Pope Francis will open the Jubilee Year of Mercy on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
When Pope Francis opens the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 8 for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, he will be offering God’s most powerful message to a world in desperate need.
“Precisely because there’s so much darkness in our world, God is graciously giving us a time of mercy,” said Fr. Michael Gaitley, whose latest book, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, explains Pope St. John Paul II’s embrace of the Divine Mercy message and its connection to Marian consecration.
“In times of great evil,” Fr. Gaitley said, “God gives even greater grace and mercy. I say that because of what we read in Romans 5:20: ‘Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.’ That’s what he is doing today, and Pope Francis — following the lead of Vatican II and Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI — is confirming this good news of God’s word.”
Year of pilgrimage
Bishop Martin Holley, auxiliary bishop of Washington, said he believes Pope Francis’ comment to a reporter, “I am a sinner,” may have set the template for the introduction to the upcoming Year of Mercy.
“He seems to realize that the best cure for our human brokenness is Divine Mercy,” Bishop Holley said.
When people hear the message of God’s mercy — often through the Divine Mercy devotion received by St. Faustina Kowalska and advanced by John Paul II — “they really seem to get it,” said Fr. Gaitley, a priest of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. “They realize we’re not dealing with some fringe or fanatical preoccupation with the miraculous, nor some quaint devotional practice for the overly pious.
“Instead, we’re dealing with the most important message for our time, a message that has been repeated over and over at the highest levels of the Church, a message that, as Pope Francis put it, comes from ‘the voice of the Spirit that speaks to the whole Church in this our time, which is in fact, the time of mercy.’”
In Misericordiae Vultus, the bull of indiction announcing the jubilee year, Pope Francis urges Catholics to live mercy as a program of life. To begin, he said, they must listen to and meditate on God’s word,rediscovering the value of silence and contemplating God’s mercy. The Holy Year will run from Dec. 8 to Nov. 20, 2016.
Father Gaitley said it’s fitting that Pope Francis opens the document by calling Catholics to contemplate and gaze upon the mystery of God’s mercy.
“After all, before everything else, before talking about mercy, before deeds of mercy, we really should first allow ourselves to encounter God’s mercy profoundly,” he said.
Pope Francis has also proposed that each Catholic, according to ability, make a pilgrimage to cross the threshold of one of the Holy Doors that will be opened during the jubilee year.
“The great aspect of a pilgrimage is that one does not have to go outside their own diocese or the United States,” Bishop Holley said, “because each will have a Holy Door for the jubilee year.”
Among the Pope’s other directives for the Year of Mercy are to rediscover the corporal and spiritual works of mercy — including feeding the hungry and forgiving offenses — and to reach out to other religious traditions in a spirit of dialogue and respect.
The sacrament of mercy
The Holy Father is also asking Catholics to focus on the sacrament of Penance “in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands” and be a “source of true interior peace” for every penitent.
Vinny Flynn, who has been involved in a “ministry of mercy” for the last 40 years through teaching, writing, counseling, music and prayer, said he sees the sacrament of Penance as the most essential of the Holy Father’s instructions for the jubilee year.
“Pope Francis has stressed over and over again the importance of Confession,” said Flynn, who wrote the best-selling 7 Secrets of Confession. “This sacrament brings us healing. It’s not just about forgiveness.”
Flynn — whose new book, 7 Secrets of Divine Mercy, is being released to coincide with the start of the jubilee year — said the sacraments are key to growth in holiness, which can only be achieved by God’s grace.
“Through grace, especially through the grace of the sacraments of Eucharist and Confession, we take in the holiness of God himself,” he explained. “The more we take that in, the more we can live with His holiness in us. Eucharist and Reconciliation are emphasized when Christ wants to open the floodgates of his mercy. God wants us to understand the gifts he has given us in these two sacraments.”
In the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C., Bishop Michael Burbidge said he will be encouraging priests to talk and preach more about the sacrament of Penance and why it’s essential — urging them to seek new and creative ways to make the sacrament available.
He also will be asking each Catholic in his diocese to commit to bringing one person back to the Church — and to be instruments of reconciliation in fractured relationships with family members, friends, co-workers or those they consider enemies by asking for the grace to forgive.
“We have to pray for that gift,” he explained, “for an extraordinary, amazing grace to be able to do that. Yet I do believe that in this year, God will be acting miraculously in our lives.”
Among the challenges of the jubilee year, Bishop Burbidge said, will be to embrace its message so that it’s more than an event — and to convey that mercy must be accompanied by a desire to repent, begin anew and sin no more.
To be a recipient of that grace, one has to acknowledge the sin that was committed and then express sorrow for it,” he explained. “Then, as we celebrate the beautiful gift of God’s mercy, it’s in light of the Lord’s command that upon forgiving sins, we would say: ‘Go and sin no more.’”
Father Gaitley said that, although some may hear the message of mercy and not understand the need for repentance, he believes Pope Francis sees as a bigger problem: those who feel they need to earn God’s mercy.
“I think he’s concerned that too many avoid the Lord and haven’t encountered his goodness because they don’t realize the good news that Jesus came, not for the righteous, but for sinners.”
JUDY ROBERTS is a Legatus magazine staff writer.