A time for merciful accompaniment

DEAR people of God in the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.

The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy (December 8, 2015 – November 20, 2016) is upon us. I sense a growing awareness of this in the parishes. Parish groups are deciding upon practical pastoral approaches. They are reading Pope Francis’ foundational document on the Year of Mercy (Misericordiae Vultus). My own pastoral letter on Mercy is also available (November’s Catholic Voice). All of this has my every encouragement and support.

At the same time, we have now entered the Advent liturgical season, as we ready ourselves for the great feast of Christmas. During this time, we are continuing to receive summary reports of the October Synod of Bishops in Rome on family life. I read one such report recently. It was from one of the Italian Archbishops who assisted in organising the Synod. He offered three words, which he felt summarised the discussions.

(1) Accompaniment: Rather than condemn, we are to accompany mercifully family life today in all its challenges and situations.

(2) Healing: Healing discernment is to be offered to families today. As the entire Church is made up of families in all their forms, we serve family life by assisting them to discern and heal the many issues that daily they encounter.

(3) Conversion: Turning back to the Lord in repentance is at the very centre of the Christian life. It is an encounter of the Lord’s tenderness. It is God’s loving kindness offered to all as a gift of grace. This is so often a step by step and gradual return to the God of all mercies.

Let us keep these three points in mind in 2016 during our deanery regional gatherings on the topic of ‘Mercy in Marriage and Family Life’.

When I reflect carefully on the above and given the fact that the Christmas season is so near, my mind focuses on Mary, the Mother of God. She seems to embody the merciful accompaniment suggested above. The Holy Family, as always, shows us the way forward.

Mary’s “Yes” at the Annunciation accompanies Jesus, our saviour, and his merciful entry into this world.

In Mary’s visitation to her cousin Elizabeth, she becomes, as Pope St John Paul II observed, a living tabernacle who carries Jesus in her womb in a kind of first ever Eucharistic procession.

In the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, Mary is observed as presenting her first born Son to the world, to humble shepherds and wise men from the East.

Throughout his entire life, Jesus is, in one form or another, accompanied by his mother. We think particularly of Cana to Calvary.

So, in this Advent/Christmas season, let us imitate Mary and with great mercy in our hearts, accompany Jesus, the source of all mercy, into the challenges of our everyday lives.

I pray for you all at Christmas time. May “the loving kindness of the heart of our God” (Luke 1:78) bless you and all members of your family, especially the ones who struggle the most, with the joy and hope of Christmas. Enjoy any holidays that may be forthcoming. May the merciful Lord bless you throughout 2016.

Archbishop Christopher Prowse

Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn