A refreshing pastoral letter

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

The Advent pastoral letter of this year which also marked the beginning of the Jubilee of Mercy, written by Mgr Charles Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta, and Mgr Mario Grech, Bishop of Gozo, brought to my mind that famous verse of the Prophet Ezekiel’s book: “Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through” (Ezek 47:5). This pastoral letter makes its readers literally swim in the deep river of God’s merciful love.

The foundation of this pastoral letter is the challenge to “be merciful just as the Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). From its very beginning this pastoral letter is essentially geared towards action. It states that to be merciful means “to feel compassion for one another, to support each other in moments of difficulty, to bind thewounds of those who are wounded and to strive to overcome conflicts, hate, jealousy, to refrain from passing judgement on others which causes harm (see Misericordiae Vultus, 14)”.

Thus this Jubilee Year of Mercy is an excellent opportunity for all of us to concretize the Father’s merciful love He generously shows to us by doing concrete signs of it. The first sign the Bishops suggest is that of protecting weak and vulnerable creatures. These include “the human person from the moment of conception (the human embryo) to the point of natural death” and “the sufferings which immigrants face, many of whom arrive on our shores and others who arrive on other Mediterranean shores.” The Bishops did not mince their words when addressing those who hold prejudices against these brothers and sisters. “Let anyone who insults or speaks with contempt about these people, convert!”

The second concrete sign of the Mercy Jubilee is the protection of our environment. Since “creation is an open book and if we look at it attentively, it demonstrates the greatness of God’s mercy, for this reason, to protect creation is a concrete sign of mercy.” In recalling Pope Francis’ great Encylical Letter Laudato Si’, theBishops accentuated the fact that “we need to safeguard the beauty of God’s creation and praise God, just as St Francis did: ‘Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon; Praised be You, through Brother Sun.’” TheMaltese and Gozitan Shepherds emphasized that “it is a great responsibility to look after our common home, and to sow beauty and not pollution and destruction”.

The last tangible sign which the pastoral letter proposes as to how we can live effectively this Jubilee of Mercy is precisely that of forgiving our enemies. The Bishops strongly believe that “God’s mercy has the power toliberate us from all that which destroys our spirit (see Mt 10:38), from our true enemy that causes us to drown ourselves in feelings of anger, revenge and hatred towards our brethren”. Since “to forgive our enemies is an expression of mercy” the Bishops challenge us, as their flock, to respond to the terrorist attacks we have suffered as Europeans with a language that is different from the violence we have unjustly received. Furthermore, as “Christians, as a Church, as a society, let us take the opportunity which this Holy Year of Mercy is giving us, to forgive one another sincerely, to proceed on the road to reconciliation”.

Finally when our Bishops rightly exhort us “to become more familiar with the works of mercy”, both corporeal and spiritual, they lovingly reminded me of Saint Augustine’s Sermon on 1 John 4:4-12.

“What sort of face does love have? What shape is it? What size? What hands and feet does it have? No one can say. And yet it does have feet, those feet that carry people to church. It does have hands, those hands that reach out to the poor. It has eyes, those through which we consider the needy: ‘blessed is the person,’ it is said, ‘who considers the needy and the poor.’ [Ps. 41:1] It has ears, of which the Lord says, “He that has earsto hear let him hear.” [Luke 8:8]”.

Let us read this pastoral letter with faith, interiorize it with hope and live it with love!

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