Celebrating the Year of Mercy

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“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”  Matthew 5:7

n April 1, the Vigil of the Second Sunday of Easter and the Sunday of Divine Mercy, Pope Francis released Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy), the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.  The pope wrote that mercy is “the beating heart of the Gospel.”  In Jesus Christ, in his words and actions, the mercy of God has been revealed.  He goes on to illumine another facet of mercy as “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” (MV no. 2)

Mercy is at the very heart of the ministry and vocation of Pope Francis.  He chose to make his episcopal motto his papal motto: miserando atque eligendo, “by having mercy, by choosing him.”  In the calling of Matthew, a tax collector, Jesus looked intently and mercifully at Matthew and chose him to become one of the 12 apostles.

Traditionally, every 25 years the popes proclaim a holy year, which features special celebrations and pilgrimages, strong calls for conversion and repentance, and the offer of special opportunities to experience God’s grace through the sacraments, especially confession.  Extraordinary holy years, like the Holy Year of Mercy, are less frequent, but offer the same opportunities for spiritual growth.  A Holy Year was celebrated in 1983 to commemorate the 1,950th anniversary of Christ’s death and resurrection.  “I frequently have thought about how the church can make more evident its mission to be a witness of mercy,” Pope Francis said; that is why he decided to call a special Holy Year.  Pope Francis wants this year to be a time for Catholics to contemplate just how merciful God has been to them and to understand better how we are called to be merciful to others in turn.

The Holy Year will open on December 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and conclude on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe on November 20, 2016.  The Immaculate Conception celebrates God’s choice of Mary to be the Mother of man’s Redeemer.  God responds to the gravity of mankind’s sin with the fullness of mercy. This year, December 8 marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Francis stresses the need to keep the Second Vatican Council alive.

Pope Francis highlights the role of Jesus as an instrument of God’s mercy:  “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.”  These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith.  Mercy has become living, and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him.  In the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), when everything had been arranged according to this plan of salvation, he sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way.  Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (Jn 14:9).  Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God.  (MV no. 1)

When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy.  Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.  (MV no. 3)

The mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which He reveals his love as that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a “visceral” love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy.  (MV no. 6)

Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who His true children are. In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us. At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart.  In the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7)—the beatitude to which we should particularly aspire in this Holy Year.  (MV no. 9)

Pope Francis asked that every diocese in the world designate a “Door of Mercy” at their cathedral. A Door of Mercy was sealed at the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans on August 12.  Everyone is invited to attend the 5:30 pm Mass at the Cathedral on December 13 when Bishop Michael Duca will open our Door of Mercy. This door will remain opened for the duration of the Holy Year.

For more information on the Jubilee Year of Mercy, go to the Jubilee Year of Mercy website: http://www.iubilaeummisericordiae.va/content/gdm/en.html.

by Dianne Rachal

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