Missionaries of Mercy
On Ash Wednesday, we set out on a forty-day penitential journey toward Christ’s Cross and Resurrection and the new life that he brings us. That same day, Pope Francis sent forth several hundred Missionaries of Mercy – priests from around the world to whom he gave a special mandate to be heralds and instruments of God’s love and mercy in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. Above all, they are to be “living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon” and “persuasive preachers of mercy,” special authority to pardon even those sins normally reserved to the Holy See (Misericordiae Vultus, 18).
In commissioning these extraordinary Missionaries, our Holy Father offered them his encouragement, saying, “Dear brothers, you will be able to help open the doors of the heart, to overcome shame, to not flee from the light. May your hands bless and lift up your brothers and sisters with paternity; that through you the gaze and the hands of the Father might rest on his sons and cure their wounds!”
Among the priests commissioned to be Missionaries of Mercy is the archdiocese’s own Father William Byrne, who is well-known for his evangelization efforts as the writer of a column for the Catholic Standard newspaper, as the host of many of our archdiocesan videos, such as this one on Confession, and as the voice of many of our spiritual radio messages. He is also pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Potomac and, in recent years, he served as the Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the archdiocese. The commissioning of the dynamic Father Byrne to be a Missionary of Mercy is a blessing for our local Church for which we can all be thankful.
In this new role, Father Byrne and the other Missionaries of Mercy are “facilitators of a truly human encounter, a source of liberation, rich with responsibility for overcoming obstacles and taking up the new life of Baptism again” (Misericordiae Vultus, 18). In fact, they are meant to characterize the meaning of the Jubilee itself.
A jubilee in the ancient custom of the Old Testament is “a year of the Lord’s favor” – it is an occasion of redemption and grace when debts are cancelled, ancestral lands are regained, and liberty is proclaimed throughout the land (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 11-12). In other words, it is a new start for people gained by gratuitous mercy.
During this Jubilee of Mercy, the Missionaries of Mercy are meant to be seen in that light, explained Pope Francis when he met with them the day before their commissioning. “Being a confessor in accordance with Christ’s heart,” he said to them, “means covering the sinner with a cloak of mercy, so that he is no longer ashamed and is able to recover the joy of his filial dignity.” So that God’s healing mercy might reach everywhere and everyone who seeks it, so that they might start life anew in grace, the Missionaries also have special authority to pardon even those sins normally reserved to the Holy See.
While these Missionaries are specially commissioned to be channels of our heavenly Father’s mercy, each of us are called in our own way to be both recipients and witnesses of God’s loving compassion in word and deed. Each of us are called to be missionaries of God’s love and mercy, especially for the poor and forgotten.
“God’s mercy transforms human hearts,” Pope Francis reminds us, and this mercy “enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn. In an ever new miracle, divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbor.”
Our archdiocesan Year of Mercy website, #EncounterMercy, has resources and reflections about mercy, including information on the “The Light is ON for You” initiative, and people are invited to share their experiences with mercy on social media. Having received God’s tender mercies, as the Missionaries of Mercy in their special way enable others to be touched by the Lord’s grace, let us in our own particular way be missionaries who express mercy to others in our homes, schools, workplaces, communities, and in our nation and world.