By Bishop Edward J. Burns
We know that God so loved the world that he sent his only son. We are familiar with John 3:16 whereby the Evangelist tells us of God’s divine plan. It is yet another glimpse of God taking the initiative in showing his love and mercy by sending his only Son into the world for our salvation. In fact, the history of salvation starts with God taking the initiative when he entered the Garden of Eden in search of sinful Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3:8ff) This initiative of our God is a demonstration of his love for us and the desire to show us his mercy.
There is much joy in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is God’s gift of salvation for us. At the beginning of Luke’s Gospel we find the angel Gabriel proclaiming to Mary, “Rejoice!” (Luke 1:28) This past Sunday we saw that Mary’s visit to Elizabeth causes John the Baptist to leap in his mother’s womb for joy. (Luke 1:41) And in Mary’s response to all of this she says, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (Luke 1:47) In the same way, God’s gift of love and mercy rooted in Jesus Christ is cause for our rejoicing.
This past December 8 the Universal Church entered into a Jubilee Year of Mercy which our Holy Father, Pope Francis, convened for all the faithful. It is vital for us, especially during this Christmas season, to see Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God’s mercy.
In his homily for the opening of the Jubilee door of mercy at the Vatican, Pope Francis said: “The Virgin Mary was called to rejoice above all because of what the Lord accomplished in her. God’s grace enfolded her and made her worthy of becoming the Mother of Christ. When Gabriel entered her home, even the most profound and impenetrable of mysteries became for her a cause for joy, a cause for faith, a cause for abandonment to the message revealed to her. The fullness of grace can transform the human heart and enable it to do something so great as to change the course of human history.”
But to try to speak of God’s mercy in just one article is gravely insufficient. So too, it is impossible to gain the scope of God’s mercy in just one solemn day or celebration. That is why the Church celebrates and proclaims God’s mercy through the various liturgies and seasons of the year.
In the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska, we have designated two doors of mercy. On Sunday, December 13, I had the opportunity to bless and open the Jubilee door of mercy at the Shrine of Saint Therese. It is the door that is located in the bell tower and those who cross its threshold enter into a small room and encounter a beautiful icon of Christ painted by Deacon Charles Rohrbacher, beautifully framed and mounted by Jim Stey, along with an area well prepared with reading materials and information reflective of God’s mercy. I am grateful for Deacon Jeff and Lisa Volker for overseeing this project.
On Wednesday, December 16, I had the opportunity to bless and open the Jubilee door of mercy at Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Wrangell, Alaska. That door was prepared by our beloved Father Thomas Weise. The blessing of the door had originally been scheduled to take place on December 8, but with Fr. Thomas’ passing, the dedication of the door took place during his memorial Mass. It was never imagined that as he prepared that door for many to enter into God’s mercy leaving their old selves behind that we would be praying during the dedication to commend our beloved brother into the arms of God’s mercy. Fr. Thomas’ closing words in his last will and testament reads, “May God have mercy on my soul.”
The gift of mercy is a gift freely given to those who seek it. Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God’s mercy, is present for those who seek him. This Christmas season, we are mindful of the shepherds and the wise men who sought Jesus Christ, in order to pay him homage. In a special way, may we embark on the task of seeking out God’s mercy in our lives especially throughout this Jubilee Year of Mercy. In closing, may we in turn, through the grace of God, show mercy to all those we meet.
With prayers and best wishes for the New Year,
Bishop Edward J. Burns