The Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ this year will be celebrated within a Holy Year announced by Pope Francis. This extraordinary jubilee is dedicated to Divine Mercy. It began on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (December 8th) and will conclude on November 20th, 2016. Our Holy Father expressed the hope that the whole Church will find “the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the Mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time”. Pope Francis calls us to enter a journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. He calls all of us to live this year in the light of the Lord’s words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”. (Luke 6:36)
The story of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives us glaring hints at how we might accept God’s mercy, how we may live it and how we witness it to the world which surrounds us.
God’s mercy is evident in how he intervened with the birth of His only begotten Son, Jesus in a time equally difficult and challenging as today. Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room in the Inn. God’s love for humanity could not be curtailed by the busyness of that world. God’s mercy is not withheld. Is there room in our hearts for Jesus amidst the busyness of today’s demands and schedules? Are we aware of how much God’s mercy surrounds us?
We are struck with the obedience of the shepherds who respond to the angel instructing them to seek the newborn King. We witness the serenity and peace of seeking Jesus in their simplicity and obedience. The three kings or astrologers seek Jesus and are clever enough to deceive Herod in avoiding telling him of the whereabouts of the newborn Jesus. Dedication to seek the truth of the Gospel and avoiding those who might derail us
from meeting Jesus is exemplified. We come to understand what assists us in understanding and accepting God’s mercy.
God’s presence and mercy was not desired by the authorities in Jesus’ time. You will remember how Herod ordered the slaughter of all children under the age of two in his efforts to rid himself of Jesus’ presence. The world today is filled with incidents and societal efforts to rid our surroundings of God’s presence amidst us. Egoistic authorities attempt to exert domination over others to advance specific ideologies and the building of empires. We see this in our native Ukraine, in Syria and its neighboring countries, and in other parts of the world. We are humbled by today’s witnesses and martyrs of faith who defend the rights of believers. They reveal the heavenly Father’s mercy and summon our imitating them in our expression of mercy.
Joseph obediently listened to a warning given in a dream and protected Jesus and his mother Mary by fleeing into Egypt. We are called to understand the plight of today’s refugees in light of our witnessing God’s mercy showered upon Joseph, Mary and Jesus who themselves were refugees. Our response to the plight of refugees should be no less than that which our heavenly Father showered upon the Holy Family.
Pope Francis speaks to us of a journey leading to spiritual conversion. Recall Jesus as a boy becoming lost as the Holy Family made a journey through the desert. His parents found Jesus in the temple teaching others. When you and I lose sight of our purpose in life or lose our way in the busyness and temptations of the world, we can find Jesus Christ, in His Holy temple, His Holy Church. God’s mercy is present in and through His Holy Church and its ministers. Jesus is among us! God’s mercy awaits to be generously poured out upon you as you enter into a deeper journey of faith. That journey ought to begin with availing oneself of the Sacrament of Reconciliation often. God’s mercy is revealed as He listens to the outpouring of your sorrows and sins. In His love for you, expressed through His priest, God reveals His understanding and love for you. God directs you to renewed life in Him in the compassionate advice offered by the priest and in the penance given. God’s mercy is poured out upon you as you receive absolution of your sins.
Pope Francis asks that the door of every home become “the door of mercy”. Ensure that the door of your home, the door of your Church, and the door of your heart all richly reflect openness to reveal the mercy of your heavenly Father. Express God’s mercy by inviting and showing others whom you know, and strangers amidst you to God’s Holy Door, the door leading to God’s mercy.
We join our Holy Father in entrusting this Holy Year to the Mother of Mercy, “that she may turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey”. The door of the hearts and minds of your bishops of our Ukrainian Catholic Church in USA are open widely, expressing our love and appreciation for all in our Church. We remember you in our prayers humbly offered to Jesus Christ, as together, we celebrate His birth. May each of us grow in our openness to receiving God’s mercy. May we embrace the challenge to be as merciful as our heavenly Father. May we rejoice in offering rich testimony and witness to God’s mercy in the life of the world.
We joyfully impart our episcopal blessings upon all as we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and enter this jubilee year enthusiastically seeking our spiritual conversion.
Christ is Born!
+Stefan Soroka (author)
Archbishop of Philadelphia for Ukrainian
Metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States
Eparch of St. Nicholas in Chicago
+Paul Chomnycky, OSBM
Eparch of Stamford
+ Bohdan Danylo
Eparch of St. Josaphat in Parma
Auxiliary Bishop of Philadelphia