KAUKAUNA — Everyone, including the elderly, can “live the gift of mercy,” Bishop David Ricken told residents and guests at St. Paul Elder Services, a senior care facility sponsored by the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, during Mass Feb. 15.
Bishop Ricken, along with Fr. Tom Long, diocesan vicar for ministers, visited with residents, blessed a history wall display and offered Mass for the community as part of the Holy Year of Mercy. Each month, Bishop Ricken is practicing a corporal or spiritual work of mercy around the diocese and encourages others to do the same.
In an interview following Mass, Bishop Ricken explained how the visit fits in his plans for the Holy Year.
“I come here every couple of years for a visit, but I wanted to do this now because we are following what Pope Francis has asked us to do: to focus on one of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy,” he said. “This month we are focusing on the sick, caring for and visiting the sick. So I’m traveling to several other places to make sure that we thank the people and journey with them in their illnesses.”
Following his visit to Kaukauna, Bishop Ricken and Fr. Long traveled to Manitowoc to visit residents of Felician Village, another senior care facility sponsored by the Felician Sisters.
In his homily, Bishop Ricken had two messages for St. Paul residents, among whom are one retired diocesan and nine Capuchin religious order priests: that the elderly are loved by God and that they should offer up their challenges to God.
“In our culture today, very often the elderly are discarded or treated as unimportant. We don’t esteem our elders the way we should as a society,” said Bishop Ricken. “This place is holy ground … because I notice that you are cared for as Jesus would be cared for — and what a great ministry and what a great accomplishment is being done here in this holy place.”
He said that Pope Francis is capturing the world’s imagination. “He is showing us how to live the gift of mercy,” said Bishop Ricken.
“You might say, ‘Well, how can I do this here at St. Paul’s? I can’t get around. I’m not mobile too much anymore, I don’t feel good a lot of the time,’” he continued. “You can be just as involved in the gospel of mercy through your thoughts and prayers for others.”
He told the residents to pray for peace in the world and to pray for their families and those who have drifted away from the church.
“For all of you who have been mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and people of employment and all kinds of professions, all of this is a big change in what you had been living before, and yet you can be just as effective, right here in this home,” Bishop Ricken said, “by your prayers and also by offering your sufferings for the sake of others.”
He reminded them about what they were told by their own elders when experiencing difficulties. “They told us to ‘offer it up,’” he said. “And actually, that’s very good theology. It’s called redemptive suffering. When we join in Jesus’ redemptive suffering — that is, when we carry our crosses, which are part of his cross — we alleviate the burdens and the pain of others through the mystical body of Christ.”
He explained that when they feel physical or emotional discomfort, “you say, ‘Lord Jesus, I love you and I give you my pains, I give you my sufferings, I give you my fears and my anxieties so that perhaps these can alleviate somebody else who is in greater trouble than I am.’ … Your suffering can help make that happen for somebody else.”
By “offering up” difficulties, he added, “you are working, you are praying, you are doing your part to participate in the Gospel, in the promotion of mercy and carrying the cross of Jesus for others. That’s called redemptive suffering.”
Bishop Ricken encouraged the residents to take part in the Year of Mercy through prayer.
“What a great opportunity you have to continue the corporal and spiritual works of mercy by thinking of somebody else and offering your suffering for their needs and to help them along as well,” he said.
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