During a penance service March 13 in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis called for an extraordinary jubilee “that is to have the mercy of God at its center.”
The mercy jubilee—which will run from Dec. 8, 2015 through Nov. 20, 2016—is to be lived in light of Christ’s directive, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).
For those unfamiliar with the passage in Luke’s Gospel, it comes right after “love your enemies” and right before “stop judging and you will not be judged.”
Pope Francis explained that the Holy Year of Mercy will be the catalyst for “spiritual conversion” so that the Church can journey together toward making clear “its mission of being a witness to mercy.”
“No one can be excluded from the mercy of God” the pontiff said. “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.”
The announcement came on the second anniversary of his election to the pontificate, and during the “24 Hours for the Lord” confession and Eucharistic adoration event taking place in participating parishes around the world.
“[God] really is ‘rich in mercy,’” Pope Francis assured those present, noting that he “extends his mercy with abundance over those who turn to him with a sincere heart.”
To drive the point home, the Holy Father offered a reflection on Luke’s account of the sinful woman (7:36-50), in which he underlined two words: “love and judgment.”
The love comes from the sinful woman, “who humbles herself before the Lord,” the Pope stated. “But first there is the merciful love of Jesus for her, which pushes her to approach.”
“Love and forgiveness are simultaneous,” he added. “God forgives her much, everything, because ‘she loved much.’”
“This woman has really met the Lord,” the Holy Father reflected. “In silence, she opened her heart to him; in pain, she showed repentance for her sins; with her tears, she appealed to the goodness of God for forgiveness.
“For her, there will be no judgment except that which comes from God, and this is the judgment of mercy. The protagonist of this meeting is certainly the love that goes beyond justice.”
On the other side of the spectrum there is Simon the Pharisee, who “cannot find the path of love.”
“He stands firm upon the threshold of formality,” explained the pontiff. “He is not capable of taking the next step to go meet Jesus, who brings him salvation. Simon limited himself to inviting Jesus to dinner, but did not really welcome him.
“In his thoughts, he invokes only justice, and in so doing, he errs. His judgment on the woman distances him from the truth and does not allow him even to understand who his guest is. He stopped at the surface; he was not able to look to the heart.”
“The call of Jesus pushes each of us never to stop at the surface of things, especially when we are dealing with a person,” Pope Francis said. He encouraged the faithful to “focus on the heart,” and on the person’s capacity of “generosity.”
Evangelist of mercy
The Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization has been charged with organizing the Jubilee of Mercy, which will begin with the opening of St. Peter’s Holy Door on Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
In a note accompanying the announcement, the council revealed that the day is also the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
It will conclude Nov. 20, 2016, with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, whom Pope Francis called the “living face of the Father’s mercy.”
During the Jubilee, the Sunday readings for Ordinary Time will be taken from the Gospel of Luke, the one referred to as “the evangelist of mercy.”
The official and solemn announcement of the Holy Year will take place on Divine Mercy Sunday, which falls every year on the Sunday after Easter.
In the ancient Hebrew tradition, the Jubilee Year, which was celebrated every 50 years, was meant to restore equality among all of the children of Israel, offering new possibilities to families which had lost their property and even their personal freedom.
The Catholic tradition of the Holy Year began with Pope Boniface VIII in 1300, which moved the emphasis on the year to an opportunity to deepen one’s faith and to live with a renewed commitment to Christian witness.
Until present, there have been 26 ordinary Holy Year celebrations, the last of which was the Jubilee of 2000, called by John Paul II.
The last extraordinary jubilee year was in 1993, also called by John Paul, marking 1950 years of redemption.
The initial rite of the jubilee is the opening of the Holy Door. This door is one which is only opened during the Holy Year and which remains closed during all other years.
This rite of the opening of the Holy Door illustrates symbolically the idea that, during the Jubilee, the faithful are offered an “extraordinary pathway” towards salvation.