"Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes.
Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices." ~St. Teresa of Avila
Pope Francis’ recent visit to the United States planted a seed in the hearts and imaginations of many people, both people of faith as well as those of no faith. Just look at how much secular media coverage was given to each day of his visit. Every bold word he said to Congress, every unscheduled stop to embrace and bless, and every daring act of compassion he did in those six short days was broadcast live, recorded, Tweeted and blogged, posted on Facebook, and talked about in offices, homes, and social gatherings. Pope Francis, in every way possible, showed mercy, and it changed people’s hearts.
A Jubilee Year of Mercy
In the Bible, the book of Leviticus describes a special year called a “jubilee” that occurs every 50 years. During this year, God restores all creation to right relationship with one another and with himself, their Creator, in whom they find rest. In the jubilee year, debts were cancelled, possessions returned to their rightful owners, slaves and prisoners freed to return to their families, and workers and crops rested. Just as a person today might take a sabbatical to rejuvenate themselves and grow in new ways, this “sabbath” year was a time for God’s people to trust in God’s care, receive God’s blessings in new ways, and share that newness of life with others.
Since the 14th century, the Church has declared a Jubilee Year every 25 or 50 years, dedicating that year as a special time to encounter God’s blessings, be forgiven of sin, and renew our love for God and one another. Once in a while, the Church will call a special, or extraordinary, Jubilee Year to coincide with a significant event or need in the world. Pope Francis sees a great need in the world today for all people to experience God’s love in real and tangible ways. That is why he has called for an extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin on December 8, 2015.
How to Live the Year of Mercy
In Pope Francis’ own actions, attitudes, and words, especially toward those who have been ostracized, hurt, or forgotten, we see what he means when he said, in Jesus’ name, “Go out, and embrace life as it is and not as you think it should be”
(homily, September 23, 2015). This unconditional embrace is exactly how God the Father desires to embrace us, just as the father in the story of the Prodigal Son readily embraced his child even before he had said a word. Therefore, Pope Francis wants this Holy Year to be a time for every Christian to follow Jesus’ command more closely:
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful., (LUKE 6:36)
We do this by first coming to God with a sincere heart and asking for God’s mercy. We can do this in prayer on our own or with the community. We can also ask for God’s mercy by celebrating the sacraments, especially Eucharist and Penance. Second, because God desires to embrace us with love and never tires of showing us mercy, we are strengthened by God’s love to go out into the world and show that same mercy to others. We can do this most clearly through actions that help others in their physical and spiritual needs.
Corporal Works of Mercy
Through corporal works of mercy, we extend God’s mercy
to people’s concrete needs when we:
• feed the hungry;
• give drink to the thirsty;
• clothe the naked;
• shelter the homeless;
• visit the sick;
• visit the imprisoned; and
• bury the dead
Spiritual Works of Mercy
Through spiritual works of mercy, we extend God’s compassion
by tending to a person’s spirit, heart, and mind when we:
• counsel the doubtful;
• instruct the ignorant;
• admonish sinners;
• comfort the afflicted;
• forgive offenses;
• bear wrongs patiently; and
•pray for the living and the dead
The Holy Door of Mercy
In our Catholic tradition, the door or the threshold is a sacred place. When a new Church is built, the doors are blessed, and many of our sacraments and rituals begin at these consecrated doors. In a Jubilee Year, the Church door holds special significance.
The door is a sign of Christ who said, “I am the gate for the sheep…Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:7, 9). Within the doors of the Church, God’s people find rest, safety,
The door is a sign of the People of God who are commanded to:
Go, and make disciples (MATTHEW 28:19)
That is why the earliest Christians called themselves the People of the Way, and today we are called the Pilgrim Church for we are on a daily pilgrimage toward our heavenly home, and along the way we invite others to join in this journey.
The door is also a liminal space where we move from one place to another. Thus, it is a sign of our conversion, of letting go of our old way of life and entering a new way of life in Christ. Whenever we walk through the Church doors, we remind ourselves
that we have been changed to become more like Christ and daily we are called to change our lives that we may serve
others in the name of Christ.
The door is also the place of “passing over,” in remembrance of the night when the enslaved Israelites in Egypt placed the blood of a lamb on their doors and the Angel of Death passed over their homes, leaving them in safety. That was the night they were freed from slavery and saved from death. Thus, the door of the Church is a place of salvation where we encounter God’s mercy in real and tangible ways in our lives. Here, we enter into the Church to find and know God’s mercy; from here, we go out into the world to bring God’s mercy to others.
On December 8, 2015, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door in Rome for the beginning of the Year of Mercy to symbolize the blessings that God wants to give to anyone who asks. He has invited every Catholic diocese in the world to establish a similar Holy Door in its Cathedral and in other churches designated by the local bishop. These doors will be places where the faithful can encounter God’s mercy and be strengthened to be merciful to others as God has been merciful to them.
