ADDRESS FOR THE LAUNCH OF THE CELEBRATIONS OF THE 125TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE CATHOLIC MISSION IN ACCRA ON THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2017, AT THE HOLY SPIRIT CATHEDRAL, ADABRAKA, ACCRA.
O Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
For his great love is without end.
Let the House of Israel say it:
‘His love is without end!’
Let the House of Aaron say it:
‘His love is without end!’” (Ps: 118:1-3).
And now, let the Archdiocese of Accra say it: His love is indeed without end!
- Greetings and Welcome: My dearly beloved sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus, all you of the Archdiocese of Accra, nearly five years ago, precisely on November 24, 2013, on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, it was with these words of the Psalmist that I joyfully began and pronounced the official closing of the year-long celebrations of our 120th Anniversary of the Catholic Mission in Accra, at the Black Star Square in Accra, and I inaugurated with great hope and expectation the 125th Anniversary celebrations for 2018.
Surely, we all thought, well, let us see when that will be! Today, thanks to the unfathomable graces of God, here we are at the launch of the celebrations of the 125th Anniversary of the Catholic Mission in Accra.
Without any doubt, you and I can once again borrow from the Psalmist that beautiful hymn of the Jewish Pilgrim to Jerusalem which says: “I rejoiced when I heard them say, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’. And now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!” (Ps. 122:1-2.)
Yes, five or so years ago, we set off on this spiritual pilgrimage, a journey of preparation (individually, communally, parochially, and archdiocesan), and now our feet are truly standing on the threshold of the gates of our Jerusalem; our 125th Anniversary Jubilee celebrations. Yes, let the house of the Archdiocese of Accra say: God’s love is indeed without end!
I am happy to welcome you one and all to this event. Permit me to repeat ditto-ditto parts of my address at the launch some five years ago of the 120th Anniversary celebrations which took place here on July 02, 2013. I am saying this lest I be accused of plaigiarism of my own earlier address. I will give a short historical panorama, then I will highlight some of the events lined up for this Jubilee celebration, and I will end with some exhortation to you all.
Our 125th Anniversary celebrations will start on Saturday, December 02, 2017, and close on Sunday, November 25, 2018, on the Solemnity of Christ the King with Holy Mass to climax it all again at the Black Star Square in Accra, God willing. Again, this will be a year-long celebration throughout the entire length and breadth of the Catholic Archdiocese of Accra.
- A short historical panorama: For your information, the Catholic Church in Accra began with the first Holy Mass on the soil of Accra on January 31, 1893, by Rev. Frs. Otto Hilberer and Eugene Raes, two priests of the Society of African Missions (SMA) who were sent from the Elmina Mission that had started in 1880.
In the same 1893, the first Catholic Baptism in Accra took place of Mr. Louis James Buckle on May 25, and the first Holy Matrimony was celebrated between Herbert Cheetam and Rose Mary Quaye on August 12, 1894. However, in 1895, the Accra Catholic Mission had to be closed down for Frs. Hilberer and Raes to return to Elmina to take up priestly duty there as a result of the successive deaths of their SMA confreres in that Mission due to tropical illnesses of malaria and yellow fever. The Catholic community of Accra was, therefore, left in the care of a Church committee led by Messrs Andoh, Brown and Yankah.
It was only in 1924 that Rev. Fr. Joseph Stauffer SMA was posted to Accra, and he purchased an old cocoa shed situated on the Derby Avenue, which he later refurbished and turned into a chapel that was dedicated in 1925 as the Sacred Heart Church (of today), the premier Church and parish of Accra.
The SMA Fathers ministered to the growing Catholic community here until 1939 when they handed over the then Eastern Province of the Gold Coast colony to the Society of the Divine Word Missionaries (SVD). Rev. Fr. Adoph A. Noser SVD became the first Superior of the Accra Mission.
In 1947, Fr. Noser was appointed the first Bishop of Accra, and on February 08, 1953, he laid the cornerstone of this magnificent Holy Spirit Cathedral. In the same year, Bishop Noser was transferred to Papua New Guinea to be the Archbishop of Alexishaven. He was succeeded as Bishop of Accra by Rev. Fr. Joseph Oliver Bowers SVD, JCL., an African-Caribbean from the Commonwealth of Dominica, who became the first black bishop of the Gold Coast.
After three decades of solid, foundational missionary work here, in 1971, Bishop Bowers was transferred to the West Indies, his hometown, and he was succeeded by the first Ghanaian Bishop of Accra that same year, in the person of the Most Rev. Dominic Kodwo Andoh DD., JCD, my predecessor. It was during Bishop Andoh’s episcopacy that the Catholic Diocese of Accra was elevated to the status of a Metropolitan See in 1992, and the Catholic Diocese of Koforidua was created by Pope (now St.) John Paul II. Archbishop Andoh, the first Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra, led this Archdiocese to celebrate the Centenary of the Catholic Church in Accra in 1993, and he retired in 2005. The rest is recent history!
(Now, since the mortal remains of my two predecessors, Bishop Bowers and Archbishop Andoh, lie here in this Cathedral, let us rise and observe a moment of silence in prayer for the repose of their souls; one day, may they be counted officially among the saints of the Church as our patrons! *** Eternal Rest grant unto them o Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them! May they rest in peace! Amen! Let us sit!)
- Theme and programmes for the Jubilee: The chosen theme of this Jubilee is “125 Years of Catholic Mission in Accra: Renewing our commitment to Evangelization”. It was inspired by the theme of the Second Synod of our Archdiocese celebrated in February 2009. To refresh our minds, the theme of the Synod was: “Renewing the Church and fulfilling our Vocation and Mission in the Catholic Archdiocese of Accra in preparation for its 125th Anniversary”.
Here in my hand is a copy of the Acts of that Synod, and, for the past ten years almost, we have been implementing the recommendations that were given for the strategic development of our Archdiocese, spiritual, financial, material and institutional. Sometime during these Jubilee celebrations, I believe, we shall have to have an Archdiocesan Pastoral Congress in order to give account of the state of the Catholic Archdiocese of Accra to you, my dear People of God.
Again, for your information, after a lot of reflection and evaluation of our 120th Anniversary celebrations and our preparations towards this Jubilee, we decided to declare as our official Archdiocesan Slogan: “Arise Catholic Faithful! Rejoice and Renew!”
It was also decided to maintain as our Archdiocesan Logo a slightly modified version of the 120th Anniversary Logo. This will from now onwards be the official logo for the Archdiocese of Accra until another decision is made in the future.
My dear brothers and sisters, my dear priests and religious, here is a copy of the 125th Anniversary programme of activities! The celebrations should involve all Catholics of the Archdiocese in all our outstations and parish communities, in all our Church societies and pious associations, our apostolates and ministries. We are going to have celebrations on deanery as well as on Archdiocesan levels, of course. Parishes and deaneries are to put in place their own local organizing committees to work hand in hand with the Archdiocesan 125th Anniversary Celebrations Committee.
The year’s programmed activities aim at the three goals indispensable to the mission of the New Evangelization; they are to foster and deepen
- the spiritual growth in Christ (see Eph. 4:13) and the development of all our Catholics, children and youth, men and women, priests and religious, etc.;
- the correct knowledge and intellectual appreciation of the Catholic faith and doctrines (see Hos. 4:6);
- the spirit of fellowship and communion among the Church members, Church societies, parishes and in the Archdiocese, as well as with the universal Church (see Acts. 2:42-47).
