“Miserando atque eligendo.” This is the Latin motto of our beloved Pope Francis. It refers back for him to the life-changing day in 1953 on the Feast of the Apostle and Evangelist, St. Matthew, when, like the tax collector, the 17 year old Jorge Bergolio experienced the mercy of God in a wonderful way through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
This experience changed his life and served as the root of his call to the priesthood. The phrase, “miserando atque eligendo,” translates roughly to, “by having mercy, choosing him.” This is what Jesus did for Matthew when he was at his tax collector’s table and this is what Pope Francis felt he experienced in his own life.
When we consider this, we realize that mercy has shaped our Holy Father’s entire experience of God and his Faith. It has been at the basis of his self-understanding and of his ministry. When asked shortly after his election as Pope to describe himself, Pope Francis had an answer ready at hand. He said simply, “I am a sinner.”
Jesus could not have had mercy on Matthew unless Matthew was a sinner. Mercy is not due to someone who has no need. That mercy not only offered Matthew the forgiveness of his sins, it gave him a new life as one who knew he was beloved by God. Such is the case in the life of our Holy Father. Such must be the case for anyone who hopes to be a true disciple of Jesus.
Once we recognize this fundamental insight, and the role it has played in the life of this great man who is now Chief Shepherd of our Church, it comes as no surprise to us that he has declared this extraordinary Holy Year of grace in which we are all invited to reflect, pray and practice the transformative gift of mercy.
Pope Francis wants to challenge us all to recognize more deeply how wonderfully God’s mercy has entered into our lives and therefore, how great is our calling to practice this mercy in all our dealings with others.
But there is a necessary prerequisite that must come into play before mercy becomes the lens through which we see ourselves and others: we must recognize the same truth about ourselves as the young Jorge Bergolio came to know about himself: that we are sinners.
This is not simply to acknowledge that we make a mistake occasionally. And it is not to say that we sometimes make bad choices. It is to acknowledge that we are fundamentally flawed; that we have caused great harm to other people and to our relationship with God - and that without the help of God we are utterly hopeless and lost. God’s mercy isn’t therefore just something nice to have in our lives; it is an absolute necessity.
God’s saving love is revealed in mercy. When we begin to grasp this truth everything changes. Mercy becomes the guiding light for our life. It is the ground of our relationship with God; the reason for our hope, the secret ingredient sustaining all our relationships, the reason for our joy.
Soon we will bless the Holy Doors at our Cathedral and three parishes throughout our Diocese. As we walk in to these churches, there will be opportunities of special grace. All of our Vicariates and parishes will outline special events for this Holy Year, especially the celebration of the great Sacraments of Mercy led by the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
I pray that this Year of Mercy will be for each of us and for our whole diocesan community a time of grace and transformation. May we also be brought to the point at which we can declare with Pope Francis, “miserando atque eligendo.”
-Bp. Mark When I was installed as Bishop of El Paso nearly 5 years ago now it really hit home to me how big a role retreats play in strengthening, and in many cases, reviving, the Faith of our people here. During my homily I mentioned those whose Faith had grown in charismatic retreats, marriage encounters, evangelization retreats and ACTS retreats. With the mention of each retreat experience the cheers grew until the Convention Center shook with the roar of those who had made an ACTS Retreat. The response left no question in my mind about the essential role these retreats play in our lives today.
Finances for the Diocese have been very tight lately but I could not say no, nor could our Presbyteral Council or Catholic Properties Board, when Dr. Mena offered to sell the Holy Trinity Retreat Center at a very favorable price and under very favorable terms to the Diocese of El Paso. This was a place into which he had poured his blood, sweat and finances these last twelve years. After living his own ACTS retreat Dr. Ascension Mena had seen a need for these life-changing experiences to have a home in El Paso. With his skills as an organizer, a businessman and a builder he gathered dedicated men and ACTS brothers and sisters around him to build this impressive facility literally from the ground up.
Step by step they added facilities especially geared to ACTS, but useful for any retreat or meeting experience. It was not planned to be luxurious or ritzy but it would provide a place where people could gather and God could work. Many will tell you today how much this simple facility in the desert has meant for their walk with God.
We have only in the last few days completed the purchase of the facility so future plans are still in the works. We will certainly need everyone’s support to make this bold new undertaking a success. Stay tuned for exciting announcements as we bring together people with vision to develop the full potential of our amazing new facility! In the meantime start planning your retreats and other church related meetings at your new diocesan home. Just call the Catholic Properties office at 915.872.8406 or 915.355.0978.
Most Rev. Mark J. Seitz