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Justice and Mercy Meet in Tribunal Ministry

February 22nd, 2016posted by Sean

Mercy & Truth are shown together in a 13th-century representation of Psalms 85 (10)

I am a Sister of Mercy whose primary ministry is working to do Justice for those who come to the Tribunal seeking decisions about their marriage situations. Sometimes friends ask me if that feels like a contradiction. For me it is not.

Twenty years ago Bishop Moeddel and I offered evenings with the Bishop for those separated from the Church over marriage issues. One man told me about his situation which turned out to be a simple case (Catholic married without required canonical form) handled in a few weeks. That man later called sounding very anxious and asking if I thought God were angry with him for the 17 years he went to Mass every Sunday but did not receive Communion because he thought he could not straighten out his remarriage with the Church. I told him that the God I knew was very pleased with his fidelity and with him for doing the best he could with what he knew at the time. He thanked me and said after hearing me he could believe what his Pastor tried to tell him about that. He breathed a huge sigh of relief, and he said, “You really are a Sister of Mercy.”

For some, Justice and Mercy seem incompatible. If Justice only involved dispensing deserved punishment for wrongdoing, and if Mercy only meant pardoning earned punishment, those virtues would be in conflict. However Mercy and Justice are different aspects of God’s love. It was while I was still a teenager beginning college studies during Vatican II that I came across a statement that God’s Justice and Mercy intersect at the cross. I love that integrated image of the virtues of Justice and Mercy.

Christianity teaches that God’s Mercy is shown through God’s Justice. The follower of Jesus does not make a choice to be compassionate and forgiving or to be fair and righteous. There is no putting aside Justice to make room for Mercy. In God, there is perfect balance. For God, virtue stands in the middle, not over-emphasizing or under-emphasizing one virtue or the other. The prophet Micah is often quoted about the way to live a good life: love Mercy, do Justice and walk humbly with your God.

If we relieve the suffering of the poor with a sandwich from a soup kitchen (Mercy) without also working to correct the social systems which caused the hunger (Justice), we merely pour a bucket of the living water of change into an ocean of deadening problems. Perhaps that is why the Bible puts so much emphasis on both Mercy and Justice. Mercy without Justice can lead to dependency and entitlement, increasing the power of the giver over the one in need. Justice without Mercy can lead to hardened hearts and cold, impersonal treatment of others. May all of us who follow Jesus continue to better harmonize Justice and Mercy in our ministries and in our lives.

Sister Victoria Vondenberger, RSM, JCL

Tribunal Director



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You Can’t Give What You Don’t Have

February 18th, 2016posted by Sean











“Day after day, touched by his compassion, we also can become compassionate to others.” – Pope Francis

As a father of three young children, I feel like I spend an inordinate amount of time disciplining. I always try to be just when dealing out appropriate punishments for misbehavior. At the same time I always try to over emphasize my love and forgiveness for my children despite their shortcomings.

I learned this practice from my own parents who always made sure to tell me how much they loved me, even as they were dealing out punishment. I remember some distinct experiences in which I really deserved a severe punishment but my parents decided to show mercy once they saw my sincere regret. As a father, I am always looking for times in which it would be appropriate for me to model that same kind of mercy to my own children.

Know Mercy Show Mercy

The local theme the Archdiocese of Cincinnati chose to use during the Jubilee Year of Mercy is “know mercy show mercy.” Lately I have been struck with the reality that I cannot give what I do not have. The main reason I seek to be a father who shows mercy to his own children is because I experienced mercy from my own Father.

Follow the Light

This Lent we will again host the “Light is ON for You” event in which every parish or region will be open for the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Tuesday, February 23rd. Let’s be honest, most Catholics rarely if ever celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Only about 12% of Catholics attend Confession once a year. Only 2% attend once a month or more. A full 75% rarely attend – if at all.

There are a million reasons we find not to go to Confession. It is inconvenient, it is uncomfortable, and it is misunderstood. During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I am reminded of one very compelling reason to frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation: this Sacrament (possibly more than any of the other) gives us a very real experience of the mercy of God our Father.

You may have a difficult time being open to God’s mercy in your own life. Maybe you find it hard to believe you need God’s mercy at all. Maybe you feel so far from Jesus that you cannot imagine receiving His mercy in the first place.

Regardless of where you are coming from, I imagine that all of us want to be a person who can give mercy to the ones we love. I would propose that there is no better way to be able to give away mercy than to receive mercy yourself. This month consider going back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that you may know in a deeper way God’s mercy and in that way be able to show the same kind of mercy to those you love.


