Pope Francis has declared the coming the year from December 8th 2015 to November 20th 2016 as an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. In the “bull of indiction” for this event titled “Misericordiae Vultus” (“The Face of Mercy”), Pope Francis emphasizes that Jesus Christ is himself the ‘the face of the Father’s mercy.’ Why do we need a Jubilee of Mercy? Pope Francis says it is because the Church in our time needs to “offer more evident signs of God’s presence and closeness.”
During the Year of Mercy we are all called to contemplate anew the mercy of God “so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives.” The Sacred Scriptures describe God as “rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us” (Ephesians 2:4). In the Old Testament, immediately following the failure of the people Israel in the golden calf incident, God reveals himself as “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity, continuing his love for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless (Exodus 34:6-7). Many of the Psalms of ancient Israel echo with the refrains of God’s mercy.
The fullness of mercy is revealed in the face of Jesus. Pope Francis notes, “With our eyes fixed on Jesus and his merciful gaze, we experience the love of the Most Holy Trinity. The mission Jesus received from the Father was that of revealing the mystery of divine love in its fullness” (MV 8). Jesus highlights this particularly in his parables devoted to mercy, such as the lost sheep, the lost coin, and especially the prodigal son (Lk 15:1-32). The father’s love is manifest with joy by showing mercy. Mercy is the key to God’s action towards us, it is the visible tangible sign of his love. Because of this, mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life and pastoral activity.
Pope Francis notes,
“No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one. Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness. The greater the sin, so much the greater must be the love that the Church expresses toward those who convert.” (Homily for the Announcement of the Year of Mercy).
The words of Jesus “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36), point us to the “motto” of the holy year, “Merciful like the Father.”
In addition to contemplating God’s mercy, all Catholics are called to spend more time practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The Spiritual works of mercy are: instructing, advising, consoling, comforting others as well as forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy include: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. (CCC 2447).
In order to experience God’s mercy, places of pilgrimage will be set up in every diocese. Each bishop will designate a “Door of Mercy” in their cathedral or some other special church or shrine. Pilgrims will be able to obtain a Jubilee Indulgence by making a brief visit to the “Door of Mercy,” together the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with a reflection on mercy, and with a recitation of the profession of faith and a prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father. Pope Francis calls these visits to the Door of Mercy “a sign of the deep desire for true conversion.”
Pope Francis has also asked that every diocese in the world implement the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative which has been celebrated in Rome on the Friday and Saturday before the fourth week of Lent. During this celebration penance services in St. Peter’s Basilica and other churches in Rome were held for 24 hours with confessions and Eucharistic adoration.
Pope Francis has also indicated that he will send out special “Missionaries of Mercy” to preach about mercy to be given special authority “to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See.” All of these activities will be focused on deepening our experience of God’s mercy.
Scott McKellar is associate director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute.