Cardinal Dolan reminded the faithful who gathered at St. Raymond’s Church in the Bronx for the archdiocese’s first “Saturday of Mercy” not to despair over sin.
“We might ask, ‘What is mercy?’” the cardinal began as he led the first in a series of Mercy Saturdays in the early afternoon Feb. 20. “Mercy, everybody, is the compassionate, personal, tender, eternal, forgiving love of God.”
The Saturdays of Mercy mark the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which was convened by Pope Francis and extends through Nov. 20, the feast of Christ the King.
The cardinal then examined mercy in two capacities: first, “God’s mercy for us,” and, second, “us showing mercy to others.”
“God’s mercy for us,” the cardinal said, “is the most powerful force in the world. There is no sin that will not disintegrate in the face of God’s mercy.
“There is only one force stronger than his mercy, and that is our free will, because we have the freedom to ask for and accept his mercy, or to ignore it and dismiss it.”
The cardinal then cited two ways that God’s mercy can be ignored or refused: the first, “to believe that we do not need it,” which is known as presumption. People who practice presumption deny, dismiss, abuse or take advantage of God’s mercy, he said.
The cardinal, quoting Christian evangelist Billy Graham, added, “We can only be convinced of God’s mercy if we convict ourselves of sin.”
The cardinal then noted a second way mercy can be ignored or refused: “That’s to think that we don’t deserve it, that’s to believe that our sins are so hideous, so nauseating, so ugly, so frequent, so constant that God could never forgive us.
“That,” the cardinal continued, “is called despair.”
It’s true that we don’t deserve God’s mercy nor can we earn or merit it, the cardinal said, “but do we ever have a great lawyer, do we ever have a terrific bondsman. We’ve got someone who goes to the judge and says, ‘I’ll take care of the sentence for this person. I will take this person’s sins upon myself and I will atone for them…I’ll redeem this sinner from his or her bondage. I’ll save him or her from their punishment.’
“Our lawyer, our bondsman, the victim for our sins who paid our price and unlocked the jail cell door is named Jesus.”
Mercy, the cardinal emphasized, is Jesus’ “gift to you for the asking.”
The cardinal continued the mercy theme three hours later in the homily at the bilingual vigil Mass he celebrated at St. Raymond’s for the Second Sunday of Lent.
Nearly 600 attended the Mass and more than 400 attended the afternoon program, according to Msgr. John Graham, pastor of St. Raymond’s.
The Mass was celebrated in the upper church; the program was conducted in English in the upper church and Spanish in the lower church.
Also in attendance was Auxiliary Bishop John Jenik, pastor of Our Lady of Refuge parish in the Bronx who is episcopal vicar of the Bronx, North Manhattan and Central Harlem. Twenty-five priests representing 19 parishes of the archdiocese were present.
Cardinal Dolan and Bishop Jenik were among the many priests who provided the sacrament of reconciliation to penitents. Bishop Jenik led the examination of conscience in Spanish.
“People were very pleased,” Msgr. Graham said. “They thought it was like a mini-retreat, with all sorts of moving parts.”
He was referring to the order of the day, which included Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament; prayer; the cardinal’s conference; an examination of conscience and an opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation; recitation of the Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet; Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and Mass.
Accompanying Father Jonathan Morris, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in the Bronx, were 20 members of the parish’s youth group, and the director of youth ministry, Jesus Vargas.
Geared to high school teens, the parish youth group goes by the name Rooted. “Saturday of Mercy” at St. Raymond’s fell within the group’s regularly scheduled meeting time, so they canceled their planned board game tournament and headed to St. Raymond’s “to come and get the idea of what the pope is calling us to do,” said Vargas, 22.
That, Vargas explained, is “to recognize and reach out to not only people that are outside the church, but also people that are in the church.”
Father John Maria Devaney, O.P., one of the Missionaries of Mercy commissioned by Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday in Rome, gave a “Witness to Mercy” talk at St. Raymond’s, led the examination of conscience in English, as well as the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Rosary, and heard confessions. The Dominican priest is stationed at St. Vincent Ferrer in Manhattan and works in hospital chaplaincy for the Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry of New York.
Another Missionary of Mercy, Father Arlen Harris, O.F.M. Cap., in residence at Good Shepherd parish in the Inwood section of Manhattan, also attended the “Saturday of Mercy” at St. Raymond’s and heard confessions in Spanish.
Pope Francis has asked the missionaries “to be persuasive preachers of God’s mercy,” Father Devaney said.
He hopes people take to heart that “God is madly in love with us; he knows how broken we are, he knows how capable we are of sinning and all he wants to do is completely heal us every time—always.”
Testimonials about the provision and impact of the corporal works of mercy were also shared, including by a representative of the archdiocese’s ArchCare.
The gathering concluded with refreshments in the elementary school gymnasium where the cardinal greeted attendees.
“It was a beautiful day” and a “very nice way to begin really celebrating the Year of Mercy,” said Daniel Frascella, director of the archdiocesan Office of Adult Faith Formation, who is assisting in coordinating the planning.
“Pope Francis is really calling us to turn our attention toward the mercy of God as the center of what it means to be a Christian,” he added. “These events are helpful in one way of pointing us in that direction.
“The call then to translate the mercy of God into action in our own lives” was key, Frascella said, “and I think people got that message.”
The next “Saturday of Mercy” will be held on March 12 at Our Lady of Pity Church, 1616 Richmond Ave. on Staten Island.
Our Saviour Church in Manhattan held a “Saturday of Mercy” on Feb. 27.
Saturdays of Mercy will be offered in other areas of the archdiocese once in April and then again on two dates in the fall.
Cardinal Dolan will lead each of the Saturdays of Mercy, which feature a mixture of English and Spanish.
The gatherings begin at 2:30 p.m. and are open to the public; members of area parishes are encouraged to attend and no registration is required. “We’re off to a good start with your presence,” the cardinal told those at St. Raymond’s.