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Pilgrimage in the Year of Mercy

January 6th, 2016posted by farloffice

A pilgrimage is both a journey with a set goal and a mystery of openness to the Spirit. Whether pilgrims have a set route or not, embarking on the journey is exploring the mystery of God in places, historical events, and the presence of God within one’s own being. In this wonderful Jubilee Year, the journey is one seeking mercy and of being open to accepting and then giving mercy. It is therefore significant that throughout the Year of Mercy, designated pilgrimage sites are ready to open their Holy Doors of Mercy for all pilgrims. Pope Francis invites each of us to consider where we are in our own life’s pilgrimage, and to physically travel to a place of pilgrimage and enter those Doors of Mercy, contemplating the Mercy of the Father in our lives.

Pilgrimage is intentional. We set out to connect with a holy place, with holy people, with a holy event. The context is prayer and openness. Setting out on the journey is the first step in being open to the Mercy of the Father, and of reflecting on where and how Mercy is prevalent in our lives. Entering the Doors of Mercy at a pilgrimage site is entering the welcoming arms of the Father – and of the Church – as we enter through prayer and contemplation the forgiveness and welcome of the Father, as did the Prodigal Son. The pilgrim is entering a safe haven of mercy, where forgiveness and witness to mercy permeate the entire environment.

Our Christian heritage is rooted in such pilgrimages, often with openness to the Spirit, but with unknown final destination or consequences: Abraham and Sarah journey to a foreign land, Moses traipsing through the desert for forty years, Jesus entering the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth only to proclaim “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” and numerous Christian pilgrims for centuries visiting sacred spaces in order to connect both physically and spiritually with saints, sacred events, and above all, holiness. Pope Francis has encouraged every Catholic to make a pilgrimage during the Jubilee Year. The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has seven pilgrimage sites for the Year of Mercy. Check the archdiocesan website for events at each of these sites. “May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us” (Misericordiae Vultus).


Anne McGuire is Director of Programs at Maria Stein Shrine of Holy Relics.

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The Power of Mercy

January 6th, 2016posted by Archdiocese of Cincinnati






Amidst the waves of unaccompanied migrant children desperately lunging towards our borders last year were the three Escalante children and their cousin.  They were making an unfathomable 2,500 mile journey between their Guatemalan town and Greater Cincinnati to be reunited with family members already here.

Only fear for their lives would push this small group to make such a trek.  They had received no mercy from the violence overrunning their home; no mercy from our broken immigration system that provides no legal path to come here; and no mercy from the coyote smuggler who abused the children in the desolate Arizona desert on the border.

Yet, when they did arrive, an outpouring of mercy awaited.  It came from our Catholic Charities, providing for their immediate needs.  It came from countless local Catholics and other people of faith who contributed financial and spiritual support to welcome them and other such desperate families.  And, eventually, with advocacy from the community, it came from our immigration courts which granted them asylum.

“God’s mercy, rather than a sign of weakness, is the mark of his omnipotence” (Misericordia Vultus, no.6). These words of Pope Francis speak to a key component of mercy.  Only those in positions of power over others are also in positions to grant mercy.  With respect to our relationship with God, this is our joy and the source of our salvation!  The One who has boundless power never tires of offering mercy to us sinners!

children crossBut the Escalante children had to confront so many earthly powers beyond their control: perpetrators of violence, coyotes, our immigration laws, and eventually those in the Archdiocese who would have the choice to welcome them or not.  We still have a ways to go before we can influence the safety in Latin America or before we achieve the comprehensive immigration reform called for by the Catholic Church.  Regardless, many good people here used whatever power they did have to respond however they could to this family’s cry for mercy.

Catholic Social Action is concerned with how our political, economic, and social structures use their fleeting power to promote the God-given life and dignity of every human person and all of creation.  In this light, mercy serves to open the world to God’s justice, not just the understanding of justice exercised by the worldly powers that be.

The Church calls for greater mercy in our structures of power, especially during this Jubilee Year – mercy for the unborn; mercy for women in crisis pregnancies; mercy for those on death row; mercy for those facing religious persecution across the world, including the Syrian refugees fleeing a brutal dictator and merciless terrorists; mercy for those re-entering society from prison, looking for the right path; and mercy for the polluted Earth, “a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens our arms to embrace us” (Laudato Si’, no.1).

This Jubilee Year, please visit to learn how to promote mercy for these and other concerns championed by our Church.  May our witness of mercy together tell the world of Christ’s infinite power.

 Tony Stieritz is the Director of the Archdiocesan Catholic Social Action

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