Bishop Francis Duffy’s pastoral letter for The Holy Year of Mercy: ‘Merciful like the Father’ (motto)

19 Feb 2016

“I invite individuals, families, class groups and parishes to make a pilgrimage, a special journey, to one of our Holy Doors in the diocese” – Bishop Duffy

On Saint Patrick’s Day 2013 Pope Francis spoke of mercy and said ‘Let us not forget this word: God never tires of forgiving us, never!’ God’s mercy is a central theme for Pope Francis and that is why he has introduced a special Holy Year of Mercy. In the Catholic Church a Holy Year takes place every twenty-five years; occasionally special Jubilee Years take place and this Jubilee of Mercy is one of those special times.

We don’t use the word mercy that much in everyday speech. We speak of ‘mercy’ at Mass – ‘Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy’ and ‘Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us’. We tend to use words like compassion, kindness, understanding, reassurance, consolation and forgiveness to capture some of the meaning of mercy. Mercy is about attitudes and actions that are life enhancing; mercy can help us have a rich and warm relationship with God and our neighbour.

If we want to know what mercy means we look at Jesus Christ. In his letter introducing the Holy Year of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus (MV), Pope Francis wrote ‘Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy … Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him.’ It’s worth looking at Jesus’ mercy in action. The prodigal son felt guilty and unworthy because he had let his father down. The father’s welcome was unrestrained because his son was lost to him but had returned. God’s welcome for us when we return knows no bounds. God’s mercy is always forgiving, supportive and encouraging. God never gives up on us; like the good shepherd he searches and he is patient with us. In Jesus we see real mercy. As Pope Francis puts it ‘the mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as of that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child.’ (MV 6). It is not about being sentimental and it does not undermine justice. Mercy is demanding because it flows from a deep seated love of God and of humanity.

Pope Francis writes that mercy is the ‘beating heart of the Gospel’. (MV 12). Like a heart, mercy is life giving and it is also liberating. Pope Francis urges us this year to look again and rediscover the traditional corporal and spiritual works of mercy because they are practical expressions of our love of neighbour. The Corporal Works of Mercy are: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting those in prison, comforting the sick and burying the dead. The Spiritual Works of Mercy are: advising sinners, instructing the uninformed, counselling the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, being patient with those in error, forgiving offences, praying for the living and the dead. The Holy Year of Mercy is an opportunity for us to reflect on how we allow God’s love for us and his mercy towards us have an impact on how we live. It is also an opportunity to give thanks that many people are merciful in our communities and in our world.

Part of the tradition of a Holy Year is the Holy Door; it is a symbol of welcome. Up until now the Holy Door was confined to Rome but this year Holy Doors of Mercy are opened in cathedrals and churches all over the world. In this Holy Year our diocese will have two Holy Doors of Mercy: one at Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford and another at Saint Mary’s Church in Athlone. I invite individuals, families, class groups and parishes to make a pilgrimage, a special journey, to one of our Holy Doors. Our pilgrimage to a Holy Door is a sign of our willingness to allow God’s merciful love flow into, and through, our lives.

During the Holy Year of Mercy we are invited to make two journeys: the journey inward to recognise and reinvigorate our merciful attitudes, and the journey outward to allow these merciful attitudes continue to make a positive difference to people we encounter. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is at the centre of God’s mercy. Sin impacts on how we think and on how we act; it can imprison us and distance us from God and our neighbour. But the mercy of God is stronger than sin. During this Holy Year of Mercy I encourage our priests and Parish Pastoral Councils to provide opportunities for people to participate in the Year of Mercy.

Pope Francis has announced an indulgence associated with the Holy Year of Mercy. Because God loves us He indulges us, He listens to us and gives us great reassurance of His mercy. Those who wish to gain an indulgence may do so by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Door at Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford or Saint Mary’s Church, Athlone, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist and praying for the intentions of the Holy Father.

During this Holy Year of Mercy information on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, pilgrimage, indulgences and mercy will be made available in churches and on the diocesan website and on the Holy Year of Mercy website

+Francis Duffy
Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois

· Bishop Francis Duffy is Bishop of Ardagh and Clonmacnois. The Holy Year of Mercy takes place from 8 December 2015 until 20 November 2016

For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678