Some of the programme highlights are:
- Monthly Focus of Archdiocesan intentions for prayer and talks in parishes/outstations/rectorates and to be included in the various society programmes;
- the Archdiocesan Opening Ceremony on Saturday, December 02, 2017; Deaneries are to organize Rosary Pilgrimages and Processions from vantage points to the Holy Spirit Cathedral, Accra, for the First Advent Vespers. This is to replace the usual monthly Marian pilgrimages to the Grottos;
- The Official Parish Opening of the 125th Anniversary Celebrations on Sunday, December 03, 2017 in every parish/outstation/rectorate of the Archdiocese;
- The whole of the month of December should focus on Children as God’s gift to the Archdiocese;
- Saturday, December 30, 2017, Archdiocesan Carnival at the El Wak Stadium to showcase the cosmopolitan nature and cultural diversity of our Archdiocese with very colourful ethnic pageantry and cultural display. Come, one and all! Let us have fun;
- The next event of importance is the Commemoration of 125th Anniversary of the First Holy Mass in Accra scheduled for Wednesday, January 31, 2018, at 14.00 GMT to take place where the SMA missionaries first celebrated Holy Mass on the soil of Accra. We are hoping to celebrate the Holy Mass in Latin, and follow that with a candle light procession with the Blessed Sacrament through James Town to the Sacred Heart Church on the Derby Avenue, Accra.
Two other very important events in the year ahead of us are:
- the completion of the Restoration of our Cathedral,
- and the 125th Anniversary Jubilee Lectures in Accra and Tema Metropolises.
The rest are in this brochure for you to keep and observe. They will be communicated to you in the various parishes, outstations and rectorates.
- Conclusion: Yes, my dearly beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, my dear Religious Sisters and Brothers, and dear brother priests and co-shepherds, our friends of the Media, print and electronic, let me conclude again with the Psalm that I started:
O Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
For his great love is without end.
Let the House of Israel say it:
‘His love is without end!’
Let the House of Aaron say it:
‘His love is without end!’” (Ps: 118:1-3).
And now, let the Archdiocese of Accra say it: His love is indeed without end!
Yes, indeed, the Lord our God has been good to us in the Catholic Mission of Accra. In the last 125 years, He has blessed us and we have grown from a mission station into the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Accra, the Catholic Diocese of Koforidua, and the Apostolic Vicariate of Donkorkrom. We cannot enumerate the number of the Churches and chapels, educational facilities, from first cycle through secondary, vocational and technical to tertiary, hospitals, clinics and other health-care delivery as well as the many social services institutions, etc.
Yes, here and now, our feet are standing within the gates of our Jerusalem, on the threshold of the 125th Anniversary Celebrations of the Catholic Mission in Accra. It is our hope and prayer that we will complete this year-long celebration under the maternal protection and solicitude of Mary the Immaculate Heart, Patron of our Archdiocese, whom we have been celebrating as Our Lady of Fatima in this Centenary Year.
My dear People of God, it is with the utmost sense of humility and gratitude that I now declare officially launched the celebrations of the 125th Anniversary of the Catholic Mission of Accra, in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit! Amen.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!
St. Peter Claver, pray for us!
St. Martin de Porres, pray for us!
All you Holy Martyrs of Uganda, pray for us!
And may St. Matthew on whose feast day we launch our 125th Anniversary Celebrations intercede for us!
Arise Catholic Faithful! Rejoice and Renew!
“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen!”(Eph. 3:20-21).
Most Rev. Charles G. PALMER-BUCKLE,
Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra.
PRIESTLY ORDINATIONS FOR THE CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE OF ACCRA ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 26, 2017.
- Sermon: “The Eucharist and the New Evangelization”, Mary, Our Lady of Fatima and the Holy Priesthood are some of the various thoughts that come to my mind for today’s Ordination sermon.
SERMON FOR THE INSTALLATION OF
MOST REVEREND GABRIEL EDOE KUMORDJI, SVD.,
AT CHRIST THE KING CATHEDRAL, AKATSI
ON SATURDAY, MAY 13, 2017.
- Greetings and Gratitude: “At the favourable time, I have listened to you; on the day of salvation I came to your help. Well, now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation”.
CIBT SOON TO OFFER BSc. PHYSICIAN ASSISTANTSHIP
The Catholic Institute of Business and Technology (CIBT) will soon begin admissions for BSc. Physician Assistantship. The new programme will be affiliated to the University of Cape Coast (UCC). Watch out for admission forms soon.
Meanwhile, there are admission forms ready for the ff. Programmes:
(NB: Admission forms cost only GHC 50)
- BSc. in Business Administration (Univ. of Ghana)
- BSc. in Public Administration (Univ. of Ghana)
- BSc. in Computer Science (Univ. of Ghana)
- B.A. in Religious Studies and Church Administration (Univ. of Ghana)
- BSc. in Information Technology (KNUST)
- MBA in Global Entrepreneurship (Cath. Univ. of Sacred Heart, Milan, Italy)
Get Admission Forms from the CIBT Administration Block (located behind Ministry of Information and Adjacent to the GNAT Hall, Adabraka – Accra). You can also download the forms from our website www.cibt.ghana.net
For any further information
Call: 0208241315 / 0205 4955 89 / 0307-033-547.
HOMILY FOR HOLY MASS OF CHRISM 2017 IN THE YEAR OF GHANA @ 60.
- Sermon: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pt. 2:9).
My dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, I chose this text from the First Letter of St. Peter, because it spells out the very import of the celebration of the Mass of Holy Chrism.
STATEMENT OF THE GHANA CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE TO CONDEMN ASSAULT ON THE KUMASI CIRCUIT COURT
The Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference has noted with dismay the disregard for the rule of law exhibited by the Vigilante Group “Delta Force” at the Kumasi Metropolitan Assembly Circuit Court on Thursday, April 6, 2017.We, the Catholic Bishops, hereby condemn in no uncertain terms the incident of raiding the said court and will like to call on all and sundry to do same. Such acts of wanton disregard for the legitimate work of state institutions and state officials only go to discredit the hard-won democratic credentials of our beloved country.
The Conference, however, will like to commend the Minister of the Interior and the Inspector General of Police for their prompt response to the Kumasi incident. We equally acknowledge their commitment to deal with any person or group that breaks the law irrespective of their political affiliation and urge them not to relent in their efforts to bring the perpetrators to book. This, we believe, will serve as a deterrent to the public and send a clear signal to such other “vigilante groups” who believe they can act with impunity and vicious disrespect for legitimate authority.
We call on the constitutionally recognized security agencies and institutions of our country to enforce, without fear or favour, the laws of the land and ensure the safety of life and property of all Ghanaians. We hope the security agencies will intensify their work of intelligence gathering in order to act promptly to avert such incidents in the future.
We also call on all Ghanaians to be law abiding and never take for granted the peace and stability we have enjoyed and continue to enjoy. Ghana remains the motherland of all Ghanaians and a haven for many peace-loving people; let us all, therefore, work together as leaders and citizens to safeguard and sustain the peace, freedom and stability of our dear motherland.
Issued on this 10th day of April, 2017 at the National Catholic Secretariat, Accra
Most Rev. Philip Naameh Archbishop of Tamale &
President, Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference
EASTER MESSAGE FROM THE GHANA CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE, (GCBC). APRIL, 2017.
Peace be with you!
Dear people of God, it is with exceeding joy that we, members of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference, (GCBC), greet you with the words of the Risen Christ, the same words which he pronounced when he first appeared to his disciples on the evening of Resurrection Sunday. The passage of scripture which recounts this encounter, John20:19-29 captures, in our humble estimation, the spirit of the Easter Season and provides the basis for profound reflection for the individual Christian, for the Church and indeed for the nation.
