By Lindsay Steele and
The Catholic Messenger
Fathers David Brownfield and Marty Goetz of the Davenport Diocese are among 1,142 priests from around the world who have been commissioned by Pope Francis as “missionaries of mercy.”
The two diocesan priests received their special mandate during an Ash Wednesday ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica on Feb. 10, following a selection process that included an endorsement from Bishop Martin Amos. Now back home, they’re looking forward to preaching and teaching about God’s mercy and serving especially as confessors during the Year of Mercy. Both priests will continue to minister to their own parishes, as they reassured their parishioners, in addition to doing missionary work.
“In 25 years as a priest I see this as a wonderful opportunity to renew the sacrament of reconciliation,” said Fr. Brownfield, pastor of St. Mary Parish-Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish-Richmond and St. Joseph Parish-Wellman. He’s seen participation in the sacrament drop over the years; he believes the pope’s emphasis will encourage Catholics to return to confession.
Fr. Goetz said he has experienced the profound gift of mercy in his own life, and that’s why he wanted to be a missionary of mercy. “I have been blessed in so many ways; when I had lost my way, God gave me the gift of mercy, the gift of a second chance, and I wanted to be able to share that special gift with others, especially those going to confession.”
As missionaries of mercy, Frs. Brownfield and Goetz will be invited by individual diocesan bishops in the United States to give missions or facilitate specific initiatives organized for the Year of Mercy, with particular attention given to the sacrament of reconciliation. They will be able to forgive sins that, under normal circumstances, only the pope can forgive. Among these sins are physically attacking the pope, desecrating the Eucharist, and a confessor breaking the seal of the confessional.
Among the highlights of the trip to Rome for both priests was “celebrating Mass with the Holy Father on Ash Wednesday with about 1,000 other priests,” Fr. Brownfield said. “It was very powerful for me to be with brother priests from all over the world to do this,” Fr. Goetz added.
During the commissioning, the pope’s observations about confession affected Fr. Goetz deeply. Pope Francis explained the need for priests to be a merciful presence for those who come to confession, as many are afraid of being judged. Additionally, he explained the need for priests to be aware of their own need for mercy.
Fr. Goetz said he is aware of the feelings people have when they approach the confessional, but for the Holy Father to speak of those feelings really “slapped me upside the head.” Pope Francis said that people coming to confession may feel afraid and full of shame. Fr. Goetz understands those feelings because “I’m afraid when I go to confess! …We need to take people where they’re at and show them a Father’s love.”
While the commissioning was a memorable event, another highlight of the trip to Rome for Fr. Goetz was the opportunity to pray before the
relics of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold, two Capuchins who were known for the time they devoted to hearing confessions. “If you look at St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold, whose relics were brought to Rome for the commissioning,” Fr. Brownfield said, “each of them represents a different point that the pope emphasized about confession.”
The two points focused on discerning an individual’s contrition and on welcoming that person in the confessional. The pope used the image
of Noah, a righteous man who, like all human beings, sinned. When Noah got drunk and was laying uncovered in his tent, God took a blanket of mercy and covered up Noah. “God takes the blanket of mercy and covers up the shame of our sin,” Fr. Brownfield said.
He also appreciated receiving a special stole, bearing the image of a cross on one side and the logo for the Year of Mercy on the other.
Fr. Brownfield said he’ll wear his Year of Mercy stole for communal penance services long after the year concludes on Nov. 20.
Fr. Goetz looks forward to focusing his attention on being a merciful presence in the Burlington area he serves, as well as with anyone he meets or may be called to serve at a later time.
“We have been sent forth to be instruments of God’s mercy. Whatever I do, wherever I go, I am to be a missionary of mercy. When people
come to my door or I meet someone on the street, I should be a sign of God’s mercy,” Fr. Goetz said.