On Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis met with about 700 priests and religious from around the world who were chosen to serve as “missionaries of mercy” during the Holy Year of Mercy. According to Catholic News Service, 1,071 ordained men were appointed by the pope “to be unique signs of God’s mercy.”
The mandate given to them by Pope Francis is to preach and teach about God’s mercy, according to the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, Archbishop Rino Fisichella. “It is only the pope who nominates these missionaries… and it is he who entrusts them with the mandate to announce the beauty of the mercy of God while being humble and wise confessors who possess a great capacity to forgive those who approach the confessional,” said Archbishop Fisichella.
Over the next few months, we will begin hearing how these missionaries of mercy are fulfilling their appointed duties. At the same time, we should all consider ways that we can serve as lay missionaries of mercy. While those appointed by the pope are priests who can administer the sacrament of reconciliation, there are things we, the laity, can do to seek and find mercy.
Pope Francis may not have authorized our roles as missionaries of mercy, but nevertheless, we did receive our mandate on Ash Wednesday. When those ashes were placed on our foreheads, we were reminded to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
Here are five things we can do this Lent, and throughout the Year of Mercy, to be lay missionaries of mercy who are faithful to the Gospel.
- Visit the confessional. Pope Francis encourages Catholics to seek forgiveness through the sacrament of reconciliation. U.S. Catholics, however, are not always quick to seek absolution for sins in the confessional. According to a study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), anywhere from 2 to 12 percent of U.S. Catholics go to confession once a month but 25 to 42 percent say they never go to confession. (The gap in figures is attributed to responses given when interviewed by telephone or when the survey is self-administered.)
- Encourage family members and friends to seek the sacrament of reconciliation. As a missionary of mercy, we can remind others that Pope Francis is encouraging everyone to go to confession. Let them know it’s a “balm for the desire of revenge” and “housekeeping for the soul,” as the late Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote in 2011.
- Make a pilgrimage to one of (or all) three sites in the Green Bay Diocese where Bishop David Ricken has designated holy doors of mercy. These sites include St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay, the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion and the National Shrine of St. Joseph, located at Old St. Joseph’s Church on the campus of St. Norbert College.
Pilgrims who pass through a holy door during the Year of Mercy can receive a plenary indulgence (which removes temporal punishment for sins) if they also go to confession, Mass, receive Communion and pray for the pope.
- Read up on the works of mercy. What are the spiritual and corporal works of mercy? What do they entail and where are they found in Scripture? With some background and understanding, go out and practice these works of mercy.
- Practice the traditional Lenten observances of praying, fasting and almsgiving. Attend stations of the cross and abstain from eating meat on Fridays. Donate to CRS Rice Bowl.
This Lent, let’s make an effort to be “signs of God’s mercy” as lay missionaries of mercy.