As many people have doubtless already heard, during a penance service this past Friday afternoon, Pope Francis announced an extraordinary Jubilee dedicated to Divine Mercy. In his homily during that service, he explained
Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. For this reason, I have decided to call anextraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord’s words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (cf. Lk 6:36)”
This Holy Year will begin on this coming Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will end on November 20, 2016, the Sunday dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – and living face of the Father’s mercy. I entrust the organization of this Jubilee to the Pontifical Council for Promotion of the New Evangelization, that [the dicastery] might animate it as a new stage in the journey of the Church on its mission to bring to every person the Gospel of mercy.
I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time. From this moment, we entrust this Holy Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she might turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey.
He also stressed in his homily that “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.”
Although the Year of Mercy will not begin for many months, there are already plenty of people commenting on what it might mean – or what it should mean given the commentator’s particular leanings. E.g., mercy must mean more widespread annulments or dispensations for divorced and remarried Catholics. Or mercy can’t mean a change in the Church’s position on homosexuality. Etc, etc.
My own view is that the best use of our time in these months leading up the Year of Mercy, as well is during it, is to reflect on the role of mercy in our own lives, considering such questions as:
Where have I not shown mercy? What are the debts/wrongs I have not forgiven – financial, emotional or otherwise?
In what areas of my life have I not availed myself of God’s mercy or not trusted in God’s mercy?
How does the abundant mercy God has shown to me affect the mercy I show to others?
We might also remind ourselves that God’s abundant mercy does not mean we are not sinners, but that we are loved sinners. It doesn’t mean we need not seek forgiveness, but that God is always standing (like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son) ready to welcome us home.