Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The world continues to mourn with the people of France after the murder of so many innocent people in Paris one week ago. As Pope Francis said, such violence and hatred is an affront to the dignity of the human person and can never be justified, whether it’s in Europe, the Middle East, Africa or any other part of the world.
These most recent attacks point once again to a world so very much in need of God’s love, mercy and peace. And they point to the need for all of us to be peacemakers, reconcilers and witnesses to the Good News of Christ.
In a little more than a week — on Sunday, Nov. 29 — we will begin the season of Advent, a time when we prepare for the celebration of our Lord’s birth and his second coming at the end of time. It also is a penitential time, calling us to quiet our minds and hearts for the coming of Christmas amid all the busyness of the season.
This year, Advent overlaps with the beginning of the Year of Mercy on Dec. 8, creating a wonderful opportunity for us to focus on how we can more deeply experience mercy and reconciliation in our own lives and offer it to others. Like John the Baptist, who is the focus of two Sunday Gospel readings during Advent, we, too, can “prepare the way of the Lord” through our prayers, words and actions.
I encourage you to join me in taking advantage of the sacrament of penance during this time. Confession offers a chance to examine our consciences and reflect on how we’ve fallen short in following God’s will. Seeking and receiving God’s forgiveness through the sacrament helps us to change our lives for the better by getting right with him and in how we treat others. Even if it’s been a long time since your last confession, please don’t be fearful of going. The priest, who is acting in Christ’s name, will welcome you to this special experience of God’s healing and grace.
I also encourage you to learn more about the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and to practice them during Advent and the Year of Mercy. These 14 practices have a long history in our Christian tradition and are rooted in the Gospel message of Christ. They include comforting the sorrowful, forgiving injuries, praying for the living and the dead, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless and visiting the prisoner.
In his letter announcing the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis said a principal theme is to “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” We are all very much in need of Christ’s love and mercy. Our world, particularly in light of recent events, needs to hear a message of compassion and tolerance.
My prayer is that this Advent you will prepare for Christ’s birth by seeking forgiveness and healing in your own life and answering the church’s call to bring Christ’s love, mercy and peace to those most in need.
May you have a blessed and holy Advent season,
– Bishop Donald J. Kettler