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A gracious invitation to ‘Come Home to God’s Mercy’

Posted By February 14, 2013 | 1:10 pm | Featured Article #3

Come Home to God’s Mercy and the Year of Faith

Msgr. Robert Johnson
Director, Diocesan Office for Divine Worship

In his encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” Pope Benedict XVI sets forth for the Church an essential dimension of the life of faith for the Christian. He teaches that the assimilation of the Christian faith is perhaps less about the knowledge of dogma, doctrine and teaching about Christ and more about a living relationship with Christ. He reminds us that; “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (Deus Caritas Est 1)
Consistently his message about the precious gift of our faith, is that it is less about a thing and more about a person, the person of Jesus who calls us into relationship born of a profound encounter with him.
Now if we are truly honest we can see that our lives are all about encounters. For we do not live as humans in some type of splendid isolation. The reality and need for encounters could said to be a part of our human make-up, part of our DNA. We are engaged in human encounters all the time, with our families, our friends, our co-workers and with a host of people with whom we come into contact with  daily.
The Year of Faith called by Pope Benedict XVI is an opportunity to connect this daily human reality with our life of faith. For faith, much like the love of any other is born of regular encounters that calls us ever deeper into relationship as we get to know, appreciate, and love the other. The relationships that mean most to us in this life are also nurtured and sustained by regular encounters with the other whom we have come to love.
So too with the precious gift of faith. It is born of encountering God begun in the saving waters of baptism. It is precisely in those waters where God has made the first move, so to speak. For it is there that he reaches out personally and singularly naming and claiming each of us as his very own child, setting us over the world and the Church, that we might attain the goal of our lives, the purpose of our creation, our salvation.
Knowing that people in the world in which we live often struggle to get things right, I can remember a line from the movie “Love Story” being often quoted. Namely that “love means never having to say you are sorry.” Married couples know perhaps better than I do that this lovely sentiment is nothing more than false romanticism, and that love, true love means exactly the opposite. Love for the other means learning that sometimes we fail, sometimes we get it wrong. This becomes an important lesson in our life and growth in faith as we progress. Sometimes we do get it wrong, yes, sometimes we sin against the one whom we love.
During the season of Lent the Church in Worcester has embraced a simple program titled “Come Home to God’s Mercy.” It is a gracious invitation to a sacramental  encounter with the God whom we love and who desires for us to grow in that love for him and for each other.
In so many ways it calls to mind the very first time I went to confession. Filled with anxiety, not knowing what the priest would say, not knowing what penance I would receive, not knowing how it would all turn out, I proceeded filled with sorrow for my sins, into a very dark box and went to confession. What was clear to me beginning at that moment was that this was no ordinary encounter. I recall the profound relief and astonishment at what God could do. At that moment I first met the merciful love of God, a mercy that I certainly had not experienced in any other person.
In an elocution in 2006 Pope Benedict XVI reminded the Church that “the fundamental task of the evangelization of culture is the challenge to make God visible in the human face of Jesus.” How many people amidst the contemporary culture experience the coarseness of humanity, the injustices perpetrated by others, the inequalities born of prejudices and ignorance? How many desperately long to see the face of mercy and justice that will help alleviate their pain and suffering?  How many desperately long to ease their consciences as they alienated themselves from friends, loved ones, co-workers through poor choices?
It should be of great consolation for all of us that in the sacrament of reconciliation, the Church offers a personal, intimate and profound encounter with the God of mercy. Here is the opportunity to enter into a powerful experience of grace which posits each in direct relationship with the God who extends his merciful love in such abundance. Where else in our world is this type of encounter possible?
Throughout my priestly ministry I have consistently experienced the importance of the priestly ministry most powerfully in the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation. It is has been within this sacrament of healing and forgiveness that I have witness and celebrated lives changed and made whole again. For it is in this encounter with the living God that troubled souls weighed down and burdened by sin have felt the freedom of a clear conscience, amidst a world where that kind of freedom is scarcely offered and found. How many of us have been able to find the peace that comes when unburdened from guilt and have had our troubled consciences healed?
The merciful love of God is faithfully extended to those who enter into and nurture the great gift of their faith in a relationship that knows and understands that love – true love – is precisely having to say that we are sorry!
Therefore, the Year of Faith is a wonderful opportunity for the entire Church to rediscover the richness and beauty of the Catholic faith, not simply in theory or knowledge, but as an encounter with the Person of Christ. Perhaps in this season of Lent we might consider again the invitation to this wonderful opportunity through a profound encounter with our God in Jesus as we Come Home to God’s Mercy.
Pope Benedict again reminds us in yet another elocution to the Church:  “We are Christians only if we encounter Christ. … Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One do we really become Christians. … Therefore, let us pray to the Lord to enlighten us, so that, in our world, he will grant us the encounter with his presence, and thus give us a lively faith, an open heart, and great charity for all, capable of renewing the world.”
As part of the Come Home to God’s Mercy pastoral initiative, confessions are being offered by each parish in the Diocese of Worcester from 7 to 8 p.m. every Tuesday.



