Father Joe Corpora, C.S.C., is the director of the Catholic School Advantage campaign within Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program. He is one of 700 priests whom Pope Francis has appointed to serve this year as Missionaries of Mercy. He has been writing about his experiences throughout the year in Notre Dame Magazine. You can find more of Father Joe's reflections on their website.
Being Mercy: An Unforgettable Stop along the Way
Published: November 4, 2016
Serving the Church as a Missionary of Mercy during this jubilee year has been, as Thomas Merton wrote, “mercy within mercy within mercy.” The best part of it is this: Every time I am asked to speak on the mercy of God I believe it — and experience it — that much more. I am so grateful.
Of the memorable moments of grace and untold mercy I’ve encountered along the way, here is one I will never forget: Earlier this fall I had the chance to visit a first cousin whom I had not seen in more than 30 years. She was born the year I came to Notre Dame as a first-year student. So I never really knew her. I would see her when I went home for Christmas and for the summer. And while I was in formation for the priesthood I saw her off and on. Though I am not entirely certain, I think that the last time I saw her was when I was ordained a priest.
For many years she worked in the “adult industry” and was known all around the country and beyond. I thought of her many, many times over those years and prayed for her safety in what is a rough and dark world that most of us cannot even imagine.
About 16 months ago she left the industry and wrote her autobiography. My sister told me about the book and I ordered a copy directly from the author because I was hoping she would see my name. Less than a week after I placed my order, I received the book in the mail and on the inside front cover she had written, “Dear Cousin Joe . . . ” When I read those three words I started to cry. In her note, she offered her email address and invited me to send her a note which I readily did.
We corresponded off and on by email and text for several months. And then I asked if I could visit her. She readily accepted. So earlier this fall I stopped by her home for what turned out to be a four-hour visit of grace and mercy for both of us.
I did not know what expectations to have for our visit. I did not see myself as going to save her. Jesus has already done that — and much better than I ever could. I did not intend to talk with her about God’s mercy and love. Rather I went with the hope of engaging in what the Holy Father calls “the culture of encounter”: I have something good to give to the other and the other has something good to give to me.
After 20 minutes of small talk, we spoke of our lives, of memories of our grandmother, who was so important in both of our lives, of our cousins (We have many of them!), of moments of clarity and moments of darkness along the way, of periods of hope and periods of despair, of dreams fulfilled and dreams unfulfilled, of the promptings and movements of God in our lives over the past 30 years, and of so much more. She told me she started to go to Mass again. It was so clear to me that this widely known star in the adult industry was above all else a child of God — not an object, not a thing, not a commodity — but a person: A person with a history and feelings, with hopes and dreams, with a mind and a heart and soul, made in the image and likeness of God.
We talked. We cried. We shared. We told stories. We cried some more. We asked questions. We wondered. We listened to one another. We were vessels of God’s mercy for one another. We could have talked for four more hours. I didn’t want our visit to end.
I would guess that the most confessed sin that I hear in the confessional is that of looking at pornography. After visiting with my cousin I think a good penance might be to pray for the people one is viewing. This would help the penitent to know firsthand that the person they are viewing is, above all, a person.
I am so grateful to God for the opportunity to visit with my cousin. She taught me so much about the relentless mercy of God. I can only hope our visit was also helpful to her in accepting it. Since we are all sinners, we all stand in need of it. No one is excluded from the mercy of God. It is saving us at every moment of our existence. It will save us until the end and see us into the next life.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Originally published in Notre Dame Magazine.