Bishop DiMarzio’s Pastoral Letter
Year of Mercy 12/8/2015 – 11/20/2016
Since the Second Vatican Council, the Popes have never shied away from proclaiming the Doctrine of Mercy. Beginning with Pope John XXIII, who on October 11, 1962, during the opening address of the Second Vatican Council, said, “The Church prefers the medicine of Mercy rather than that of severity: ‘Today, however, Christ’s Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity. She believes that present needs are best served by explaining more fully the purport of her doctrines, rather than by publishing condemnations.’”
Pope Paul VI, who concluded the Second Vatican Council, spoke about mercy in his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nutiandi, Announcing the Gospel, on December 8, 1975, when he said, “This kingdom and this salvation, which are the key words of Jesus Christ’s evangelization, are available to every human being as grace and mercy, and yet at the same time each individual must gain them by force – they belong to the violent, says the Lord.”
Saint John Paul II, in his Encyclical, Rich in Mercy, Dives in Misericordia, makes it abundantly clear that the “Mercy of God is key to understanding our relationship to him.” He tells us that it is God who is rich in mercy. Jesus Christ reveals the Father to us, and as the Son, He manifests the Father and makes Him known to us.
Pope Benedict XVI, in an address to pilgrims in Rome in 2008 said, “Mercy is in reality the core of the Gospel message; it is the name of God himself, the face with which he reveals himself in the Old Testament and fully in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of creative and redemptive Love.”
And, finally, Pope Francis builds on the understanding of mercy explained by his predecessors in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Joy of the Gospel, published on November 24, 2013, when he tells us, “The salvation which God offers us is the work of his mercy.”
“The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel.”
And so we are the recipients of the great fundamental understanding of mercy. Cardinal Walter Kasper, the German Cardinal and theologian, in his book entitled, “Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life,” concludes that, “We must describe mercy as the fundamental attribute of Almighty God. For Mercy is not simply one among the divine attributes…rather Mercy is to be seen as the core and the center of all that God is.” In fact, he echoes the words of Benedict XVI.
The Jubilee Year: Feast of the Immaculate Conception 2015
to the Feast of Christ the King 2016
In the announcement of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy in his document entitled, The Face of Mercy Who is Jesus Christ, Pope Francis reminds us that mercy and justice are not equal weights on the scale of justice. No, mercy takes precedence.
Pope Francis quotes the words of St. Thomas Aquinas when he said, “…Show that God’s mercy rather than a sign of weakness is the mark of His omnipotence.”
The motto of Our Holy Father, Miserando atque eligendo, By having mercy and by choosing him, is the description of the call of St. Matthew in the Gospel. Jesus has mercy on him and calls him to follow Him.
Mercy for us is something difficult to understand. The parables of mercy we find in the Gospel of Luke give us the best understanding of the Father’s mercy. The parable of the Prodigal Son, illustrated by the great painter Rembrandt, is a good explanation of the parable and how to understand this remarkable teaching of Jesus. In Rembrandt’s painting, we see a father with a son kneeling before him, the son with one sandal on and one sandal off. The father’s face is full of joy. There are, however, three other figures in the painting. The older brother, who stands grim in judgment, obviously is not happy about the forgiveness shown to the Prodigal Son. Also, there is the servant who is awaiting his master’s order to prepare a feast for the Prodigal Son. In the distance, and not clearly seen, is a woman, most probably the mother of the Prodigal Son, urging her husband to show mercy to her child. There is another way of understanding this portrait of mercy; that woman can be interpreted to be the Mother of God, the Mother of Mercy, Mary, our Heavenly Mother, who always looks to those who need mercy.
In fact, almost all of the icons that picture Mary holding her child, Jesus, have her looking to the left, not only to her child, but also to the sinners on the left as is told to us in the scene of the Last Judgment: the goats on the left, the sheep on the right. Yes, the Mother of Mercy is so much a part of making the Church truly a Mother.
On a personal note, my own Episcopal Motto is Behold Your Mother, which are the words of Jesus on the cross to St. John regarding His Mother, Mary. With the deeper meaning, it is the Church who is our mother to whom we come to find God’s love and mercy; the merciful love of a caring mother and a forgiving father.
God constantly reaches out to us to show us His mercy. We hear Jesus telling us that it is mercy, not sacrifice, that He wishes, and thus show to others mercy. The Parable of the Good Samaritan perhaps demonstrates this so well for us. The one who showed the stranger mercy is the Samaritan, the hero, of the parable. And so it is for us to show mercy at all times. It makes us reflect on the image of God’s love to us.
