On 8 December we will begin an Extraordinary Jubilee Year – a Jubilee Year of Mercy. It is the first Jubilee Year which does not commemorate an anniversary or an event in the Church. Rather it celebrates a particular quality of God – Mercy!
This theme of Mercy is not new in the teaching of the Church. Pope John XXIII spoke of it in his writings and, in particular, when he opened the Second Vatican Council. The Church would continue to oppose those things which were wrong and not life-giving but instead of condemning them in harsh tones it would do so in a merciful way. Saint John Paul II also made Mercy a central theme in his pontificate. It is not just coincidence that the first canonisation of this century was that of St Faustina and that the Pope designated Divine Mercy Sunday to follow immediately after Easter Sunday, the Day of Resurrection. The link between the two was echoed when the then Cardinal Ratzinger linked them during his homily at the funeral of Pope John Paul: “Easter’s secret is the secret of divine mercy.” Mercy is the way in which we meet God.
But even secular literature has much to say about Mercy. In the Merchant of Venice, Portia speaks about the effects of mercy, which he acknowledges as an attribute of God:
The quality of mercy is not strained; it drops as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; it blesses him that gives and him that takes.
It is mightiest in the mightiest’.
Mercy has been much on the mind of Pope Francis. From early in his Petrine ministry he has spoken of God’s mercy, and the need for his ministers to be merciful.
In announcing this Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis writes [in Misericordiae Vultus] that we constantly need to think about the mystery of mercy. Our salvation depends on it! For him, it has four dimensions:
- it reveals the mystery of the Holy Trinity;
- it is the final and supreme act by which God comes to meet us;
- it is the fundamental law dwelling within each one of us;
- finally, it is the bridge connecting God and each person.
The Pope hopes that this Jubilee Year of will be an encounter for all people with the mercy of God. And he encourages us to witness to acts of mercy in our own daily lives. For it is by living mercy that we obtain mercy.
Bishop John Buckley of the diocese of Cork and Ross has written a Pastoral Letter on this theme. It is well worth reading. In it he writes: ‘Mercy is the very foundation of the Christian life. It is not something vague; it is a very down-to-earth way of responding to those who are suffering in any way or in need of material, spiritual or emotional help. It is a spring that will never run dry no matter how many people draw from it.’ And further one, quoting Saint John Paul II he writes, “Mercy is an action, or more precisely, a reaction to people’s suffering”.
‘To understand mercy, we must have a deep appreciation of our sinfulness. We should not think that mercy means that the Lord overlooks our sins or does not really care about our sins. If that is so, then mercy is not needed. “If you don’t know the bad news, the good news is no news” [an Irish proverb]. And the bad news is that we are all sinners, that we all need mercy and forgiveness. Mercy is something we receive but it is also something we are asked to give, and we are blessed when we receive mercy or when we offer it to others.’
During this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis is urging all Catholics to turn back to Confession – the sacrament of Reconciliation – in order to experience that peace which only Christ can give. “God’s forgiveness is stronger than any sin”, Pope Francis tells us. Outside the Blessed Sacrament Church on Bachelor’s Walk in Dublin there is a sign which reads:
Now, mercy is much much more than forgiveness. But how many people, who have stopped celebrating this sacrament, still feel uneasy and guilty about it. They want to return but – for all sorts of reasons – are afraid to. We condemn ourselves. God does not condemn us. Come on, let go of your fear, and come back to this sacrament of healing so that you may experience a healing within yourself. God loves you! Jesus died on the Cross for you. Come and hear those words of Jesus: ‘neither do I condemn you, go in peace.’