By Patricia O’Connell
CFP Correspondent

Catholics throughout the diocese will have many opportunities to go to confession this Lent.
Come Home to God’s Mercy, an initiative designed to promote the sacrament of Reconciliation, is running once again. As in previous years, confessions will be heard in parishes on Tuesday nights from 7-8 p.m.
Also, during the weeks of Lent, many parishes will offer extra confession times outside of the Tuesday night block and the regular Saturday afternoon confession hours.
Msgr. Robert K. Johnson, rector of St. Paul Cathedral, is coordinating the diocesan Come Home to God’s Mercy program.
He said the program, now in its fourth year, is an initiative by Bishop McManus.
“This is really the bishop’s desire for the diocese,” said Msgr. Johnson.
The program’s aim is to offer additional confession times to make it as easy as possible for people to receive the sacrament, he noted.
“That’s the idea, to get them back into the habit of going (to confession,)” he said. “That is our goal.”
Msgr. Johnson said the traditional Saturday mid-afternoon confession time is not always convenient for people.
At the Cathedral, Saturday confessions run from 3-3:45 p.m. Throughout the year, priests are also available to hear confessions in the lower chapel Monday through Friday following the 12:10 p.m. weekday Mass. Confessions in Spanish are heard Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Father John E. Horgan, pastor of St. Denis Parish in Ashburnham, will be in the confessional Tuesday nights, as he’s done in previous years during Lent. He said some people avail themselves of this time.
“I wish they were knocking the doors down,” he said. “We do get people on Tuesday nights.”
He said while the numbers aren’t overwhelming, there are always a few who show up.
Father Horgan thinks part of the reason his confessional is not that busy, on Tuesday nights, is because his Deanery also has an annual Lenten pilgrimage that travels from parish to parish each Wednesday night. Each stop on the pilgrimage officially starts at 7 p.m., but priests are available to hear confessions from 6-6:45 p.m.
“We get good attendance at the pilgrimages,” he said.
This year’s pilgrimage for the Greater Gardner Deanery began at Sacred Heart Parish in Gardner on Feb. 20; it continues at St. Denis in Ashburnham on Feb. 27, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Winchendon on March 6, St. Francis Parish in Athol on March 13 and St. Vincent de Paul in Baldwinville on March 20.
Msgr. Michael G. Foley, pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Westborough, said the Tuesday night Come Home to God’s Mercy program at his parish is preceded by a Holy Hour. He said this allows people time to prepare before receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.
Additional opportunities for confession would be following the daily 12:10 Mass, added for the Lenten season. People are also free to make an appointment for confession, he noted.
“We’re always available for whatever time a person requires,” he said.


Priests offer pointers for reaching the ultimate goal

By Patricia O’Connell
CFP Correspondent

Getting to heaven is our ultimate goal.
It’s why we go to Mass. It’s why we were created. It’s the reason we exist.
But how do we get from here to there?
As we begin our Lenten journey, three diocesan priests tell us how to follow Christ so we can live with him forever.

