A Message from the Bishop – Christmas in the Jubilee of Mercy

This 17th-century painting titled "Adoration of the Shepherds" by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione depicts the birth of Christ. (CNS/Bridgeman Art Library)
This 17th-century painting titled “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione depicts the birth of Christ. (CNS/Bridgeman Art Library)

The letter of Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy), in which he declared this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy we are observing, begins, “By his words, his actions, his entire person” Jesus has revealed the Father’s Mercy. Jesus is “the face of the Father’s Mercy.” Since Christmas 2015 falls during this Year of Mercy, I suggest that as we gather around the Manger in our homes and churches to remember the Birth of the Lord, our prayer should be, “Lord, Have Mercy; Have Mercy on me, Lord; Have Mercy on our world.”

This Christmas season could not have come at a better time, just as the world needs to again be reminded of the peace and love of Jesus Christ. His birth is God’s gift to all. The Infant Jesus shows that it is neither might nor violence that will bring real peace, but rather the virtues of humility, trust and love which are seen in Him. These are the very virtues we seek to live out in our families, relationships, places of work, schools and parishes.

By all accounts, this has been a year in which our attention has been drawn to the senseless violence of humanity: San Bernardino, California; Charleston, South Carolina; Roseburg, Oregon. Unfortunately, we may have become immune to these and other less known events of violence in our country because of their frequency. These national disgraces are repeated in countries throughout the world. Despite the terror, hatred and violence that happens, a grace of the Christmas season is that we can be reenergized by our faith in Christ and embrace God’s love which became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.

As we pray for the Mercy of the Infant Jesus of Bethlehem, may we grow in wonder at His humanity. His likeness to us. He is one of us. This tiny, vulnerable, fragile, soft, dependent baby was truly a human person. He is a real infant who was born of a mother after nine months in her womb. He entered the world and lived in time. A person like us in all things but sin. Yet who is God and Lord, and who hears our plea for Mercy.

By His words, which are found in the four Gospels, the Lord taught Mercy. Perhaps during this Holy Year of Mercy you might read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Allow His words to be heard in your heart. Pay close attention to His words of Mercy such as those found in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses,” which mean “Have Mercy’; or those found in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the Merciful,” by which He teaches that we must practice mercy.

Other references to mercy are found in the Gospels such as in the parables of the lost sheep, the father with two sons and others. Jesus, the Word of God, spoke words of Mercy. May we do the same when we pray, “Lord, have mercy,” and may we practice the works of mercy which help to realize in our world the peace of which the choir of angels sang at His birth in Bethlehem.

By His actions toward and with others, the Lord showed that Mercy is to be lived. How the Lord dealt with people — especially the troubled, sinners, the poor, the sick, those considered outside the Law of Israel — should inspire us to imitate Him. Mercy is an action. It is what we do just as He did. The very Birth of the Lord in the flesh is a saving act of God’s Mercy. God could not but redeem the human race and God did so in a way that we could easily understand. He did it through one of us. The Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is an act of God’s Mercy.

His Birth was announced to shepherds in the fields to relieve their fears. “Fear not.” Too often this angelic invitation to turn away from fear is overshadowed by our popular media. How often do we hear warnings to be afraid of those who do not look like us, or believe like us, or were not born in the same communities as us? From these fears Jesus was born to free us. He showed us how to be merciful, to be Merciful like the Father.

“By his words, his actions, his entire person” God came close to us. Very close. Making it not difficult to be close to God. Closing the chasm, the distance between us and God. Between the natural and the supernatural. Between the human and the divine. Mercy is the bridge that God crosses to us and Mercy is the bridge that we cross to one another.

I pray that the closeness of God will touch you with the Mercy of God and bring Christ’s Mercy into your life, your home, our society and even our world. As you spend time during the holidays with family and friends, cultivate Jesus’ message of peace and good will to all. Each of us has the power that faith provides to stem the rising tide of fear by echoing in our lives the message of the Angels. Be not afraid.

My wishes and prayers for a Blessed Christmas and for a New Year during which all experience the gift of the Mercy of God. Lord, Have Mercy; Have Mercy on me, Lord; Have Mercy on our world.