The greeting “Peace be with you”, was pronounced three times by the Risen Christ in the passage just referred to. Each time Jesus greeted them with these words he sought to reassure the disciples who were faced with a particular threat. In the first instance, the evangelist John recounts how Jesus appeared to his disciples when these had locked themselves in for fear of the Jews. The mention of the Jews recalls the events that led to the crucifixion and the death of Christ. The disciples faced the real threat of persecution from the same Jewish and Roman authorities who had put Jesus to death. It is in this situation of fear of death that Jesus first appeared to his disciples with his message of peace. His greeting “peace be with you“, was an indication that he had conquered death and with it the fear of death. His victory was first and foremost a victory over death in all its ramifications – physical, spiritual, moral and psychological. That was the message behind the first greeting of peace.
The second pronouncement by the Risen Christ “peace be with you” remains in the context of his appearance to the disciples on the evening of the resurrection. This time however, John the evangelist notes, that Jesus after greeting his disciples breathed on them the Holy Spirit and said “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained”. The second message of the Risen Christ is thus directed against the threat of sin. The resurrection is not only a victory over death; it is also a victory over sin. The reason why Jesus died was to expiate our sins. Thus, as John the Baptist testified, he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29). The peace that we need is therefore not simply defined in terms of the absence of persecution. It refers also to the relationship each one of us has with our God as well as the relationship we have with each other. Can I truly say that I have risen with Christ from the death of sin to the life of holiness? Am I at peace with my God? And am I at peace with my neighbour?
The third greeting of peace according to our passage of scripture takes place eight days after the first encounter of Jesus with his disciples. Thomas the apostle was not present at the initial encounter and thus retained fierce doubts about the truth of the resurrection. Jesus immediately after appearing to the disciples the third time, addresses Thomas saying “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing”. But what really was the threat in this instance?
The third threat to the peace of the disciples was the internal disagreement among the disciples of Christ. It was the threat of division. Thomas’ unbelief was not simply a lack of faith in Christ; it also demonstrated a lack of trust in his fellow disciples. It showed the lack of cohesion in the body of the disciples and illustrated the internal struggles that characterize every family, every congregation and every nation. This was the third threat to the disciples which Jesus by his resurrection sought to conquer.
The above has implications for every one of us; as Individual Christians, Christ’s message of peace should calm our personal anxieties and fears; it should assure us that we are able to rise above disappointments and past failures. It should enable us to forgive ourselves, to forgive those who have hurt us and also seek to be reconciled with those we might have offended. Christ’s message of peace should also remind the church of the exhortation of St. Paul to be ambassadors of reconciliation at all times, supporting every effort to create fellowship among God’s people.
The message of Easter is equally relevant to us as a nation. It should give us the assurance that we are able to overcome everything that has come to symbolize death to our people. As a nation, we must and can overcome the scourge of sickness; we can eradicate poverty and end the carnage on our roads. We can and must put an end to the wanton destruction of our environment. The unnecessary death of infants at our health facilities. The message of Easter must encourage us to put an end to all moral ills; it is time to turn our backs to dishonesty, indecency, bribery and corruption, indiscipline, disrespect for our elders, intemperate language, violence and vengeance. The message of Easter must help us to turn our efforts in healing the wounds of division, reconciling broken families, reuniting communities, settling disputes among people of different political persuasions and religious faiths. The message of the Risen Christ is not just his message to us. It is also our message to one another. On this note, we the Catholic Bishops Ghana wish all Ghanaians
a Happy Easter.
Once again, we say “Peace be with you!”
MOST REV . PHILIP NAAMEH
CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF TAMALE &
PRESIDENT, GHANA CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE
HOMILY FOR THE ORDINATION TO THE DIACONATE AT ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST PARISH, ODORKOR-ACCRA ON FRIDAY, JANUARY 06, 2012.
- Sermon: My dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, on the Feast of Epiphany, the Church invites us to meditate on the visit of the wise men from the east to Jerusalem in search of the “infant king of the Jews”. This story of the Magi, or of the astrologers as they are often called, is only narrated by St. Matthew in his Gospel. There is so much that you and I can learn for our spiritual development from the episode, but for this evening, permit me to dwell on the text: “The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Mt. 2:10-11).
1.1: The Feast of Epiphany commemorates the presentation of the Messiah to the world of the Gentiles, the world of the non-Jews. According to the teachings of Holy Mother Church, St. Matthew, the Jewish Gospel writer, narrates this visit in such detail in order to emphasize the Good News that Jesus Christ did not come as Messiah for only the Jews, “the Chosen People”; he came to save all of humanity, even the non-Jews who, through their own sciences (for example the science of astrology), come to know God and recognize Jesus as King of Kings, as Lord of Lords and as the Conqueror of Death, the one who ushers in the Resurrection.
St. Matthew reports that “after Jesus has been born at Bethlehem in Judaea…some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east. ‘Where is the infant king of the Jews?’ they asked. ‘We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage’”.
We are not sure from where in the east, but we are informed that they were wise men who were certain that from their science of astrology, the star they had seen as it rose indicated the birth of “the infant king of the Jews”. They were convinced of the identity of the one whose star they had seen and they were therefore coming “to do him homage”.
Now, why would foreigners, some people from the east, want to come and do homage to “the infant king of the Jews”? Is it not strange that even the Jews themselves, their chief priests and scribes and their king, Herod himself, did not seem to have noticed anything extraordinary at the time? It took “some wise men from the east” to awaken the Jews, the Chosen People, their priests and scribes and even their king to the news that “the infant king of the Jews” had been born.
And thanks to the enquiries of the wise men from the east, the chief priests and scribes of the people were compelled to re-read their Books of the Law and the Prophets in order to ascertain that “the Christ was to be born ‘at Bethlehem in Judaea’’’.
1.2: My dearly beloved, the truth, or better put the good news, is that God in his own wisdom knows how to bring all people, especially those who seek him, to knowledge of the Saviour and Messiah, knowledge of the salvation he has prepared for humanity. What is important here now, or what we learn for our lives of faith, is that we should be ready to follow the “star” that rises from time to time in our lives and seek from others who may know so that they may lead us to a better and deeper knowledge of God. That is what the wise men from the east did by going to King Herod in Jerusalem. After all, they were looking for the “infant king of the Jews” who had been born; and that event had to be in the palace of the king in Jerusalem, the capital of Judaea.
1.3: “The sight of the star filled them with delight…”: Now having been informed by the Jewish chief priests and scribes, and following what they were told, the wise men are blessed with the reappearance of the star which fills them with delight and leads them to where they find the infant king of the Jews.
My dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, in our life’s journey of faith, there are times of darkness and doubt. The star we once had seen may disappear; that is the time we should never despair of God. Let us go on seeking. When God sees our effort at seeking and enquiring, he rewards our steadfastness with the reappearance of the star in our life’s journey; it then brings us to where we find delight in the Messiah Son of God, because our faith and hope encounter the love of God in the person of Jesus Christ.
1.4: “Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.” The sort of gifts these wise men from the east brought out of their treasures has very deep, indeed, mystical meaning. Gold in those ancient days represented nothing but the most precious of gifts given especially to kings and royals. Frankincense in the east represented devotion to the divine, in fact, adoration to God only. Myrrh is symbolic of sacrifice and suffering in order to overcome death ultimately and attain eternal life. So from these three gifts of the wise men who came from the east, St. Matthew teaches us all to give God nothing but our best, excellence in all our endeavours, the devotion and adoration that is due God only, and the acknowledgement that only in a life of sacrifice and even death with Christ Jesus is there victory over death for ever.
