The Call to Mercy
On December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis will open the Holy Door of St Peterís basilica in the Vatican, and with that launch the Year of Mercy.
There is no overstatement in expecting this to be a historic point in the history of the Church as Pope Francis presents us with an opportunity to redefine and refine the way our faith is presented to the world.
In Pope Francisí vision, the Catholic Church must be seen not as a judgmental institution that enforces its teachings by threat and sanction, but as a place where people can find the loving and merciful God.
It is, of course, an act of mercy to guide the faithful, and all who come to the Church, in the teachings of the Church that ease the path to salvation, so there is no question that doctrines need to be changed in this more welcoming Church. What Pope Francis calls for is a new, more generous way of articulating and applying the doctrines of the Church through the model of divine mercy.
The example of Godís limitless mercy, borne out of his unconditional love for us, must always guide us, even and especially when it is easier to be hard of heart, or even vengeful. In this way, the concept of a Year of Mercy is not a vague feel-good idea, or a project to be discarded once the Holy Year closes next November.
The Year of Mercy issues to us individually and to the Church in general a call to conversion. That call is perennial; this Holy Year serves to amplify it and offer us an occasion to deepen that faith which keeps transforming us. Hopefully, too, it will provide the tools with which to translate the call to conversion into action, for example through parish missions and special liturgies.
The Year of Mercy cannot be simply dealt with by restating our sincere belief in a merciful God who forgives our sins while we give our assent to programmes of mercy through the click of a Facebook ďlikeĒ button. The Year of Mercy calls us to live Godís mercy concretely in our lives.
In our individual lives, we might begin this by seeking Godís mercy for our trespasses through the sacrament of reconciliation. Then, having experienced Godís mercy, we may feel fortified to examine whether our general attitudes and life choices cohere with Godís will.
Do we place political or ideological positions above Godís will on questions such as refugees, capital punishment or abortion? Do we place our own material comforts above the needs of the poor and marginalised?
Do we try to understand other people when their words or actions provoke our disagreement, instead of condemning and retaliating? In our interactions with others, do we always try to be a reflection of Godís love?
Do we bear grudges against those who have wronged us, against our children whose life choices we differ with, against siblings with whom we have lost touch? Do we find it difficult to forgive others, or even ourselves?
Do we participate in gossip or duplicitous behaviour so as to disadvantage others? Do we engage in corrupt or exploitative business activities? Do we keep areas of our moral or ethical conduct hidden because we know they are wrong?
Very few of us will emerge from an examination on these points, and others like them, with a clean bill of spiritual health.
The Year of Mercy offers us an opportunity to heal ourselves by living Godís will as expressed by Christ in the Gospel. This is the conversion Pope Francis calls us to. It is a challenge that offers the greatest reward.
A good way to enter the Year of Mercy is by contemplating the mystery of mercy itself. A beneficial starting point is the very readable and inspiring document which Pope Francis wrote to announce the Holy Year, Misericordiae Vultus.
In the second paragraph of the text, the Holy Father spells out for us why mercy is the key to our spiritual life: ďIt is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it.Ē
May the Jubilee Year of Mercy bring about a transformation in all; individual, Church, and the world.