On the eve of the birth of the Prince of Peace, it seems the people he was born to save are more divided than ever. American versus non-American. Black versus white. Democrat versus Republican. Conservative versus liberal. Christian versus Protestant. Catholic versus Catholic.
We shoot one another, blow up one another, argue with one another, sue one another. We defend our positions and stick to our guns. We spout off petty insults or, worse, violent tirades. We thrive on conflict and venomous competition, urged on by a society that rewards both. In short, we behave as a fallen people who all too often forget that we have been saved.
But Jesus entered this world to be a light in the darkness. In the words of St. Paul, “he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8). This presence of Christ in the world, Pope Francis said last Christmas, “cancels the sorrow of defeat and the misery of slavery, and ushers in joy and happiness.”
This Christmas season, which falls within the Year of Mercy, Catholics are gifted with the unique opportunity to reflect the joy of the Lord by intentionally living out his call for mercy. In opening the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 8, Pope Francis made such a plea, asking men and women to choose mercy over judgment. “Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved,” he said. “Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things.”
As if in response, on the same day, Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis embraced the pope’s call for mercy and publicly chose to settle a family of four Syrian refugees in the Indiana capital against the request of the state’s governor, Mike Pence. The family itself had fled the violence of terrorism in their homeland and, after three years of waiting in limbo and two years of being vetted by the U.S. government, has been admitted to this country.
“For 40 years the archdiocese’s Refugee and Immigrant Services has welcomed people fleeing violence in various regions of the world,” Archbishop Tobin said in a statement. “This is an essential part of our identity as Catholic Christians and we will continue this life-saving tradition.”
We applaud Archbishop Tobin’s brave decision, and we pray that the four Syrians are welcomed into their new home with open arms as they seek shelter, as do we all, from the storm of terrorism. Archbishop Tobin’s decision was one small act of mercy, and through it he responds to Pope Francis’ call in Misericordiae Vultus that wherever there are Christians, “everyone should find an oasis of mercy” (No. 12).
Such an oasis should be what each of us strives for this Christmas season and throughout this Year of Mercy, whether in our homes, parishes, communities, friendships, associations, workplaces or movements. Because, as we celebrate on Christmas Day, our most merciful Father came to save us in the humblest of ways. “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is 5:9).
This Christmas, may each of us respond to the Holy Father’s call to be people of mercy — to gratefully receive it and humbly extend it others. Only then can we bridge the gap that divides us and become a people of love.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor