The Year of Mercy
In convoking a Jubilee, the Holy Father Francis invites us to consider that the Church knows herself to be the bearer of the Lord’s overpowering yearning: salvation is today. Utinam hodie vocem eius audiatis: nolite obdurare corda vestra. “O that today you would hearken to his voice! Harden not your hearts” (Ps 95:8). In the Old Testament, the jubilee year that took place every 50 years was a foreshadowing of the salvation God bestows. On fulfilling seven weeks of years (Lev 25:8)—seven times seven years—a year was begun in which slaves were freed, and each returned to their own property and family (see Lev 25:10,39), since people do not belong to anyone, but only to God (see Lev 25:55). If we wanted to sum up in one word what a jubilee meant for the people of Israel, it might be “freedom” (see Lev 25:10).
Freedom: isn’t this a word that is so often voiced by people today? And nevertheless, we often forget that freedom, in its deepest sense, comes from God. Through his saving passion and resurrection, Christ freed us from the worst slavery: sin. “Through the tender mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79).
The source of true freedom is found in God’s mercy. From a purely human viewpoint, such a statement could seem ingenuous; we might admit that a bit of mercy would be good to smooth over human relationships, but only after having resolved many more urgent problems. In a general audience this past December, Pope Francis said that putting mercy in first place “humanly speaking is absurd, but ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men’ (1 Cor 1:25).” The world needs mercy to escape from so many spirals of resentment, envy and frustration; families need it, as does society.
To a world that longs for freedom without being able to find it, the Church untiringly offers God’s mercy, which brings with it “the freedom of the children of God” (St. Josemaría, Friends of God, no. 267; see Gal 5:1). “The Church needs this extraordinary occasion. In this era of profound changes, the Church is called to offer her particular contribution, rendering visible the signs of the presence and closeness of God. The Jubilee is a favorable time for all of us, because by contemplating Divine Mercy, which overcomes all human limitations and shines in the darkness of sin, we are able to become more certain and effective witnesses,” Pope Francis said on the day following the opening of the holy door in St. Peter’s.
The holy door is a vivid reminder of where salvation comes from: from the sheepfold of God, from the space of God, which he invites us to enter. “God goes to meet those who are not seeking him,” the Founder of Opus Dei tells us (In Love with the Church, no. 39), and he invites us to open a door of hope. The Jubilee is “a Holy Year to experience strongly within ourselves the joy of having been found by Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who has come in search of us because we were lost,” the Holy Father said in a homily (April 11, 2015).
We have before us, therefore, a special opportunity to experience the liberating power of divine mercy. God pardons our sins and opens our hearts to those around us. “This Jubilee, in other words, is a privileged moment for the Church to learn to choose only ‘what pleases God most.’ What is it that ‘pleases God most?’ Forgiving his children, having mercy on them, so that they may in turn forgive their brothers and sisters, shining as a flame of God’s mercy in the world. This is what pleases God most” (Pope Francis, Audience, December 9, 2015).
Reconciliation with God—which we receive in Confession, the sacrament at the center of the Jubilee Year (see Bull Misericordiae Vultus, no. 17)—opens a door to allow those around us to enter into our life. For God’s mercy is not a mere mantle that covers over our miseries, without changing anything in our life. On the contrary, his mercy changes us radically; it makes us men and women who are “merciful like the Father” (see Lk 6:36). We are such when we forgive someone who has offended us, when we carry out, perhaps going against the grain, some work of charity, or bring the saving message of the Gospel to someone who is living far from God. Drawing close to God’s mercy, St. Josemaría assures us, necessarily involves becoming instruments of his compassion towards those around us: “God’s heart is a heart of mercy, which has compassion on men and draws close to them. Our self-giving in the service of souls is a manifestation of God’s mercy, not only towards us but also towards all mankind” (Letter, March 24, 1930, no. 1).
Romana, n. 61, July-December 2015, p. 200-203.