We begin another year, the 175th in the history of our parish. That makes our parish, the oldest Catholic parish in the Evansville area. Our parish was not the first one established in the Evansville area. That honor belongs to Assumption Parish which was founded in 1837. Our parish was established in 1841. Assumption Parish was suppressed in the late 1967 when the land on which it was located was sold to the city of Evansville to make way for the new city-county civic center. The area that now houses the Federal Court Building was the location of Assumption Parish and School.
But this coming year will be special in another way as Pope Francis has decreed this year to be a Jubilee of Mercy. He has powerfully called on the entire Catholic church to refashion itself as a place not of judgment or condemnation but of pardon and merciful love. He tells that the church’s "very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love."
"Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy," writes Francis in the document "The Face of Mercy". “The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters. Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope."
What a powerful message for us to convey to the world. What a powerful message to take to heart in our own lives. One of the great joys I have had in my time as pastor here at St. Joe is to get to know the families of our parish. As I have gotten to know them I am reminded again and again that every family has a story to tell and they are stories that, more often than not, are filled with pain and brokenness. If we knew the stories of each other’s lives, I believe we would be much more compassionate toward each other. That’s all the more reason that we embrace this year of mercy and forgiveness.
We are told by all our spiritual fathers and mothers that the key to happiness in life is the ability to forgive. It means forgiving ourselves for the things we have done and for the times we have not been the kind of person we wanted to be. We all have those moments—the kinds of things we hope no one remembers. But we are all human.
And we need to forgive others for not being the kind of people we hoped they would be or that we wanted them to be. There is an old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt.” Perhaps it is not so much familiarity, but rather the expectations that come when we invest time and emotional energy in relationships. Many times these expectations are not met and then there is hurt, frustration and disappointment. And so we need to learn to practice forgiveness.
And then we to learn how to forgive life for being inconsistent and seemingly unfair—the job that ended or failed to materialize, the sudden death of a loved one in the prime of faith, the end of relationship despite our best efforts to work at maintaining it. We get disappointed with people, we get disappointed with our jobs, we get disappointed with schools and with church. Whenever life does not go the way we hoped it would, whenever we can’t make things better for the people we care for, we will be challenged to practice forgiveness. We can spend our time asking “why” questions or fighting against the people or things by which we believe we have been wronged. Or we can choose to forgive. And when we do, these words of Dorothy Day taken on new meaning.
I cannot worry much about your sins and miseries when I have so many of my own. I can only love you all, poor fellow travelers, fellow sufferers. I do not want to add one least straw to the burden you already carry. My prayer from day to day is that God will so enlarge my heart that I will see you all, and live with you all, in His love.