1.5: Now permit me to address a word from this episode of the Magi to our deacons to-be! Every seminarian starts his journey towards the Holy Priesthood with the appearance of a star; a desire to become a priest. With the help of the formators in both the minor and major seminaries, with the help of family and friends, with the help of their priests, and even at times with the help of people unknown or most unexpected, if we listen attentively, God shows us what he would want of us and directs our paths towards the house where we encounter God in the person of Jesus Christ.
This evening, as you are soon to be ordained deacons, the final and most decisive step towards the Holy Priesthood, and who knows, maybe one day on to the episcopacy, the fullness of the Priesthood of Jesus Christ, Priest, Shepherd and Teacher, I can say that the star that sometimes appeared and even disappeared during your preparation in the seminaries, has now reappeared forcefully, and it is pointing you to the house where Christ is waiting for you with his Mother Mary and Joseph.
This evening, Jesus Christ is going to ask you for something deeper and more spiritual, or of even greater value than gold, frankincense and myrrh. Soon, Jesus is going to ask that you become like him, chaste, obedient and poor so that as his minister/servant, you will be indeed Christ-like, and people coming into contact with you may come to know and encounter Jesus Christ the Way, the Truth and the Life in your person.
My dear friends, you are going to make your commitment to a life of celibate chastity; you are going to make a firm promise of obedience to the Holy Roman Catholic Church in the presence of the Archbishop, and you are going to be required to live a Christ-like life of poverty.
In these three virtues of chastity, obedience and poverty, Jesus will require nothing less of you than the Magi brought. Out of your treasures, you will offer nothing to Jesus Christ the King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Saviour but the best, gold representing excellence in your ministry; you should do everything in deep devotion and adoration of God, represented by the frankincense; and you must be ready to sacrifice your life accepting to suffer like Christ did for the salvation of those you will be sent to as deacons, and later on as priests; this is represented by the gift of myrrh.
I hope, in fact, I exhort you after this ordination that, you continue to meditate on the story of the Magi and ask the Lord our God to lead you into its still deeper and more mystical meaning for your ministry as deacons and priests in the near future.
May Mary the Virgin Mother of Jesus Christ and Mother of all Christians intercede for you our deacons to-be and for us all Clergy, Religious and Laity, so that we will be truly sacraments of Jesus Christ the Servant of all, the Eternal High Priest, Teacher and Shepherd!
Hail holy Queen…
Most Rev. Charles G. PALMER-BUCKLE,
Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra.
REFLECTION AT FIRST ADVENT VESPERS – SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2016 AT THE HOLY SPIRIT CATHEDRAL, ADABRAKA-ACCRA.
- “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus come!” I greet you, dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, with these words of the responsorial Psalm of this morning, the last Saturday of the liturgical year. According to the tradition of the Church, with this First Advent Vespers, we are starting a new liturgical year, a new year of worship.
It is, however, very interesting to note that the sentence “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus come!” fits the end of one liturgical year as much as it fits the beginning of the new. It is a prayer that fits the closing of the year and the opening of the new. And it is this double intent, namely that one year is closing while another is opening, one day is ending while another day is just beginning, that makes Advent a very special season in the Church.
Advent is a season of expectation; “Maranatha! Come! Lord Jesus come!” It is a time of expectation and therefore it also calls for preparation; because the Immanuel, God with-us will very soon become a reality for us at Christmas; God with-us will soon come into our midst in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Word made-flesh. In another four weeks of Advent and we shall be celebrating the joyful season of Christmas. God will come to be born in our midst.
- Advent: a time two preparations: My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, every Advent is a time of expectation, yes, but better still, let me say that it is a time of preparation; indeed a time of two preparations; namely that first preparation for the celebration of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ in our midst, Immanuel-God-with-us! Secondly, it is a season that calls us to focus on the coming of Jesus Christ, not anymore as a baby in a manger, but as the King and Judge of the living and the dead. Marantha, come Lord Jesus come! therefore, is a call to God to come and bring us home.
The question that comes up is, are we prepared indeed to “go home to the Lord our God”? Can we say with hearts full of joyful expectation indeed “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus come!?” This is what makes the First Advent Vespers very important, in order that we will get the right focus and frame of mind; because without our knowledge and awareness, morning comes, afternoon follows, so does evening and night closes the day, and another day begins only to end the same way. However, day-in day out, with the constant cycle and succession of days and nights, we are slowly but surely inching towards the end of our earthly life. The prospect of the end of our lives surely looms. Are we really prepared for the Lord to come and take us home? “Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus come!?”
- Advent 2016: Four Appointments: Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, this Advent is an appointment with God and with destiny in three or even four events for us in this Archdiocese of Accra; they are these:
- During this Advent, we are being called to prepare to go to the polls to elect for this our dear country a President, a Government and 275 Parliamentarians to govern Ghana.
- Next, we are preparing for Christmas, the season of the Word-made-flesh, the Immanuel, God-with-us.
- Thirdly, I am inviting you the priests and religious, the lay faithful men and women, children and youth, to take up, from this Advent, an intense one-year spiritual and liturgical preparation for the 125th anniversary of the Catholic Mission in Accra which will be celebrated from next year Advent 2017 and climaxed on the Solemnity of Christ Jesus as King of the Universe in 2018.
- Finally, you and I cannot run away from the inevitable and imminent end of life that will come when it will come; for which reason we must always be prepared.
- My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, it is with these four different events and expectations that I also cry out with you and with the Church “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus come!”
- For the general elections, my exhortation to you and me is: Let us watch and pray! Yes, we have been praying and should continue praying to God to save this country from anything ungodly and untowardly. Besides, let us be watchful and let us be the keepers of Ghana, our dear country and of all its citizens.
- As we prepare for Christmas, let us prepare for Christ to be born in the manger of our hearts. Let us open the door to the manger of our hearts and lives to all, most especially the poor and needy.
- For the year-long preparation of our 125th Anniversary, let us focus on spiritual growth in the liturgy of the Church, and let us return to appreciating our liturgical traditions of songs and prayers and services. Directives on this will be given!
- Finally, it is only in this way, shall we be preparing for the inevitable end call to account for our earthly life and existence; namely how much the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God-with-us; how much the Immanuel, God-with-us really took place in our lives and or deeds.
“Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus come!”
Most Rev. Charles G. PALMER-BUCKLE,
Metropolitan Archbishop of Accra,
Saturday, November 26, 2016.
MISERICORDIA ET MISERA
APOSTOLIC LETTER OF POPE FRANCIS FOR THE CONCLUSION OF THE EXTRAORDINARY JUBILEE OF MERCY
to all who read this Apostolic Letter
mercy and peace
Misericordia et misera is a phrase used by Saint Augustine in recounting the story of Jesus’ meeting with the woman taken in adultery (cf. Jn 8:1-11). It would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful or apt way of expressing the mystery of God’s love when it touches the sinner: “the two of them alone remained: mercy with misery”.1 What great mercy and divine justice shine forth in this narrative! Its teaching serves not only to throw light on the conclusion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, but also to point out the path that we are called to follow in the future.
- This page of the Gospel could easily serve as an icon of what we have celebrated during the Holy Year, a time rich in mercy, which must continue to be celebratedand lived outin our communities. Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church; it constitutes her very existence, through which the profound truths of the Gospel are made manifest and tangible. Everything is revealed in mercy; everything is resolved in the merciful love of the Father.
