By Jean M. Heimann
The season of Advent is a time of preparation. It is a time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. It is a time to make more room for him in our lives. During Advent, we wait patiently and prayerfully, with the Blessed Virgin Mary, in joyful hope and in anticipation of the miracle of the Incarnation.
This year is remarkable in that Pope Francis has proclaimed it to be an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. During this Advent, then, we are called to come to Jesus and to seek out his merciful love which can heal all that is injured within us. He calls us out of the darkness into the light of His radiant and merciful love. For, his mercy has the power to free us of our fears, worries, and all the burdens that weigh us down. It can heal us of the hurts that lie deep within and of the despair that accompanies our darkest sins. First and foremost, God invites to embrace his mercy, to repent and to be cleansed, to be made spotless and holy. This Advent we are all invited to approach Jesus to seek out the Father’s mercy through the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Second, we are called to contemplate the mystery of mercy. What is mercy? Where we would we be without the mercy of God? Our very salvation depends upon it. Pope Francis describes it as “a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace.” It is a gift from God that we, too, can share with others when we choose to forgive. Forgiveness is a gift that we give ourselves and others when we practice it. When we forgive, we purge our hearts of the poison that is polluting our soul and cleanse it with an abundance of purifying graces. When we forgive, we are refreshed with the healing waters of joy, serenity, and peace. Thus, this Advent is a time to focus on extending mercy to others through forgiveness.
Third, Pope Francis tells us that this Jubilee year of Mercy is a time when the witness of believers might “grow stronger” and become “more effective.” Our witness has the effect of encouraging others to grow in mercy and love. What are some concrete ways we can witness? The spiritual and corporal works of mercy are much needed in our world today. These works of mercy bring hope to those who have little or none: the poor, the sick, the homeless, the hungry and those in our Western culture who suffer emotionally. Blessed Mother Teresa describes their malady in the following way: “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
All too often we find these lonely and unloved people in our own family. They tend to be overlooked because we are too busy with our careers, our possessions or our personal activities. During this Advent season, let us make a special effort to spend more time with our family members and show them the tender love and mercy of Jesus.
It is significant that Pope Francis will open the holy doors of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Mary, the Mother of God, is also the Mother of Mercy. She was conceived without sin and, through her Immaculate Conception, God designed her to be the created masterpiece of his mercy in the world. Father Marie-Dominique Philippe, OP (the founder of the Community of St. John, my oblate community) described God’s mercy toward Mary in this way: “The mystery of the Immaculate Conception ... is the expression of the first act of the heavenly Father's mercy in Mary's regard — an act of absolute gratuity. This is why we can see in it the Father's mercy in its pure state. The first act is the Father's prevenient mercy for this very tiny child that is to be born.”
Let us ask our Mother to assist us during this Advent Season:
Dear Blessed Virgin Mary,
Thank you for your prayers and for your fiat, for giving yourself freely to be the Mother of God and our Mother, too.
I lift my heart to you and ask you to help me obtain pardon for my sins. Pray for me, holy Mother. Give me the grace to approach Jesus with an honest and humble heart to confess my sins, confident that if I am repentant, he will pour out his tender compassion and mercy upon me, refreshing my heart with joy, serenity, and peace.
Help me to be a witness to mercy by forgiving others and by practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy in a special way this Advent.
Ask the Holy Spirit to enable me to assist the sick, the poor, and the homeless; to bring hope to the downcast, to comfort the mournful, to pray for priests and for all consecrated religious, to show charity to those who feel lonely and unloved, especially my own family members.
I seek your help and protection in becoming a merciful child of God and in imitating you and your Son, Jesus, in exercising the virtue of mercy. I pray this in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
~ copyright Jean M. Heimann December 2015