Logo Year of MercyToday, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a Holy Year of Mercy begins.  Our Holy Father, Pope Francis inaugurates today a central theme of his pontificate, a year dedicated to deeper understanding of the Mercy of the Father.  He calls all people of good will to use this year as a time to reflect upon the merciful love of God and expand the practice of mercy in our lives, our homes, and in the world at large.

Pope Francis’ experience of God’s mercy as a young man led him to recognize his own vocation to the priesthood.  I’m sure it is his hope that this Year of Mercy may lead all of us to a new outlook on life in which we better understand God’s mercy as well as our role in extending compassion to the world around us.  May we be less willing to judge others, and more inclined to be merciful.

Pope Francis outlines his profound understanding of mercy and his hopes for this Holy Year in the Bull of Indiction, where he calls for the Church to prepare for this great Jubilee Year.  He teaches us that mercy must be at the center of the life of the Church.  Mercy is not separate from justice, but rather justice and mercy go hand-in-hand, but we must learn to put mercy before judgment.  Jesus is the embodiment, the Incarnation of the inseparable nature of justice and mercy.  He calls us to be perfect as our Father is perfect, and yet throughout his ministry he seeks out the sinner, the lost, those who have been left behind, if not abandoned by an overly legalistic approach to the law.

Last but by no means least, Jesus dies upon the cross, as the fullest expression of the justice of God that can only be expressed in the merciful and loving redemption obtained through Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.  God desires that all of his people be saved.  (1 Timothy 2:4).  Jesus is the door of mercy.  Jesus is the way that leads to life.

Appropriately fitting, our Holy Father chose to inaugurate this Holy Year on today’s Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  May our Mother Mary intercede for us as the Mother of Mercy, that this may be a year of grace and mercy leading us to a deeper understanding of the Father of Mercy and a more fruitful encounter with Jesus Christ that we may better serve him in our compassionate love of our brothers and sisters.

Here is my homily for today:

The Immaculate Conception; H. Bartolome Esteban Murillo

The Immaculate Conception; H. Bartolome Esteban Murillo

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX in his Constitution, Ineffabilis Deus, taught that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.” Today, we celebrate this solemn understanding of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is the Mother of God, the Mother of Jesus, the source of our salvation.

On this day, December 8, 2015, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, declares the beginning of a Year of Mercy, a Holy Year which is meant to be a time to ponder anew the tenderness of God, which is discovered in all its fullness in the face of Jesus. In the person of Jesus, we find the fullness of God’s truth and love, his justice and mercy. Out of his infinite love, “God before the foundation of the world chose us in Christ, to be holy and without blemish before him.” (Ephesians, 1:4) In him, we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)

Today, as we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception, we also acknowledge the loving plan of God, who in His loving wisdom and mercy, chose to bestow the grace of her Son upon her, before she even gives birth to the Savior, well before the Savior gives his life as a ransom for sin. Not only does God grant this grace to Mary, but he at the same time excludes from Mary any presence of Original Sin. So much does God love us! So great is God’s desire for our salvation! These are the realities that reveal to us the God of Mercy.

Mary is the starting point for our Year of Mercy, because she is the Mother of the Savior, who is the face of God’s mercy, the manifestation of the tenderness of God. As the Salve Regina instructs us, Mary is the Mother of Mercy; she is our life, our hope, our sweetness! With her eyes of mercy gazing upon us, she never ceases to intercede for us. She vigilantly desires to reveal to us the fruit of her womb, Jesus.

In our encounters with Jesus, through prayer, meditation upon his Sacred Word, and his presence though the Sacraments of the Church, we come to personally experience the mercy of God at work in our own lives. Who of us has not experienced the reality and burden of sin? Who of us has not turned to the Lord in the pain which results from sin to express our sorrow and to beg for his mercy? And who of us has not experienced the healing balm of the mercy of Jesus?

In our first reading today from the Book of Genesis, the Original Sin is recounted. Adam and Eve give in to the temptation of the serpent, who convinces them they are worthy of becoming like gods who know what is good and what is bad.” (Genesis 3:5)   This is the sin that was excluded from the Virgin Mary. This is the sin that is at the heart of the human race, the core of every sin; to reject God so as to take his place.

As a result of their sin, “the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8) This is the consequence of sin; we want to hide from God. And yet, just as God continued to speak to Adam and Eve, God in his loving mercy pursues us. Sin cuts off the human race from the tree of life. (Genesis 3:23) Then, in the fullness of time God sends forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom us from the law. (Galatians 4:4) Cut off as we were from the tree of life, Jesus came to redeem the human race by freely being condemned to die upon the cross, a tree in another garden which becomes the source of life and the fullest expression of God’s loving mercy.

The person of Jesus and the Paschal Mystery are at the heart of the Year of Mercy which opens before us today. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis astutely observes: “we must admit that the practice of mercy is waning in the wider culture. In some cases the word seems to have dropped out of use. However, without a witness to mercy, life becomes fruitless and sterile, as if sequestered in a barren desert. The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters. Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instils in us the courage to look to the future with hope. (Misericordiae Vultus, Bull of Indiction announcing the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy #10)

Let us ask the Blessed Mother to intercede for us today, that we may once again avail ourselves to the mercy of God through Sacramental Confession. Then, once we are mindful of our own need for God’s persevering love, once we have been renewed in the fullness of life through the mercy of God, we are asked to become missionaries of mercy to those around us. As the Father, through His Son gazes upon us in loving mercy, we are now to bring that compassionate gaze to others. As we encounter the person of Jesus through Word and Sacrament, we are to make him present to others through our acts of mercy and compassion. Part of the mystery of God is that He who prefers to remain hidden is always revealed and encountered in every act of love.

Jesus in his ministry gives us the example to follow. Jesus in his teaching gives us the way to greater love and mercy. One needs only recall the corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead. (MV #20)

Pope Francis in this Year of Mercy reminds us that as Church, The Spouse of Christ must pattern her behavior after the Son of God who went out to everyone without exception. In the present day, as the Church is charged with the task of the new evangelization, the theme of mercy needs to be proposed again and again with new enthusiasm and renewed pastoral action. (MV #12)

My dear friends, may today be the beginning of a conversion for all of us; a conversion to a life more fully incorporated into the life of Christ.

Mary conceived without sin, Pray for us!

Mary, Mother of Mercy, Pray for us!