered and responded to their deepest need," said the pope. Moreover, Jesus affirmed that "mercy is not only an action of the Father" but "becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are."

    Pope Francis explored mercy's implications again and again in the days before and after his encounter with the workers of mercy.

    Today "there is great need for men and women who hear the cry of the poor and respond with mercy and generosity," he said Sept. 17 when he addressed graduates of Jesuit schools and universities participating in a conference on the refugee crisis.

    Extend a "warm human welcome" to refugees so that they will not experience the trauma of "sleeping cold on the streets." Bear in mind, too, that each refugee "has a name, a face and a story," he urged.

    In trying to act mercifully, Pope Francis added, "you are God's eyes, mouth, hands and heart in this world."

    With the Sept. 4 canonization in Rome of the 20th-century woman known universally as Mother Teresa, the Year of Mercy's purpose came into full view. The canonization distilled the essence of the Holy Year and communicated it to a global audience.

    Pope Francis hoped the new St. Teresa would "help us increasingly to understand that our only criterion for action is gratuitous love, free from every ideology and all obligations, offered freely to everyone without distinction of language, culture, race or religion."

    In every aspect of her life, Mother Teresa "was a generous dispenser of divine mercy," Pope Francis stressed in his canonization homily.

    She was committed to defending the unborn, and "she bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road."

    What's more, he said, "she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime -- the crimes! -- of poverty they created."

    Pope Francis viewed mercy as "the 'salt' that gave flavor" to Mother Teresa's work. Her "mission to the urban and existential peripheries remains for us today an eloquent witness to God's closeness to the poorest of the poor," he commented.

    Revisiting the image of mercy in action that he presented a day earlier to the workers for mercy, Pope Francis said that "wherever someone is reaching out, asking for a helping hand in order to get up, this is where our presence ' must be."

    (Gibson served on Catholic News Service's editorial staff for 37 years.)


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    Pope Francis' missionaries of mercy reflect on experience

    By Kurt Jensen

    Catholic News Service

    When Pope Francis commissioned his missionaries of mercy on Ash Wednesday, he reminded them, "Let us not forget: Before us is not a sin, but a contrite sinner."

    For Msgr. Joseph R. Reilly, rector/dean of Immaculate Conception Seminary School of Theology at Seton Hall University, the other words that stuck with him were, "I want people to know that this is how much God loves you."

    "There's power in that message," he reflects.

    Msgr. Reilly is one of 125 American priests among the 1,142 missionaries of mercy worldwide. They either volunteered or were nominated by their bishops; Msgr. Reilly was one of those surprised to find that he'd been nominated.

    For the Holy Year of Mercy, the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization sought priests who were assigned the task of being the embodiment of "the Father's welcome to all those in search of his forgiveness." During the past months, the missionaries have been visiting dioceses and hearing confessions.

    Msgr. Reilly had heard confessions as a parish priest in the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, but seminary rectors aren't allowed to hear confessions of seminarians, since it may interfere with their judgment on the fitness of new priests. "When I was younger, I wanted to be a missionary, but I found I didn't have the disposition for it," he said.

    During the past months, "I've learned really that mercy is something that touches every single person. It's so beautiful that mercy is able to touch the faith of every person."

    Msgr. Reilly found it empowering to be able to tell parishioners, "No one will be written off in God's plan."

    The missionaries have the authority to forgive four of the sins usually reserved to the Holy See, such as profaning the eucharistic species by keeping them for a sacrilegious purpose, assaulting the pope, the absolution of an accomplice in committing adultery and violating the seal of the confessional.

    "Common sins, right?" said Dominican Father Brian Mullady, another of the missionaries of mercy, with a chuckle. Father Mullady is an author and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. A self-described "itinerant preacher," he speaks at parish retreats, and had applied to be a missionary of mercy, since he knew it would assist his work.

    "I will tell you that some priests were concerned about whether they'd broken the (confessional) seal at some time in their lives, and wanted to be sure, and on occasion, I'd have a priest who would come in and request (absolution) for that."

    "It doesn't happen often, and I don't think these people did directly violate the seal, but you know, they do get very scrupulous about it and probably should be because it's an important thing. And so it helped me to give them some consolation, and tell them, don't worry about it."

