On Sunday the Bishops of England and Wales issued pastoral letters setting the scene for the Year of Mercy. Many of these letters contained information about how this jubilee year will be lived out in individual dioceses and explained plans that have been made to help all people experience more deeply the abundant mercy of God.
A number of dioceses have chosen to place their efforts under the patronage of particular saints and holy people. As we personally seek to engage with this extraordinary year, it is worth considering a spiritual patron for our own endeavours. Here are a few suggestions:
Saint Leopold Mandic
Pope Francis announced that this Capuchin Franciscan saint’s relics will be displayed, alongside those of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), in St Peter’s Basilica at some point during the year of Mercy. Like Saint Pio, Saint Leopold was a renowned confessor and someone who knew the graces of the sacrament both as a penitent and a wise spiritual father.
As a young Capuchin, St Leopold had great missionary aspirations and wished to preach the Gospel around the world. His superiors asked him to surrender this desire in order to undertake the work of a confessor. He is reported to have said that “I am like a bird in a cage, but my heart is beyond the seas”.
He became a much sought out spiritual guide and a great deal of those who turned to him had not been to confession for many years. For forty years he spent twelve hours a day in the confessional.
He was spiritually strong but physically weak and in addition to abdominal pain and a stammer, he also had crippling arthritis.
St Leopold would make a good patron for those who feel physically weary and yet seek to gain spiritual strength during this jubilee year. He may also be worth invoking for those who enter the confessional with trepidation after many years of absence.
The Venerable Catherine Elizabeth McAuley
Archbishop Bernard Longley has made the Venerable Catherine McAuley co-patron of the Year of Mercy within the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
Sister Catherine is a fine example of someone who sought to bring God’s merciful love to those to whom the world had shown no mercy. Leaving behind her comfortable background she used her inheritance to found a house for poor woman and orphans. She also brought education to those who would not have been eligible for the schooling provided by the established Church of Ireland at the time.
It was never her intention to found a religious community. She made the works of mercy a distinctive feature of all that she did. She could be described as an Ambassador for Mercy. The 12th December 1831 is now considered the anniversary of the foundation of the Sisters of Mercy and the rule of the order was confirmed in 1841.
At the time of Sister Catherine’s death there were twelve foundations in Ireland and two in England. The community was composed of one hundred and fifty professed sisters.
In 1978 the cause for Sister Catherine’s beatification was opened and in 1990 she was recognised as having lived a life of Heroic Virtue.
Sister Catherine would be a good choice of patron for those who seek to bring God’s mercy to bear through social action and care of the poor. Sister Catherine reminds us that during this year our focus is not only to receive God’s mercy ourselves but to share it with others.
If we choose her as our personal patron we should also pray for her cause to progress during this year.
Blessed Dominic Barberi
Blessed Dominic has been placed alongside the Venerable Catherine McAuley as one of the patrons of the Year of Mercy within the Archdiocese of Birmingham.
Blessed Dominic’s English ministry and mission began in 1840 when he received a letter from Bishop Wiseman inviting him to make a Passionist foundation in England. It was not until 1842 that he gained possession of Aston Hall (Now the retired priest home in the Archdiocese of Birmingham).
Initially Blessed Dominic and his fellow Passionists were given a hostile reception. Many Catholics were wary of renewed persecutions and non-Catholics provided opposition. When a mission was established at Stone, Staffordshire, local youths threw stones at Blessed Dominic. It is recalled that he picked them up, kissed them and put them in his pocket.
It was not long before there were a steady stream of converts and Blessed Dominic’s presence began to bring renewal. He was a renowned confessor and was also an exemplary penitent himself. His most notable convert was Blessed John Henry Newman.
Blessed Dominic would make a good patron for those who have entered full communion with the Catholic Church from other communities. He would also be a good guide for those who experience opposition to their faith. Blessed Dominic demonstrated that perseverance and mercy will always win against prejudice and intolerance.
St John Mary Vianney
St John Vianney is well known as the patron saint of Parish Priests. He is celebrated as a wonderfully powerful confessor who preservered, like St John the Baptist, in the call to repentance.
He was appointed to the parish of Ars, which was one of the most unpromising parishes and was still impoverished after the French Revolution. St John Vianney struggled intellectually and had difficulty with Latin. He twice failed his final examinations.
His sponsor summed him up well when he argued that “Even more than learned priests the church needs holy priests”. Within ten years of his appointment 300 people were making the journey to Ars each day and by 1858 over 100,000 penitents sought his ministry.
He would make an obvious patron for priests but also for those who seek to lead lives of simplicity and mercy.
If we are not careful we can let this year pass us by and then we won’t experience the graces on offer. Placing ourselves under a spiritual patron may give an extra emphasis as we seek renewal in our own lives and in the lives of others. There is an inexhaustible list of possible saints that we could look to help deepen our experience of God’s abundant mercy. Please consider carefully who you may choose.