I met Father Matthew Kelty in 2001, while on retreat at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. I remember him saying, “I’m Matthew Kelty. I am a sinner whose sins are forgiven.” That totally spoke to me. Since then, it is my deepest self-definition: I am a sinner whose sins are forgiven. And because I have been forgiven often, I have learned a lot about mercy.
Father Joseph Corpora
So I was moved last fall when I read of Pope Francis’ plan to send out “Missionaries of Mercy” during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“They will be a sign of the Church’s maternal solicitude for the People of God, enabling them to enter the profound richness of this mystery so fundamental to the faith,” the Holy Father wrote. “There will be priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See, so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. They will be, above all, living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon.”
I said to myself, “I want to be a Missionary of Mercy. I have received a lifetime of mercy from God. I want to spread that mercy.”
After getting approval from my provincial superior and local bishop, I wrote and expressed my interest. Just before Christmas, I received a message from Archbishop Rino Fisichella: “Dear Father Corpora, I have the great pleasure of informing you that your name, which has been presented to the Holy Father as a candidate for the service as a Missionary of Mercy, has been gladly accepted by him.”
I was overcome with excitement, joy and gratitude. As my trip to Rome to receive the mandate as a missionary approached, I returned often to the letter from Archbishop Fisichella: “It is the fervent desire of the Holy Father that the Missionaries of Mercy be priests distinguished for their patience, welcoming confessors who are aware of the limits of our humanity and willing to serve as living signs of how the Father embraces all those who seek His forgiveness.”
At 61, I could write a book about the “limits of our humanity,” especially mine. I will die a sinner.
I arrived in Rome on Feb. 7, a Sunday. That Tuesday, I joined hundreds of missionaries at the Sala Regia in the Apostolic Palace. At 5:30 p.m. the Holy Father arrived. After the applause died down, he spoke to us in Italian.
He implored us to be gentle, to be kind, to be loving, to show the maternal face of the church to penitents. He asked us to reflect on our own sinfulness and our own need for forgiveness, and to extend that to all who come into the confessional.
He referred to a time he went to confession as a teenage boy. “I have no idea what the priest told me. All I can remember is that the priest smiled, and I felt so forgiven. This is what a father does. He encourages. He helps.”
The pope told us, “If you can’t smile, if you can’t use the language of gestures, if you can’t offer mercy and forgiveness, then don’t hear confessions. Go and do something else.”
He told us to go wherever we are asked — to preach about mercy, to welcome people to the confessional, that they might have an experience of the mercy of God.
Back home, my plate is filling up. I have received many requests to talk about mercy. I try to say yes to all of them because I feel a special call to do whatever I can to spread the mercy of God.
I don’t think I will hear many confessions this year of those sins that are so grave that until now they have been reserved to the Holy See to forgive. Nor is that the Holy Father’s main intent in sending us forth. Rather, it is that everyone might experience the mercy of God, that we all might open ourselves to his mercy, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation.
Father Joseph Corpora, C.S.C., is the director of the Catholic School Advantage Campaign and oversees university-school partnerships in the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education. A version of this column first appeared in the online version of Notre Dame Magazine.
Mission of mercy
Father Joseph Corpora will visit the Archdiocese of Seattle Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. His schedule includes:
Friday, Sept. 30, 7 p.m., Holy Family Church, Seattle: holy hour with presentation in Spanish (confessions at 5:30 p.m.);
Saturday, Oct. 1, 11 a.m., St. James Cathedral, Seattle: Jubilee for Vocations, with rosary and presentation in English (confessions at 9:30 a.m.);
Saturday, Oct. 1, 5:30 p.m., St. Pius X Church, Mountlake Terrace: Mass in English, followed by presentation and confessions;
Sunday, Oct. 2, 12:30 p.m., Prince of Peace Mission, Belfair: Mass in Spanish with veneration of relics and bilingual presentation (confessions at 11 a.m.).
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