    Both Msgr. Reilly and Father Mullady have felt a special grace with their new work.

    "Mercy's one of the core experiences that we all need," Msgr. Reilly says. "It's been really a wonderful gift to me to be able to learn that in a professional way. It's genuinely a part of who I am now. And I'm very grateful for it."

    "It's hard for me to explain, but many, many people are happy to meet someone who's been given this task," says Father Mullady. "And many people do believe (this) is a big honor. And it's special to people. It means a lot to people."

    Has it also meant seeing that many Catholics are returning to the sacrament of confession?

    "Yes," Father Mullady concludes. "That's very, very essential to it."

    (Jensen is a freelance writer.)


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    Making mercy a way of life

    By Daniel Mulhall

    Catholic News Service

    In the papal bull "Misericordiae Vultus" ("The Face of Mercy"), announcing and implementing the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis expressed the hope that on Nov. 20, 2016, when the Holy Year closes we will be so "steeped in mercy" that we can bring "the goodness and tenderness of God" to every man and woman so that they will know that God is with them ("Misericordiae Vultus," No. 5).

    Pope Francis wrote that he declared the Jubilee Year so that we would spend time contemplating and practicing "the mystery of mercy" so that we would become "more effective" signs of the Father's love (Nos. 2-3).

    It is important to remember, however, that the Year of Mercy is not a "one and done" event: We've focused on mercy for a year and now we are ready to move on to the next new theme.

    Instead, the Year of Mercy was declared to help us to understand just how essential God's mercy is to the Christian faith, and how living a life of mercy is essential to living that faith. The Year of Mercy was set aside as a period of intense training intended to shape how we will live the rest of our lives.

    The pope offered suggestions for things that we could do to make the most of the Year of Mercy. These same ideas can help us continue to focus on God's mercy once the Holy Year has ended.

    The first suggestion is to continue to reflect on God's merciful love for us. Pope Francis urges us to "contemplate the mystery of mercy" as a "wellspring of joy, serenity and peace. Our salvation depends on it" (No. 2). To practice contemplation, sit with an icon of Jesus ("the face of the Father's mercy") and think about the many ways God shows mercy for us, collectively and individually.

    How have you been blessed by God's abundant forgiveness and love? How does this shape you as a person and how you respond to others?

    Second, make mercy your "default" position. Try to understand others first through the eyes of mercy. Instead of judging people for their faults and failings, recognize them as people in need of mercy. This is especially true for those "living on the outermost fringes of society."

    During the Year of Mercy we practiced healing others with the "oil of consolation." Now we must continue to show mercy, solidarity and "vigilant care" for those in need: "Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help!" (No. 15).

    To do this we must practice patience and establish an attitude of gratitude. Certainly we will need to focus on living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, reading Scripture, making pilgrimages to holy places and frequently accessing the sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation. Only then might mercy become a way of life for us.

    (Daniel S. Mulhall is a catechist living in Louisville, Kentucky.)


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    Can using social media be considered a work of mercy? Throughout the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has used Twitter to spread the Gospel's message of mercy. Since the opening of the Jubilee Year, Dec. 8, not a month has passed without a tweet, or multiple, featuring the theme of mercy.

    On Dec. 29, the pope tweeted, "The mercy of God will always be greater than any sin," and the next day, "No one can put limits on God's love, for he is always ready to forgive."

    The pope's frequent advice on Twitter might be considered a creative spin on the spiritual works of mercy. For "counsel the doubtful," the pope's reminder on Feb. 17 -- "Celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy means learning how to not remain prisoners of the past. It means believing things can be different" -- might help those struggling with memories of past sins.

    His Aug. 28 tweet -- "An easy prayer to say every day: 'Lord, I am a sinner: Come with your mercy'" -- could fall under the "instruct the ignorant" work of mercy for the person inexperienced in prayer.

    One tweet emphasized that Pope Francis actually could be the recipient of our work of mercy -- "pray for the living"; on Mar. 13 he said simply, "Pray for me."

    As the Year of Mercy comes to a close, take a moment to reflect on how using social media can be a way to show and bring others to mercy.


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