Bishop Patrick J. McGrath has established three Holy Doors in the Diocese of San Jose. These can be found at:
Cathedral Basilica of Saint Joseph
80 South Market Street, San Jose, CA, 95113
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish
2020 East San Antonio Street, San Jose, CA 95116
Our Lady of Peace Shrine
2800 Mission College Boulevard, Santa Clara, CA, 95054
These doors were formally opened on or shortly after December 13, 2015.
Receiving God’s Mercy
In a Jubilee Year, popes throughout the centuries have established special waysthat Catholics can ask for and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness of their sins or the sins of a loved one who has died. These special graces are called “indulgences.” That word has sometimes had a negative meaning because of how the practice of granting indulgences was often abused or misused by individuals who believed one could buy or work for God’s forgiveness.
Yet God’s mercy cannot be bought or earned. God’s forgiveness is freely given and complete, with no strings attached. God indulges us, by no merit of our own, but by his love, just as a grandmother indulges her grandchildren simply because she loves them, even when they do something wrong.
In his letter titled “The Face of Mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus), Pope Francis describes God’s indulgence and the effects of receiving God’s free gift of love during this Year of Mercy:
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God forgives our sins, which he truly
blots out; and yet sin leaves a negative effect on the way we think and act.
But the mercy of God is stronger even than this. It becomes indulgence
on the part of the Father who, through the Bride of Christ, his Church,
reaches the pardoned sinner and frees him from every residue left
by the consequences of sin, enabling him to act with charity,
to grow in love rather than to fall back into sin.(#22)
The total liberty we experience through God’s indulgent love for us frees us to show that same kind of unconditional love to others. As the Pope continues in his letter, “to gain an indulgence is to experience the holiness of the Church, who bestows upon all the fruits of Christ’s redemption, so that God’s love and forgiveness may extend everywhere.”
Here are specific ways Pope Francis has established for the faithful to receive God’s indulgence during this Year of Mercy, December 13, 2015, to November 20, 2016:
For those who are able:
With a desire for true conversion, make a pilgrimage to the Holy Door, either in Rome or at the local Cathedral or other churches designated by the local bishop.
Having entered through the Holy Door, celebrate the sacraments of the Eucharist or Reconciliation.
Within those two sacraments, make a profession of faith and pray for the Holy Father and for his intentions for the good of the Church and of the entire world.
For those who are sick and unable to visit the Holy Door:
Live your illness as a way to be close to Jesus who also suffered in his earthly life.
Receive Communion, or participate in the Eucharist or community prayer, even by televised media.
For those in prison:
Pray in the chapel of your prison, and let God, through your prayer, transform the bars of your cell into a kind of Holy Door, “because the mercy of God is able to transform hearts and is also able to transform bars into an experience of freedom” (Pope Francis).
Whenever you respond to God’s gratuitous gift of mercy by doing one of these acts, you will receive the Jubilee Indulgence for yourself or for your deceased loved ones. Receiving this indulgence also commits you to live by mercy so that the fruit of God’s gift to you may flourish.
Merciful like the father
Jesus called his disciples to be merciful, just as his Father in heaven was merciful. In Jesus’ life, in the witness of the saints, and in the example of Pope Francis, we see real and concrete ways we can live in the world as God’s merciful people. When we ask for the unconditional embrace of God, our hearts are changed to be softer, kinder, and more peaceful. They become hearts of flesh and not of stone. When we offer to others that unconditional embrace of Christ, their lives are changed. And when people see us doing this with love, mercy, and compassion, even toward those they believe do not deserve it, they begin to see the world in a new way—in the way God see it: as very good and beautiful. It is then that the Holy Spirit can turn even the stoniest of hearts ever more toward the Father. Through one act of mercy at a time, in one heart at time, God is restoring the world to right relationship and newness of life.
Prayer of Pope Francis for the Jubilee
Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us,
the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”
You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:
let everyone who approaches them
feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.
Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.
We ask this of you, Lord Jesus,
through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy;
you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.
Quotes and Links for the Year of Mercy
With our eyes fixed on Jesus and his merciful gaze, we experience the love of the Most Holy Trinity. The mission Jesus received from the Father was that of revealing the mystery of divine love in its fullness. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16), John affirms for the first and only time in all of Holy Scripture. This love has now been made visible and tangible in Jesus’ entire life. His person is nothing but love, a love given gratuitously. The relationships he forms with the people who approach him manifest something entirely unique and unrepeatable. The signs he works, especially in favour of sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the sick, and the suffering, are all meant to teach mercy. Everything in him speaks of mercy. Nothing in him is devoid of compassion. (Misericordiae vultus, §8)