Certainly, it is worth reading the document of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, Misericordiae Voltus, The Face of Mercy, which proclaims the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, as it contains so much for our consideration. (http://www.iubilaeummisericordiae.va/content/gdm/en/giubileo/bolla.html)
The Celebration in Our Diocese
I wish to explain how we will celebrate the Jubilee of Mercy in our own Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens and what special events will mark our own celebration. (www.dioceseofbrooklyn.org/yearofmercy)
First, there will be the blessing of the Holy Doors in six churches of our Diocese; the Cathedral Basilica of St. James, the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph and two additional churches in Brooklyn, as well as two Churches in Queens. This will occur on Sunday, December 13, 2015, the Third Sunday of Advent at:
- Cathedral-Basilica of St. James, Brooklyn – Bishop Witold Mroziewski – 11 a.m. Mass
- Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, Brooklyn, where I will celebrate the 10:30 a.m. Spanish Mass
- St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Flatlands, Bishop Raymond Chappetto – 11:30 a.m. Mass
- Regina Pacis Basilica, Bensonhurst, Bishop James Massa – Noon Mass
- Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, Astoria, Bishop Octavio Cisneros – 5 p.m. Mass
- St. Gerard Majella Shrine Church, Hollis, Bishop Paul Sanchez – 11:30 a.m. Mass
The Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is open only in Jubilee Years. It was a custom that was begun by Pope Martin V in 1423, when graces were accorded to those who made a pilgrimage to Rome. Holy Doors have been designated in our own Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, which will be for us the special locations mentioned above where indulgences can be obtained.
What is an indulgence? An indulgence presupposes conversion, a seeking of mercy and forgiveness. Pope Francis, in his proclamation, tells us, “To gain an indulgence is to experience the holiness of the Church, who bestows upon all the fruits of Christ’s redemption, so that God’s love and forgiveness may extend everywhere. Let us live this Jubilee intensely, begging the Father to forgive our sins and to bathe us in His merciful ‘indulgence.’”
An indulgence reminds us that if we have not in our life performed the penance necessary to alleviate the time that we might await God’s presence fully after our death, then that time can be shortened because of the penances and the indulgences we gained here on Earth.
Yes, the Father does indulge us. He showers us with mercy and forgiveness. Take the opportunity during this Jubilee of Mercy to become people who are converted and changed; changed in attitude and action, more merciful towards others, more willing to ask for God’s mercy.
Indulgences are not paid for, nor are they a magical remission of the suffering due our sins. They are, however, a clear sign of God’s love whose justice is always marked by overindulgence. Can we forget Shakespeare’s wonderful line from The Merchant of Venice, “The quality of mercy is not strained.”
In many ways, God, through His Church, offers to us many opportunities to seek forgiveness. First, by interior conversion, and then also by the exterior confession of our sins to a priest as is our long-standing tradition in the Church. I am asking each parish to offer one additional hour for confessions each week. Also, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has asked that Bishops participate in Penance Services for the faithful. My own custom has been to attend a Penance Service in Advent and hear confessions on Reconciliation Monday during Lent. During this Jubilee of Mercy, I will find other opportunities to personally hear the confessions of the faithful of Brooklyn and Queens, and will ask the Auxiliary Bishops of the Diocese to also make themselves available to the parishes for confessions.
We cannot forget that all of the sacraments are means of obtaining God’s Mercy, not only the sacrament of reconciliation. Clearly, the Eucharist is so important to our lives as Catholic Christians. Unfortunately, in the last few years, we have seen that the number of people who attend Sunday Mass regularly has fallen. Instead of weekly attendance at the Eucharist, people sometimes attend Sunday Mass only once or twice a month.
Perhaps we can encourage the faithful to understand the great treasure which is the Eucharist, and to come more frequently to receive the grace and mercy that is available to us in the Eucharist which is the divine medicine for our souls.
This coming Lent is a special one in the life of the Church, as “a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy (Par. 17, Misericordiae Vultus). Pope Francis has asked that on the Friday and Saturday of the Fourth Week of Lent we undertake an initiative called, 24-Hours for the Lord. Throughout the course of the Year of Mercy during the months of March, April, May, June, October and November, 24-hour Eucharistic Adoration will be celebrated on the First Friday of these months in a designated church. More information and details regarding this adoration will be forthcoming.
A Holy Year is a special call to pilgrimages. Man has often been called homo viator, or the person who travels. Pilgrimages are an ancient means of encounter with the living God. Pilgrimages are found in the traditions of many religions and are a way of leaving the ordinary circumstances of life to find places where we can encounter the grace and mercy of God. There are many places of pilgrimage in our own diocese and country. Pilgrimages do not have to be long in distance or duration. Take some time to be with the Merciful God.
The doors of these specially designated churches are thresholds that remind us all that we are a Pilgrim People who together journey to the embrace of God for all eternity. Throughout the ages, Christians have taken part in pilgrimages which unite us on Earth but also foreshadow our destination of heaven. I encourage pilgrimages to be carried out by individuals, families and parishes to the six designated churches in our diocese.
From July 25 to July 31, 2016, World Youth Day will be held in Krakow, Poland. Auxiliary Bishops Witold Mroziewski and Octavio Cisneros and I will join youth from Brooklyn and Queens on this pilgrimage.