A woman and Jesus meet. She is an adulteress and, in the eyes of the Law, liable to be stoned. Jesus, through his preaching and the total gift of himself that would lead him to the Cross, returned the Mosaic Law to its true and original intent. Here what is central is not the law or legal justice, but the love of God, which is capable of looking into the heart of each person and seeing the deepest desire hidden there; God’s love must take primacy over all else. This Gospel account, however, is not an encounter of sin and judgement in the abstract, but of a sinner and her Saviour. Jesus looked that woman in the eye and read in her heart a desire to be understood, forgiven and set free. The misery of sin was clothed with the mercy of love. Jesus’ only judgement is one filled with mercy and compassion for the condition of this sinner. To those who wished to judge and condemn her to death, Jesus replies with a lengthy silence. His purpose was to let God’s voice be heard in the conscience not only of the woman, but also in those of her accusers, who drop their stones and one by one leave the scene (cf. Jn 8:9). Jesus then says: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?… Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on do not sin again” (vv. 10-11). Jesus helps the woman to look to the future with hope and to make a new start in life. Henceforth, if she so desires, she can “walk in charity” (Eph 5:2). Once clothed in mercy, even if the inclination to sin remains, it is overcome by the love that makes it possible for her to look ahead and to live her life differently.
- Jesus had taught this clearly on another occasion, when he had been invited to dine at the home of a Pharisee (cf. Lk 7:36-50) and a woman, known by everyone to be a sinner, approached him. She poured perfume over his feet, bathed them with her tears and dried them with her hair (cf. vv. 37-38). To the scandalized reaction of the Pharisee, Jesus replied: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (v. 47).
Forgiveness is the most visible sign of the Father’s love, which Jesus sought to reveal by his entire life. Every page of the Gospel is marked by this imperative of a love that loves to the point of forgiveness. Even at the last moment of his earthly life, as he was being nailed to the cross, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).
Nothing of what a repentant sinner places before God’s mercy can be excluded from the embrace of his forgiveness. For this reason, none of us has the right to make forgiveness conditional. Mercy is always a gratuitous act of our heavenly Father, an unconditional and unmerited act of love. Consequently, we cannot risk opposing the full freedom of the love with which God enters into the life of every person.
Mercy is this concrete action of love that, by forgiving, transforms and changes our lives. In this way, the divine mystery of mercy is made manifest. God is merciful (cf. Ex 34:6); his mercy lasts forever (cf. Ps 136). From generation to generation, it embraces all those who trust in him and it changes them, by bestowing a share in his very life.
- What great joy welled up in the heart of these two women. Forgiveness made them feel free at last and happy as never before. Their tears of shame and pain turned into the smile of a person who knows that he or she is loved. Mercy gives rise to joy, because our hearts are opened to the hope of a new life. The joy of forgiveness is inexpressible, yet it radiates all around us whenever we experience forgiveness. Its source is in the love with which God comes to meet us, breaking through walls of selfishness that surround us, in order to make us in turn instruments of mercy.
How meaningful in this regard are the words of encouragement found in an early Christian text: “Clothe yourselves in joy, which always is agreeable and acceptable to God, and rejoice in it. For all who are joyful do what is good, think what is good, and despise sadness… All who put aside sadness and put on joy will live in God”.2 The experience of mercy brings joy. May we never allow this joy to be robbed from us by our troubles and concerns. May it remain rooted in our hearts and enable us to approach with serenity the events of our daily lives.
In a culture often dominated by technology, sadness and loneliness appear to be on the rise, not least among young people. The future seems prey to an uncertainty that does not make for stability. This often gives rise to depression, sadness and boredom, which can gradually lead to despair. We need witnesses to hope and true joy if we are to dispel the illusions that promise quick and easy happiness through artificial paradises. The profound sense of emptiness felt by so many people can be overcome by the hope we bear in our hearts and by the joy that it gives. We need to acknowledge the joy that rises up in a heart touched by mercy. Let us keep in mind, then, the words of the Apostle: “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4; cf. 1 Thess 5:16)
- We have celebrated an intense Jubilee Year in which we have received the grace of mercy in abundance. Like a gusting but wholesome wind, the Lord’s goodness and mercy have swept through the entire world. Because each of us has experienced at length this loving gaze of God, we cannot remain unaffected, for it changes our lives.
We feel the need above all to thank the Lord and to tell him: “Lord, you have been favourable to your land… You have forgiven the iniquity of your people” (Ps 85:1-2). So it is. God has subdued our iniquities and cast all our sins into the depths of the sea (cf. Mic7:19). He no longer remembers them, since he has cast them behind his back (cf. Is38:17). As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (cf. Ps 103:12).
In this Holy Year, the Church listened attentively and experienced intensely the presence and closeness of the Father, who with the Holy Spirit has enabled her to see with greater clarity the gift and mandate of Jesus Christ regarding forgiveness. It has truly been like a new visitation of the Lord among us. We have felt his life-giving breath poured out upon the Church and, once again, his words have pointed out our mission: “Receive the Holy Spirit: if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).
- Now, at the conclusion of this Jubilee, it is time to look to the future and to understand how best to continue, with joy, fidelity and enthusiasm, experiencing the richness of God’s mercy. Our communities can remain alive and active in the work of the new evangelization in the measure that the “pastoral conversion” to which we are called3will be shaped daily by the renewing force of mercy. Let us not limit its action; let us not sadden the Spirit, who constantly points out new paths to take in bringing to everyone the Gospel of salvation.
First, we are called to celebrate mercy. What great richness is present in the Church’s prayer when she invokes God as the Father of mercies! In the liturgy, mercy is not only repeatedly implored, but is truly received and experienced. From the beginning to the end of the Eucharistic celebration, mercy constantly appears in the dialogue between the assembly at prayer and the heart of the Father, who rejoices to bestow his merciful love. After first pleading for forgiveness with the invocation “Lord have mercy”, we are immediately reassured: “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and lead us to everlasting life”. With this confidence, the community gathers in the presence of the Lord, particularly on the holy day of the resurrection. Many of the “Collect” prayers are meant to remind us of the great gift of mercy. In Lent, for example, we pray: “O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness, who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving have shown us a remedy for sin, look graciously on this confession of our lowliness, that we, who are bowed down by our conscience, may always be lifted up by your mercy”.4 We are immersed in the great Eucharistic Prayer with the Preface that proclaims: “You so loved the world that in your mercy you sent us the Redeemer, to live like us in all things but sin”.5The Fourth Eucharistic Prayer is a hymn to God’s mercy: “For you came in mercy to the aid of all, so that those who seek might find you”. “Have mercy on us all”6 is the insistent plea made by the priest in the Eucharistic Prayer to implore a share in eternal life. After the Our Father, the priest continues by invoking peace and liberation from sin by the “aid of your mercy”. And before the sign of peace, exchanged as an expression of fraternity and mutual love in the light of forgiveness received, the priest prays: “Look not upon on our sins but on the faith of your Church”.7 In these words, with humble trust we beseech the gift of unity and peace for Holy Mother Church. The celebration of divine mercy culminates in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the memorial of Christ’s paschal mystery, the source of salvation for every human being, for history and for the whole world. In a word, each moment of the Eucharistic celebration refers to God’s mercy.
In the sacramental life, mercy is granted us in abundance. It is not without significance that the Church mentions mercy explicitly in the formulae of the two “sacraments of healing”, namely, the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. In the first, the formula of absolution reads: “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace”.8 In the second, the formula of anointing reads: “Through this holy anointing may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit”.9 In the Church’s prayer, then, references to mercy, far from being merely exhortative, are highly performative, which is to say that as we invoke mercy with faith, it is granted to us, and as we confess it to be vital and real, it transforms us. This is a fundamental element of our faith, and we must keep it constantly in mind. Even before the revelation of sin, there is the revelation of the love by which God created the world and human beings. Love is the first act whereby God reveals himself and turns towards us. So let us open our hearts and trust in God’s love for us. His love always precedes us, accompanies us and remains with us, despite our sin.