Father Stephen M. Gemme
Father Stephen M. Gemme, pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Northborough, said it boils down to the Ten Commandments. This, then, leads to the Greatest Commandment, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” and the second Great Commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
“The first relationship we should have is with God,” said Father Gemme, noting this “flies in the face” of contemporary culture.
Being charitable is a requirement. Father Gemme said we should have concern for the poor, the sick and the unborn.
When it comes to living our Catholic faith, we must accept all the teachings of the Church, noted Father Gemme.
“I think one of the challenges for many Catholics is being a cafeteria Catholic,” he added, explaining that some people are committed to feeding the poor, yet, at the same time, may not agree with the Church’s stance on abortion.
“Listening to the teachings of the Church is very important,” Father Gemme stressed. “A great way to grow in your faith is to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”
Father Gemme said going to confession is essential to one’s spiritual life. “It’s very important for me to go on a regular basis,” he said.
The Church, he explained, requires us to go to confession at least once a year. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II, he noted, did this much more frequently.
Father Gemme also recommends praying the rosary, as Our Lady requested when she appeared to the three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal in the early 1900s.
“Part of the devotion is to pray it daily,” he said. “A great time to pray is when you’re in the car.” He said families praying the rosary at home, with their children, is a “wonderful” practice.
If possible, attend Mass during the week, in addition to Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, said Father Gemme.
Divine Mercy Sunday, always the Sunday after Easter, is a good opportunity to go to confession. At St. Bernadette, from 8 to 10 priests will hear confessions that day.
Another good spiritual practice is eucharistic adoration, noted Father Gemme. He said spending an hour with Our Lord is “a wonderful way to grow in holiness and in charity.” Many people who sit before the Blessed Sacrament pray for their families and their children, he said.
“It’s really critical to remind people that Christ is present in the Eucharist,” he added.
“Our faith is meant to be lived,” he said. “When you come to church we’re really meant to participate.”
He urged people to give to others, whether it be food or clothing. And he encouraged us to get involved in the 40 Days for Life campaign, and, if possible, take time to pray outside of Planned Parenthood in Worcester.

Monsignor Francis T. Goguen

“First of all they should accept Jesus into their hearts as a friend, because he wants to be our friend,” said Msgr. Francis T. Goguen, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Leominster.
“He invites us, he doesn’t force us, he invites us,” Msgr. Goguen added. “Jesus invites us to be his friend and follow him. To walk along the road with him.”
Doing so, though, is not without cost, explains Msgr. Goguen.
“Sometimes it’s good, it’s pleasant,” he said. “Sometimes it involves suffering.”
Jesus was the natural Son of God the Father, who invites us to be his adopted children, Msgr. Goguen continued.
Because of that invitation, we must be obedient to the commandments of God, the greatest of which is love, he said.
Msgr. Goguen said Jesus willingly and obediently accepted his cross. “If we follow him, we too, we’ll get to heaven,” he stated.
Pope Benedict XVI, during his pontificate, in his talks, has underscored the fact that we need to be a friend of Jesus, and that’s how we get to heaven, Msgr. Goguen explained.
All of us need to accept Jesus as “the model, the rule of our lives, the pattern of our existence,” Msgr. Goguen said. “We need to grow out of our own selfishness.”
He said some people have bumper stickers with the letters “WWJD?” or “What Would Jesus Do?” Likewise, in a given instance, we can ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”
With Jesus as our model, we must be patient with others. “We try to follow his example,” said Msgr. Goguen.
Maintaining a friendship with Jesus takes some effort on our part, according to Msgr. Goguen. Just as we need to stay in touch with our friends here on earth, if we don’t want the friendship to cool. Likewise, we must do the same with Christ.
“Keep a life of prayer,” urged Msgr. Goguen, who encouraged us to view Jesus as our friend.
“If you wake up in the middle of the night, sad, afraid or anxious, just talk to Jesus,” he said.

Father Michael N. Lavallee

Friendship with Jesus is also the theme of Father Michael N. Lavallee’s advice. Father Lavallee is pastor of St. Thomas-a-Becket Parish in South Barre.
He said the relationship we have with Christ now is the same relationship that continues after we die. “The relationship is formed, obviously, with the individual’s decision to let Christ in their lives,” and making time for him by coming to Mass and receiving Communion.
“It has to be an individual’s decision,” he noted.
“The relationship develops over a lifespan through prayer, through reception of the sacraments, through a number of different ways,” he continued.
Father Lavallee also talked about the importance of confession, as well as scriptural reading and reflecting upon God’s presence in our lives.
Father Lavallee said that in the Gospel account of St. John, Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd, and his sheep hear his voice, and the sheep will hear this voice and follow this voice.
“The voice of Christ comes to us through his words and the teachings of his Church,” he stated.
Another Gospel account is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. “It’s important to note they (Jesus and Lazarus) are friends,” said Father Lavallee. “A friendship developed. We can assume Lazarus was a believer.”
Jesus spoke to Lazarus when he was lying in the tomb.
“It’s important to note that Lazarus responded to the voice of Christ, even in death,” said Father Lavallee. “That’s because the voice was recognized in friendship and relationship.”
Our friendship begins now,” he added. “In death it’s not ended, but changed.”
Father Lavallee said building a friendship with Christ, while we’re alive, involves a continual series of choices.
“When we were created we had a free will,” he said. “That choice is part of our very being. Heaven comes after we exercise that choice.”
“If one really wants Jesus in their life, it’s important to invite him in, make time for him and see him in Mass and Communion.