In September of 2016, I will lead a diocesan pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome, and the Holy Land to follow where the Merciful Redeemer was incarnate and where, through Mother Church, He still dispenses grace and mercy.
This year’s pilgrimage to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, on Saturday, October 25, 2016, will also have a special character as together we go to ask the intercession and guidance of the Mother of Mercy.
Lastly, the diocese will sponsor a pilgrimage, the date of which is yet to be determined, to the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., where through the intercession and experience of St. Faustina, the Gospel of Mercy has come to so many hearts. Indulgences may be obtained on all of these pilgrimages.
Other Means of Observance
On Sunday, December 27, 2015, Holy Family Sunday during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we will begin the second year of our three-year Diocesan Evangelization and Renewal Springboard Plan entitled The Joy of Encountering Christ: The Family’s Hope. You can read the entire plan, including the six goals, on our Diocesan Website at www.dioceseofbrooklyn.org.
The eight catechetical themes of the Jubilee of Mercy and the events which we have planned here in the Diocese of Brooklyn relating to our Springboard Plan are defined and organized to assist parishes, families, and individuals to grow in faith and to assist in encountering Christ more authentically. The eight catechetical themes are:
- Celebrating Mercy
- Psalms of Mercy
- Parables of Mercy
- Mercy in the Fathers
- Saints in Mercy
- Mercy in the Pope’s Teaching
- Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy
- Confession: The Sacrament of Mercy
Although each of our School of Evangelization events and opportunities will develop the themes of the Jubilee of Mercy, one major event stands out. As the catechetical centerpiece for the Jubilee of Mercy, the Annual Evangelization Congress will be held on Saturday, January 30, 2016, at the Immaculate Conception Center, Douglaston, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. A snow date will be announced soon. Last year, over 500 people attended the Congress, and we expect many more this year. The theme, Celebrating Mercy, will be presented in a variety of workshops. Mass will be celebrated, and exhibitors will be present to display materials. A light breakfast and lunch will be served as well. I encourage each of you to attend and gain wonderful insights that can be shared with others.
Please go to www.meetmein.church and www.dioceseofbrooklyn.org/yearofmercy (Get Involved In Your Faith) to register for events, courses, and other opportunities for lifelong formation. Workshops will be offered in English, Spanish, Creole, Polish and Mandarin.
Also during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we will begin a three-year process of spiritual renewal through small groups called ARISE. It will be offered by our parishes in English, Spanish, and Creole and, perhaps, other languages as well. Sponsored by RENEW International throughout the United States and the world, ARISE is arranged in five seasons during the next three years, with six sessions for each season. More information will be provided shortly. Already, 20 pastors have committed their parishes to this initiative during the first round of Information Sessions. Please consider joining a small faith sharing group when the opportunity presents itself.
A Tribute to Mercy
There is another area which comes to our attention during this Year of Mercy; namely, the Marriage Tribunal of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Our Holy Father has already issued a decree, trying to facilitate the declaration of nullity for marriages by shortening the period for those who are able to prove with solid grounds the invalidity of their marriages.
An annulment is never to be considered divorce. In fact, civil divorces must take place before any annulment can be obtained. An annulment declares that the marriage never received sacramental status for Catholics or valid status for non-Catholics, because something was lacking in the consent or the attitude of one or both of the partners.
The indissolubility of marriage has been reaffirmed by the recent Synod on the Family, but at the same time it recognized that many people who are divorced and remarried wish to participate in the life of the Church but think themselves outside of God’s mercy and forgiveness. The Diocesan Tribunal makes every effort to streamline its processes and, as always, makes an annulment available at a minimal charge, or at no charge for those who are not able to give a donation for the administrative work involved.
The Works of Mercy
The Jubilee Year, this Year of Mercy, reminds us that we must be active in showing mercy. Many of us learned in our Baltimore Catechism about the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy and how important they are to the lives of Christians.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, and comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently.
The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses of fraternal charity. It is also a work of justice pleasing to God.”
During the Jubilee of Mercy, I am proposing that we take up a special collection for assisting the refugees of the Middle East and Africa, who are presenting a challenge to relief organizations. It might even be possible before the Jubilee of Mercy ends to sponsor refugee families in the parishes of our Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens.
The current fearmongering regarding security concerns notwithstanding, I personally know, as the former resettlement director for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, that the security checks given to refugee families is more than sufficient to protect our Nation against terrorist infiltration.
There are many other practical ways to fulfill what we know to be the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Looking for ways to do so during this year will enable us to show mercy to others.
A Holy Year, this extraordinary Year of Mercy, offers us an opportunity to put out into the deep recesses of God’s mercy. It is beyond our imagining the love that God has for us, which He shows us in His mercy. During this Year of Mercy, we are called to recognize the Merciful Father as our own and to share that good news with others.