- In this context, hearing the word of Godtakes on particular significance. Each Sunday, God’s word is proclaimed in the Christian community so that the Lord’s Day may be illuminated by the paschal mystery.10In the Eucharistic celebration, we seem to witness a true dialogue between God and his people. In the biblical readings, we retrace the history of our salvation through the proclamation of God’s tireless work of mercy. The Lord continues to speak to us today as to friends; he dwells in our midst,11 in order to accompany us and show us the path of life. His word gives a voice to our inmost needs and worries, and offers a fruitful response, so that we can concretely experience his closeness to us. Hence the importance of the homily, in which “truth goes hand in hand with beauty and goodness”12 so that the hearts of believers may thrill before the grandeur of mercy! I strongly encourage that great care be given to preparing the homily and to preaching in general. A priest’s preaching will be fruitful to the extent that he himself has experienced the merciful goodness of the Lord. Communicating the certainty that God loves us is not an exercise in rhetoric, but a condition for the credibility of one’s priesthood. The personal experience of mercy is the best way to make it a true message of consolation and conversion in the pastoral ministry. Both homiletics and catechesis need to be sustained by this pulsing heart of the Christian life.
- The Bibleis the great story of the marvels of God’s mercy. Every one of its pages is steeped in the love of the Father who from the moment of creation wished to impress the signs of his love on the universe. Through the words of the prophets and the wisdom writings, the Holy Spirit shaped the history of Israel as a recognition of God’s closeness and love, despite the people’s infidelity. Jesus’ life and preaching decisively marked the history of the Christian community, which has viewed its mission in terms of Christ’s command to be a permanent instrument of his mercy and forgiveness (cf. Jn20:23). Through Sacred Scripture, kept alive by the faith of the Church, the Lord continues to speak to his Bride, showing her the path she must take to enable the Gospel of salvation to reach all mankind. I greatly desire that God’s word be increasingly celebrated, known and disseminated, so that the mystery of love streaming from this font of mercy may be ever better understood. As the Apostle tells us clearly: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16).
It would be beneficial if every Christian community, on one Sunday of the liturgical year, could renew its efforts to make the Sacred Scriptures better known and more widely diffused. It would be a Sunday given over entirely to the word of God, so as to appreciate the inexhaustible riches contained in that constant dialogue between the Lord and his people. Creative initiatives can help make this an opportunity for the faithful to become living vessels for the transmission of God’s word. Initiatives of this sort would certainly include the practice of lectio divina, so that the prayerful reading of the sacred text will help support and strengthen the spiritual life. Such a reading, centred on themes relating to mercy, will enable a personal experience of the great fruitfulness of the biblical text – read in the light of the Church’s spiritual tradition – and thus give rise to concrete gestures and works of charity.13
- The celebration of mercy takes place in a very particular way in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Here we feel the embrace of the Father, who comes forth to meet us and grant us the grace of being once more his sons and daughters. We are sinners and we bear the burden of contradiction between what we wish to do and what we do in fact (cf. Rom7:14-21). Yet grace always precedes us and takes on the face of the mercy that effects our reconciliation and pardon. God makes us understand his great love for us precisely when we recognize that we are sinners. Grace is stronger than sin: it overcomes resistance, because love conquers all (cf. 1 Cor13:7).
In the sacrament of Forgiveness God shows us the way to turn back to him and invites us to experience his closeness anew. This pardon can be obtained by beginning, first of all, to live in charity. The Apostle Peter tells us this when he writes that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8). Only God forgives sins, but he asks that we be ready to forgive others even as he has forgiven us: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt 6:12). How sad it is when our hearts are closed and unable to forgive! Resentment, anger and revenge gain the upper hand, making our lives miserable and blocking a joyful commitment to mercy.
- An experience of grace lived out by the Church with great effectiveness in the Jubilee Year has certainly been the service of the Missionaries of Mercy. Their pastoral activity sought to emphasize that God places no roadblocks in the way of those who seek him with a contrite heart, because he goes out to meet everyone like a father. I have received many testimonies of joy from those who encountered the Lord once more in the sacrament of Confession. Let us not miss the opportunity to live our faith also as an experience of reconciliation. Today too, the Apostle urges us: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor5:20), so that all who believe can discover the power of love which makes us “a new creation” (2 Cor5:17).
I thank every Missionary of Mercy for this valuable service aimed at rendering effective the grace of forgiveness. This extraordinary ministry does not end with the closing of the Holy Door. I wish it to continue until further notice as a concrete sign that the grace of the Jubilee remains alive and effective the world over. As a direct expression of my concern and proximity to the Missionaries of Mercy in this period, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization will supervise them and find the most suitable forms for the exercise of this valuable ministry.
- I invite priests once more to prepare carefully for the ministry of confession, which is a true priestly mission. I thank all of you from the heart for your ministry, and I ask you to be welcomingto all, witnessesof fatherly love whatever the gravity of the sin involved, attentive in helping penitents to reflect on the evil they have done, clear in presenting moral principles, willing to walk patiently beside the faithful on their penitential journey, far-sighted in discerning individual cases and generous in dispensing God’s forgiveness. Just as Jesus chose to remain silent in order to save the woman caught in adultery from the sentence of death, so every priest in the confessional should be open-hearted, since every penitent is a reminder that he himself is a sinner, but also a minister of mercy.
- I would like us all to meditate upon the words of the Apostle, written towards the end of his life, when he confesses to Timothy that he was the greatest of sinners, “but for this reason I received mercy” (1 Tim1:16). Paul’s words, powerful as they are, make us reflect on our lives and see God’s mercy at work in changing, converting and reforming our hearts. “I thank him who has given me strength for this, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful by appointing me to his service, though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him. But I received mercy” (1 Tim1:12-13).
Let us recall with renewed pastoral zeal another saying of the Apostle: “God has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor5:18). We were the first to be forgiven in view of this ministry, made witnesses at first hand of the universality of God’s forgiveness. No law or precept can prevent God from once more embracing the son who returns to him, admitting that he has done wrong but intending to start his life anew. Remaining only at the level of the law is equivalent to thwarting faith and divine mercy. The law has a propaedeutic value (cf. Gal 3:24) with charity as its goal (cf. 1 Tim 1:5). Nonetheless, Christians are called to experience the newness of the Gospel, the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2). Even in the most complex cases, where there is a temptation to apply a justice derived from rules alone, we must believe in the power flowing from divine grace.
We confessors have experienced many conversions that took place before our very eyes. We feel responsible, then, for actions and words that can touch the heart of penitents and enable them to discover the closeness and tenderness of the Father who forgives. Let us not lose such occasions by acting in a way that can contradict the experience of mercy that the penitent seeks. Rather, let us help light up the space of personal conscience with God’s infinite love (cf. 1 Jn 3:20).
The Sacrament of Reconciliation must regain its central place in the Christian life. This requires priests capable of putting their lives at the service of the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18), in such a way that, while no sincerely repentant sinner is prevented from drawing near to the love of the Father who awaits his return, everyone is afforded the opportunity of experiencing the liberating power of forgiveness.
A favourable occasion for this could be the 24 Hours for the Lord, a celebration held in proximity to the Fourth Sunday of Lent. This initiative, already in place in many dioceses, has great pastoral value in encouraging a more fervent experience of the sacrament of Confession.
