Being Mercy: To Be Continued

Author: Father Joseph V. Corpora, CSC, ’76, ’83M.Div.

One year ago today I woke up in a hotel in Monterrey, Mexico, to an e-mail informing me that my name had been submitted to Pope Francis to serve as a Missionary of Mercy for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

I can still feel the emotion from that moment. I was excited and humbled. I remember thinking how I had received a lifetime of mercy from God. And with all the zeal of a young man I wanted to extend that mercy, to preach about that mercy, to offer that mercy. What I did not know at the time is the effect that serving as a Missionary of Mercy would have on me.

It has been an incredible gift and grace from God. I have been asked to give talks on mercy more times than I can count. I never got tired of giving these talks to priests, to parish groups, to high school kids, to Notre Dame students, to so many others. And each time, while talking, God convinced me even more of his relentless mercy, of his forgiveness, of his desire to show us mercy and tenderness and love. I would often think, “I hope that someone besides me is getting something out of this talk because I am more convinced of this than last time.”

When the Holy Father commissioned us on Ash Wednesday, he asked us to make ourselves available to hear confessions as often as we could. So I tried. I do not know how many confessions I heard — hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand. It does not matter. God gave me the opportunity to extend his mercy and forgiveness to countless people. I will always be grateful for this gift.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been 62 years since my last confession. . . .”

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I am so ashamed and embarrassed by what I am about to tell you. . . .”

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I am not sure where to begin. . . .”

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I am caught in a cycle of sin. . . .”

Each confession is an opportunity for grace to flow back and forth, for certainly God’s grace is a two-way street. As a confessor I have been so moved and edified and humbled by peoples’ confessions, by their struggles to live good lives. The confessor is always enriched by confessions.

The Holy Father reminded us of three things that have guided me when I hear confessions. One: “Smile when people come to confession.” Two: “When you enter the confessional, remember that you enter as a sinner and that you are the first in need of mercy and forgiveness.” Three: “Always remember that it is Christ who receives the penitent. It is Christ who listens. It is Christ who absolves sins.” Such great advice. Remembering these points makes hearing confessions a joy, a happiness, a cause for giving thanks to God.

During the year I had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis twice. The first time I was only able to touch his hand, kiss it and tell him I love him. The second time I was able to embrace him, speak with him and tell him again that I love him. People often ask if these were the highlights of my Year of Mercy.

I will never forget those moments with the Holy Father. They are in me forever. But without a doubt, the highlights of the year are those times when God used me to help others accept his mercy and forgiveness, something they could never have accepted before.

Like so many other people I was sad to see it all come to an end. But only the official year has ended. The mercy of God is, of course, without end, without limit. As the Holy Father noted in his apostolic letter closing the year, “Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church; it constitutes her very existence.” As we pray in Psalm 136, “For his mercy endures forever. . . . For his mercy endures forever.”

I was delighted to learn that the Holy Father is asking the Missionaries of Mercy to continue their “extraordinary ministry” until further notice, “as a concrete sign that the grace of the Jubilee remains alive and effective the world over.”

I received an e-mail a few days ago from the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, which is charged with overseeing the Year of Mercy and the missionaries. It informed me that details of our continuing service are forthcoming. In the meantime, I am very grateful to continue extending the mercy of God, and to receive it. For his mercy endures forever.

Father Joe Corpora, CSC, is the director of the Catholic School Advantage campaign within Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program and associate director, pastoral care of students, in the Office of Campus Ministry. He is one of 700 priests whom Pope Francis appointed in February 2016 to serve as Missionaries of Mercy.