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Catholic Voice
  December 14, 2015   •   VOL. 53, NO. 21   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

A blessed, holy Christmas as we begin Year of Mercy


Most Rev.
Michael C. Barber, SJ

"Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us!" said the blind men who begged Jesus to heal them. Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I can do this?" "Yes, Lord," they said. Then he touched their eyes and said, "Let it be done for you according to your faith." And their eyes were opened.

They could see!

This episode encapsulates the Church's Holy Year of Mercy which Pope Francis inaugurated on Dec. 8. The blind men knew they needed healing. They knew Jesus could heal. They came to him ... and were healed because of their faith.

Recently I went with three priests, two deacons and some faithful lay volunteers to Santa Rita County Jail in Dublin. We went to offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation to as many of the 4,000 inmates as we could, in honor of the Advent season. We went in small teams to the cell block "pods," which house 15-20 inmates in each. The deacons and lay folks led prayers, read scripture and taught the examination of conscience to any inmates who wanted to attend in each "pod."

We priests sat apart in as quiet a place as possible for any who wanted to receive the Sacrament of Confession, or who wanted to speak with a priest. I was astonished by the number of inmates who lined up. There were so many we could only make a dent in the jail population.

 

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Whether Catholic or not, each and every man who came forward begged for forgiveness: from the priest, from the Church, from Jesus — the visible face of the Father's Mercy! One heavily tattooed man cried as I held his hands and we prayed together. No one had ever prayed with him before or blessed him, or told him that his true identity was a child of God, created in the image of the Father.

In declaring the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis said "Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident." Yes! It was palpable that night at Santa Rita jail. Now we as a diocese must make sure this holy mercy is more evident in our parishes and schools in this Holy Year.

The Holy Father also said "Mercy becomes a criterion for ascertaining who the Father's true children are." That's our call to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in this year. We as a Church are "the mystical body of Christ." Therefore when people cry to Jesus for help, we, as the extension of His body in the Diocese of Oakland, respond from our hearts.

Wherever we hear the cry of the poor, we must respond. To those that are hungry or naked, we can join St. Vincent de Paul and feed and clothe them. To those who are homeless, need a job, need legal papers or fighting an addiction, we can join Catholic Charities and help them.

To those children and young people who don't know the message of Jesus' life-giving Gospel, we can become religious education volunteers and teach them. To those who mourn, we can join bereavement ministry in our parish. There are countless ways to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to heal those who cry for help. Please visit our Jubilee of Mercy website for more ways to participate:

http://jubileeofmercy-eb.org

As a diocese, one extraordinary corporal act of mercy we are doing in honor of the Holy Year is to create a safehouse for children who are victims of sexual trafficking: those minors on the streets or the Internet who offer themselves for sale, and have no way out of their situation. I am pleased that Catholic Charities, in cooperation with Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley, is taking the lead. But we, all of us in our parishes, will need to support them. There is no other program or place offering hope or a future for these poor girls and boys.

And we can all PRAY — calling down God's holy mercies on those who are suffering. As we celebrate the greatest gift of Mercy the world has ever known, the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, let's offer the newborn King all the suffering we see around us in our diocese.

Whether you are as poor as a shepherd or as rich as one of the Magi, let's kneel before the manger in adoration of our God-made-man, and beg His abundant mercies on our brothers and sisters.

A blessed and holy Christmas to you and your families!

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