- Given this need, lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion. The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year,14is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary. I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father. May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation.
For the Jubilee Year I had also granted that those faithful who, for various reasons, attend churches officiated by the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X, can validly and licitly receive the sacramental absolution of their sins.15 For the pastoral benefit of these faithful, and trusting in the good will of their priests to strive with God’s help for the recovery of full communion in the Catholic Church, I have personally decided to extend this faculty beyond the Jubilee Year, until further provisions are made, lest anyone ever be deprived of the sacramental sign of reconciliation through the Church’s pardon.
- Another face of mercy is consolation. “Comfort, comfort my people” (Is40:1) is the heartfelt plea that the prophet continues to make today, so that a word of hope may come to all those who experience suffering and pain. Let us never allow ourselves to be robbed of the hope born of faith in the Risen Lord. True, we are often sorely tested, but we must never lose our certainty of the Lord’s love for us. His mercy finds expression also in the closeness, affection and support that many of our brothers and sisters can offer us at times of sadness and affliction. The drying of tears is one way to break the vicious circle of solitude in which we often find ourselves trapped.
All of us need consolation because no one is spared suffering, pain and misunderstanding. How much pain can be caused by a spiteful remark born of envy, jealousy or anger! What great suffering is caused by the experience of betrayal, violence and abandonment! How much sorrow in the face of the death of a loved one! And yet God is never far from us at these moments of sadness and trouble. A reassuring word, an embrace that makes us feel understood, a caress that makes us feel love, a prayer that makes us stronger… all these things express God’s closeness through the consolation offered by our brothers and sisters.
Sometimes too, silence can be helpful, especially when we cannot find words in response to the questions of those who suffer. A lack of words, however, can be made up for by the compassion of a person who stays at our side, who loves us and who holds out a hand. It is not true that silence is an act of surrender; on the contrary, it is a moment of strength and love. Silence also belongs to our language of consolation, because it becomes a concrete way of sharing in the suffering of a brother or sister.
- At a time like our own, marked by many crises, including that of the family, it is important to offer a word of comfort and strength to our families. The gift of matrimony is a great calling to which spouses, with the grace of Christ, respond with a love that is generous, faithful and patient. The beauty of the family endures unchanged, despite so many problems and alternative proposals: “The joy of love experienced by families is also the joy of the Church”.16The journey of life that leads a man and a woman to meet one other, to love one another and to promise mutual fidelity before God, is often interrupted by suffering, betrayal and loneliness. Joy at the gift of children is accompanied by concern about their growth and education, and their prospects for happiness and fulfilment in life.
The grace of the sacrament of Marriage not only strengthens the family to be a privileged place for practising mercy, but also commits the Christian community and all its pastoral activity to uphold the great positive value of the family. This Jubilee Year cannot overlook the complexity of the current realities of family life. The experience of mercy enables us to regard all human problems from the standpoint of God’s love, which never tires of welcoming and accompanying.17
We have to remember each of us carries the richness and the burdens of our personal history; this is what makes us different from everyone else. Our life, with its joys and sorrows, is something unique and unrepeatable that takes place under the merciful gaze of God. This demands, especially of priests, a careful, profound and far-sighted spiritual discernment, so that everyone, none excluded, can feel accepted by God, participate actively in the life of the community and be part of that People of God which journeys tirelessly towards the fullness of his kingdom of justice, love, forgiveness and mercy.
- Here too, we see the particular importance of the moment of death. The Church has always experienced this dramatic passage in the light of Christ’s resurrection, which opened the way to the certainty of the life to come. We have a great challenge to face, especially in contemporary culture, which often tends to trivialize death to the point of treating it as an illusion or hiding it from sight. Yet death must be faced and prepared for as a painful and inescapable passage, yet one charged with immense meaning, for it is the ultimate act of love towards those we leave behind and towards God whom we go forth to meet. In all religions, the moment of death, like that of birth, is accompanied by a religious presence. As Christians, we celebrate the funeral liturgy as a hope-filled prayer for the soul of the deceased and for the consolation of those who suffer the loss of a loved one.
I am convinced that our faith-filled pastoral activity should lead to a direct experience of how the liturgical signs and our prayers are an expression of the Lord’s mercy. It is the Lord himself who offers words of hope, since nothing and no one can ever separate us from his love (cf. Rom 8:35). The priest’s sharing in this moment is an important form of pastoral care, for it represents the closeness of the Christian community at a moment of weakness, solitude, uncertainty and grief.
- The Jubilee now ends and the Holy Door is closed. But the door of mercy of our heart continues to remain wide open. We have learned that God bends down to us (cf. Hos11:4) so that we may imitate him in bending down to our brothers and sisters. The yearning of so many people to turn back to the house of the Father, who awaits their return, has also been awakened by heartfelt and generous testimonies to God’s love. The Holy Door that we have crossed in this Jubilee Year has set us on the path of charity, which we are called to travel daily with fidelity and joy. It is the road of mercy, on which we meet so many of our brothers and sisters who reach out for someone to take their hand and become a companion on the way.
The desire for closeness to Christ requires us to draw near to our brothers and sisters, for nothing is more pleasing to the Father than a true sign of mercy. By its very nature, mercy becomes visible and tangible in specific acts. Once mercy has been truly experienced, it is impossible to turn back. It grows constantly and it changes our lives. It is an authentic new creation: it brings about a new heart, capable of loving to the full, and it purifies our eyes to perceive hidden needs. How true are the words of the Church’s prayer at the Easter Vigil, after the reading of the creation account: “O God, who wonderfully created human nature and still more wonderfully redeemed it”.18
Mercy renews and redeems because it is an encounter between two hearts: the heart of God who comes to meet us and a human heart. The latter is warmed and healed by the former. Our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh (cf. Ezek 36:26) capable of love despite our sinfulness. I come to realize that I am truly a “new creation” (Gal 6:15): I am loved, therefore I exist; I am forgiven, therefore I am reborn; I have been shown mercy, therefore I have become a vessel of mercy.
- During the Holy Year, especially on the “Fridays of Mercy”, I was able to experience in a tangible way the goodness present in our world. Often it remains hidden, since it is daily expressed in discreet and quiet gestures. Even if rarely publicized, many concrete acts of goodness and tenderness are shown to the weak and the vulnerable, to those most lonely and abandoned. There are true champions of charity who show constant solidarity with the poor and the unhappy. Let us thank the Lord for these precious gifts that invite us to discover the joy of drawing near to human weakness and suffering. I also think with gratitude of the many volunteers who daily devote their time and efforts to showing God’s presence and closeness. Their service is a genuine work of mercy, one that helps many people draw closer to the Church.
- Now is the time to unleash the creativity of mercy, to bring about new undertakings, the fruit of grace. The Church today needs to tell of those “many other signs” that Jesus worked, which “are not written” (Jn20:30), so that they too may be an eloquent expression of the fruitfulness of the love of Christ and the community that draws its life from him. Two thousand years have passed, yet works of mercy continue to make God’s goodness visible.
In our own day, whole peoples suffer hunger and thirst, and we are haunted by pictures of children with nothing to eat. Throngs of people continue to migrate from one country to another in search of food, work, shelter and peace. Disease in its various forms is a constant cause of suffering that cries out for assistance, comfort and support. Prisons are often places where confinement is accompanied by serious hardships due to inhumane living conditions. Illiteracy remains widespread, preventing children from developing their potential and exposing them to new forms of slavery. The culture of extreme individualism, especially in the West, has led to a loss of a sense of solidarity with and responsibility for others. Today many people have no experience of God himself, and this represents the greatest poverty and the major obstacle to recognition of the inviolable dignity of human life.
