A Holy Year dedicated to mercy. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the entire programme of Pope Francis’ pontificate has revolved around mercy.
Even if the Jubilee Year was announced rather suddenly, it should come as no surprise. It was announced on the anniversary of Jorge Mario Borgoglio’s election to the See of Peter. In many respects, his proclamation of an extraordinary Holy Year simply reaffirms what Francis wrote in his programmatic document Evangelii Gaudium: “The Church which ‘goes forth’ is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice... and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy. Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved” (n. 24). This is precisely the initiative the Pope has taken, bringing along the whole Church with him in an adventure of contemplation and prayer, conversion and pilgrimage, responsibility and witness, living the dream of charity in every corner of daily life: an initiative Francis already alluded to in his very first Angelus address, saying, “Mercy.... This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world.”
It is hardly a coincidence that the Jubilee was announced during a communal celebration of the Sacrament of Penance. Pope Francis, addressing the theme of mercy, spoke about the primary place where each of us can directly experience God’s love through the overwhelming power of forgiveness: Confession. The image of the Pope kneeling in front of the confessional eloquently expresses the beauty of this sacrament, which is too often forgotten. Francis’ words at the first Angelus following his election still echo with all their initial force: “Let us not forget this word: God never ever tires of forgiving us... we ourselves tire, we do not want to ask, we grow weary of asking for forgiveness. He never tires of forgiving”. Ever since Francis’ election to the papacy two years ago, many people have returned to the confessional, precisely because they were struck by the Pope’s invitation that day. Celebrating this Sacrament is always the beginning of a new walk of charity and solidarity. Indeed, mercy has a face: it is an encounter with Christ who asks to be recognized in his brothers and sisters. Revisiting the works of mercy, therefore, will be an indispensable part of this upcoming Jubilee.
The opening of the Holy Door will take place on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This too is no accident. Fifty years ago, it was in front of this same door that the Second Vatican Council came to a close. Opening the Holy Door at this time is a sign that Francis would like all of us to relive those intense four years of conciliar work reminding us of the Church’s need to go out once more to the world. Vatican ii, in fact, asked the Church to speak about God to a world that had changed, using a new, effective language that places Jesus Christ at the centre and encourages a living witness to Him. What could the world possibly expect from the Church if not a message of mercy? It was in Gaudium et Spes that the conciliar Fathers dealt with the theme of how the Church can help contemporary society, emphasizing that “she can and indeed should initiate activities on behalf of all men, especially those designed for the needy, such as the works of mercy” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 42). More than any intervention in politics, economics, or society in general, the Church makes an entirely distinctive contribution to the world: she is an effective sign of God’s mercy. By proclaiming an extraordinary Jubilee dedicated to mercy, Pope Francis has issued a clear reminder of the road indicated 50 years ago by the Conciliar Fathers and has reaffirmed the Church in her untiring task of the New Evangelization.
Mercy will become in this year the main protagonist in the Church’s life, offering everyone an opportunity to experience the immeasurable breadth of God’s paternal heart as He chose to reveal himself and make himself known as “rich in mercy and great in love”.
by Rino Fisichella
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 16, 2019
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