As I write these words to you, we are experiencing the end of two long-term events: the presidential election and the Jubilee Year of Mercy. While the close of the Year of Mercy is bittersweet, the end of the election could not come soon enough. Yet the close proximity of these two closures offers us much food for thought and reflection. The Year of Mercy may have officially closed, but the election and its fallout are a powerful reminder that we must continue to give and show mercy. The day after our election here in the United States, Pope Francis published this message on Twitter: "May we make God's merciful love ever more evident in our world through dialogue, mutual acceptance and fraternal cooperation." While the pope did not direct his message to our country specifically, it would seem that he may have had us in mind. Let us take the pope's words to heart and put them into practice. May we continue to be bearers of mercy and hope as we work to heal divisions within our families and our country. Although this Year of Mercy has now ended, let us continue to live as joyful witnesses to and grateful recipients of God's immeasurable mercy.
It is fortuitous that our elections take place in the same month as the celebration of Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season. After experiencing the most fractious election many of us have ever witnessed, it is important for us to take time to consider the abundant blessings in our lives. Despite the challenges facing our nation, there truly is more that unites us than divides us. We must endeavor to look past our differences and seek to find the good in others. The holiday season reminds us of the uniting elements that carry us through challenging times - faith, family, friends, fellowship and, of course, festive food. Yet, as we celebrate with our loved ones and enjoy the bounty of the season, let us not forget those among us who may be lonely, hungry or homeless. The holiday season is a wonderful opportunity for us to continue the practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which we hopefully began (or rekindled) during this past Jubilee Year.
While the holiday season is always a joyous time, it can also be a stressful period as well. I want to take this opportunity to encourage us all to enter fully into the season of Advent. In our busy, modern times, the season of Advent is an increasingly valuable gift from the Church. This time of waiting and preparation reminds us of what is most important - the coming of the Christ Child to our world and to our hearts. As we prepare for His coming, I want to remind you of a diocesan program that will be in place again this Advent - The Light Is On For You. During this season of Advent, parishes will offer confession at accessible times in addition to the regularly scheduled times. I encourage you to check out our diocesan website where confession times will be listed by parish. Please take advantage of these additional opportunities to experience the Sacrament of Christ's mercy. Pope Francis reminds us that this season is a "great opportunity to cleanse the soul. If you have something dark in your soul, ask the Lord for forgiveness. Do not fear, the priest is merciful, forgiving all in the name of God, because God forgives everything" (Lighting the Christmas tree, Gubbio, Italy, Dec. 8, 2014). Let me take this opportunity to thank the priests of our diocese for making themselves available at these additional confession times. Thank you for being faithful ministers of God's love and mercy.
My prayer is that each of you and your loved ones will have a very blessed and merry Christmas. I pray that your celebration of Christ's birth will be marked by great joy and peace. I offer you this beautiful Christmas meditation, which was composed by St. John Paul II:
Together with you, O Virgin Mother, may we stop and reflect at the manger where the Child lies, to share your own amazement at the immense "condescension" of God. Grant us your own eyes, O Mary, that we may understand the mystery hidden within the frail limbs of your Son. Teach us to recognize his face in the children of every race and culture. Help us to be credible witnesses of his message of peace and love, so that the men and women of our own time, still torn by conflicts and unspeakable violence, may also recognize in the Child cradled in your arms the one Savior of the world, the endless source of that true peace for which every heart profoundly yearns (Urbi Et Orbi Message, Christmas 2002).
As we prepare for the start of the year 2017, may each of us commit to being "credible witnesses" to Christ's peace, love and mercy. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!