To conclude, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy continue in our own day to be proof of mercy’s immense positive influence as a social value. Mercy impels us to roll up our sleeves and set about restoring dignity to millions of people; they are our brothers and sisters who, with us, are called to build a “city which is reliable”.19
- Many concrete signs of mercy have been performed during this Holy Year. Communities, families and individuals have rediscovered the joy of sharing and the beauty of solidarity. But this is not enough. Our world continues to create new forms of spiritual and material poverty that assault human dignity. For this reason, the Church must always be vigilant and ready to identify new works of mercy and to practise them with generosity and enthusiasm.
Let us make every effort, then, to devise specific and responsible ways of practising charity and the works of mercy. Mercy is inclusive and tends to expand in a way that knows no limits. Hence we are called to give new expression to the traditional works of mercy. For mercy overflows, keeps moving forward, bears rich fruit. It is like the leaven that makes the dough rise (cf. Mt 13:33), or the mustard seed that grows into a tree (cf. Lk 13:19).
We need but think of one corporal work of mercy: “to clothe the naked” (cf. Mt25:36,38,43,44). This brings us back to the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve realize that they are naked and, hearing the Lord approaching, feel shame and hide themselves (Gen 3:7-8). We know that God punished them, yet he also “made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). He covered their shame and restored their dignity.
Let us think too of Jesus on Golgotha. The Son of God hangs naked on the cross; the soldiers took his tunic and cast lots for it (cf. Jn19:23-24). He has nothing left. The cross is the extreme revelation of Jesus’ sharing the lot of those who have lost their dignity for lack of the necessities of life. Just as the Church is called to be the “tunic of Christ”20 and to clothe her Lord once more, so She is committed to solidarity with the naked of the world, to help them recover the dignity of which they have been stripped. Jesus’ words: “I was naked and you clothed me” (Mt 25:36), oblige us not to turn our backs on the new forms of poverty and marginalization that prevent people from living a life of dignity.
Being unemployed or not receiving a sufficient salary; not being able to have a home or a land in which to live; experiencing discrimination on account of one’s faith, race or social status: these are just a few of the many examples of situations that attack the dignity of the person. In the face of such attacks, Christian mercy responds above all with vigilance and solidarity. How many situations exist today where we can restore dignity to individuals and make possible a truly humane life! Let us think only about the many children who suffer from forms of violence that rob them of the joy of life. I keep thinking of their sorrowful and bewildered faces. They are pleading for our help to be set free from the slavery of the contemporary world. These children are the young adults of tomorrow. How are we preparing them to live with dignity and responsibility? With what hope can they face their present or their future?
The social character of mercy demands that we not simply stand by and do nothing. It requires us to banish indifference and hypocrisy, lest our plans and projects remain a dead letter. May the Holy Spirit help us to contribute actively and selflessly to making justice and a dignified life not simply clichés but a concrete commitment of those who seek to bear witness to the presence of the Kingdom of God.
- We are called to promote a culture of mercybased on the rediscovery of encounter with others, a culture in which no one looks at another with indifference or turns away from the suffering of our brothers and sisters. The works of mercy are “handcrafted”, in the sense that none of them is alike. Our hands can craft them in a thousand different ways, and even though the one God inspires them, and they are all fashioned from the same “material”, mercy itself, each one takes on a different form.
The works of mercy affect a person’s entire life. For this reason, we can set in motion a real cultural revolution, beginning with simple gestures capable of reaching body and spirit, people’s very lives. This is a commitment that the Christian community should take up, in the knowledge that God’s word constantly calls us to leave behind the temptation to hide behind indifference and individualism in order to lead a comfortable life free of problems. Jesus tells his disciples: “The poor will always be with you” (Jn 12:8). There is no alibi to justify not engaging with the poor when Jesus has identified himself with each of them.
The culture of mercy is shaped in assiduous prayer, in docility to the working of the Holy Spirit, in knowledge of the lives of the saints and in being close to the poor. It urges us not to overlook situations that call for our involvement. The temptation to theorize “about” mercy can be overcome to the extent that our daily life becomes one of participation and sharing. Nor should we ever forget what the Apostle tells us about his meeting with Peter, James and John after his conversion. His words highlight an essential aspect of his own mission and of the Christian life as a whole: “They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do” (Gal 2:10). We cannot forget the poor: this is an injunction as relevant today as ever, and one that compels by its evangelical warrant.
- The Jubilee impresses upon us the words of the Apostle Peter: “Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet2:10). Let us not hold on jealously to what we have received, but share it with our brothers and sisters in need, so that they can be sustained by the power of the Father’s mercy. May our communities reach out to all who live in their midst, so that God’s caress may reach everyone through the witness of believers.
This is the time of mercy. Each day of our journey is marked by God’s presence. He guides our steps with the power of the grace that the Spirit pours into our hearts to make them capable of loving. It is the time of mercy for each and all, since no one can think that he or she is cut off from God’s closeness and the power of his tender love. It is the time of mercybecause those who are weak and vulnerable, distant and alone, ought to feel the presence of brothers and sisters who can help them in their need. It is the time of mercy because the poor should feel that they are regarded with respect and concern by others who have overcome indifference and discovered what is essential in life. It is the time of mercybecause no sinner can ever tire of asking forgiveness and all can feel the welcoming embrace of the Father.
During the “Jubilee for Socially Excluded People”, as the Holy Doors of Mercy were being closed in all the cathedrals and shrines of the world, I had the idea that, as yet another tangible sign of this Extraordinary Holy Year, the entire Church might celebrate, on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, the World Day of the Poor. This would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy (cf. Mt 25:31-46). It would be a day to help communities and each of the baptized to reflect on how poverty is at the very heart of the Gospel and that, as long as Lazarus lies at the door of our homes (cf. Lk 16:19-21), there can be no justice or social peace. This Day will also represent a genuine form of new evangelization (cf. Mt 11:5) which can renew the face of the Church as She perseveres in her perennial activity of pastoral conversion and witness to mercy.
- The Holy Mother of God always looks upon us with her eyes of mercy. She is the first to show us the way and to accompany us in our witness of love. As she is often shown in works of art, the Mother of Mercy gathers us all under the protection of her mantle. Let us trust in her maternal assistance and follow her perennial counsel to look to Jesus, the radiant face of God’s mercy.
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s Basilica, on 20 November,
the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe,
in the year 2016, the fourth of my Pontificate.
 On the Gospel of John, XXXIII, 5.
2 Shepherd of Hermas, XLII, 1-4.
3 Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 27.
4 Roman Missal, Opening Prayer for the Third Sunday of Lent.
5 Ibid., Preface for Sundays in Ordinary Time VII.
6 Ibid., Eucharistic Prayer II.
7 Ibid., Communion Rite.
8 Rite of Penance, No. 46.
9 Sacrament of Anointing and Pastoral Care of the Sick, No. 76.
10 Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 106.
11 ID., Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, 2.
12 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 142.
13 Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, 86-87.
14 Cf. Letter According to Which an Indulgence is Granted to the Faithful on the Occasion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, 1 September 2015.
15 Cf. ibid.
16 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, 1.
17 Cf. ibid., 291-300.
18 Roman Missal, Easter Vigil, Prayer after the First Reading.
19 Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei, 50.
20 Cf. CYPRIAN, On the Unity of the Catholic Church, 7.
[Original text: English] [Vatican-provided text]