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At the close of the Year of Mercy Pope Francis gave another gift to the Universal Church by providing a pastoral letter entitled Misericordia et misera (mercy with misery).

Pope Francis begins the letter by describing its title which is a “phrase used by Saint Augustine in recounting the story of Jesus in meeting with the woman taken in adultery (CF. John 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.’” Pope Francis’ pastoral letter wants to make clear that we do not see the Year of Mercy as parenthetical to the other years of our lives. Just as in the story of Jesus’ encounter with the adulterous woman, we are called to look to the future by embracing a new start on life. Advent gives us an opportunity for such a new start. This new start not only brings hope, but also acknowledges that “mercy gives rise to joy.” So we look to the future with joy, knowing that we will always be lifted up by God’s mercy.

In demonstrating the need of God’s mercy and the very freedom that comes from it, Pope Francis extended the Year of Mercy provision offering priests the ability to forgive the sin of abortion. Pope Francis wrote: “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.”

The Holy Father describes how the mystery of God’s mercy touches the heart of the sinner. This outreach of love and mercy to the sinner is at the very heart of the mystery of the Incarnation, in which we celebrate the mystery of God becoming one of us in all ways but sin. Many times we pray the preface of the Eucharistic prayer which states: “For you so loved the world that in your mercy you sent us the Redeemer, to live like us in all things but sin.”

Just as St. John the Baptist was prepared by the Holy Spirit to herald the coming of the Messiah, let us pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that we may be a reflection of God’s mercy. Let us pray for the spiritual gifts mentioned in the book of the prophet Isaiah, “a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.” (Is 11:2)

Here in the Diocese of Juneau, we had two jubilee doors of mercy, one at the National Shrine of Therese of Lisieux and the other at our parish of Saint Rose of Lima in Wrangell. I am grateful to Deacon Jeff and Lisa Volker for overseeing the holy door at the Shrine and I am also mindful that Father Thomas Weise, whose first anniversary of death we commemorated on December 6, created the holy door at Saint Rose of Lima. In his pastoral letter, Pope Francis indicates that even though the door is now closed, the door of mercy is always open in our hearts. To illustrate this further, Pope Francis called on priests to preach on God’s mercy often from the pulpit. He stated, “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.”

Together as the faithful of the Diocese of Juneau, let us bring the light of Jesus Christ into the darkness of our world, that His radiance will shine through our charitable acts and that we will bind up the wounds of those who suffer. By the grace of God and with the gifts of His Holy Spirit, we can do this.

May this Advent season be a blessed time for you and your loved ones as you embrace the mercy of Emmanuel, God with us.