Beginning Tuesday, December 8th , the Catholic Church will begin to celebrate the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Throughout the 2016 liturgical year, the Church around the world is participating in, celebrating, contemplating, and commemorating God’s mercy in our lives. Pope Francis in his papal bull, Misericordiae Vultus, discusses what the Jubilee should look like:
“We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness. At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives. For this reason I have proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as a special time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective.”
What is happening from December 8, 2015 to November 20, 2016 during the Jubilee? Beginning on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis will open up the holy door of St. Peter’s Basilica and allow all who enter to receive a plenary indulgence for their pilgrimage to the site. Pope Francis has emphasized the wish for individual dioceses by the power of the local bishops around the world to open their designated holy doors, in a sign of solidarity and universal pilgrimage for all people to attend and receive this grace.
During the Jubilee Year, Pope Francis has called all of us to place special emphasis on understanding Christ’s mercy and how we can show that mercy to others. For myself, I will try to put special emphasis on what it means to show mercy by using the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy as a guide throughout 2016. The Works of Mercy have always served as a good way of measuring what I am called to do as a Catholic. Throughout the year, I would like to commit to praying for others in addition to my family, friends, and myself. I would like to pray especially for those I do not know: the imprisoned, the homeless, and those suffering in silence—that all may know of the mercy of God.
Even though I am a volunteer catechist at my local parish, I still want to try to incorporate more works of mercy into my life. As much as it may help others, it ultimately provides me an opportunity to express my faith and learn and grow in my appreciation of God. In simple acts of charity, such as donating platelets frequently for those who are victims of cancers and accidents in my local area, I hope to express the understanding of mercy that we are trying to emphasize during the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy. It is my hope that this year you and your family will take an intentional step to incorporate the Works of Mercy into your family prayer life and live more fully the mission of Christ in the world today.
After the extraordinary visit of Pope Francis to the United States, I have a renewed vision of the world around me. I see things in ways that I had not experienced before. The Lord’s call for compassion and mercy, especially on the eve of the Jubilee of Mercy, is heightened. I hear that call so much more clearly now.
My experience in youth and young adult ministry trained me to hear God’s voice speaking through popular culture so that I could help connect the Catholic faith to teenagers and young adults. As such, movies and television have become an important part of my ministry, as well as a guilty pleasure, especially when I need to process, reflect, and rest.
This week, I took time to catch up on the new season of Doctor Who, the long-running BBC show about an alien time traveler named The Doctor, who often saves the day using his clever wit and a sonic screwdriver (a futuristic Swiss Army knife).
In this week’s episode (to which I will offer a few spoilers, so be warned), the Doctor comes across an innocent young boy caught in the middle of a desert wasteland and surrounded by “hand mines”. The boy calls for help and the Doctor shows up to offer his assistance. As the Doctor starts to rescue the child, he asks the boy his name, to which he responds, “Davros.” What make this devastating is that “Davros” is the name of the Doctor’s longtime arch-nemesis who would grow up to create the race of killer robotic aliens known as the Daleks. The Doctor is faced with a dilemma: Does he save the child and, in so doing, allow the child to grow up to become a villain that would destroy so many, or does he abandon the child, which might possibly save countless lives? At first, the Doctor leaves – choosing the latter option.
Years later, the Doctor finds himself in the presence of the adult Davros who has exterminated entire races throughout his adult life. Davros is bitter and broken. He is dying and asks the Doctor for one final moment, presumably to exact revenge for leaving him to die as a young boy. Davros asks why he willingly came, to which the Doctor responds, “I came because you’re sick and you asked.”
Davros replies with bitterness, “Compassion? Always!” the Doctor answers. “I’m helping a little boy I abandoned many years ago.” To this, Davros laughs and mocks him, saying, “Your compassion is your downfall”and proceeds to trap the Doctor.
Without going into too many intricate details of the plot, let’s just say that the Doctor’s companions rush to save him. Upon encountering one of Davros’ creations (the Daleks), the Doctor discovers that –despite the rage and revenge of this alien race, they also understand the concept of mercy.
As the Doctor ponders this concept of mercy and wonders how this “design flaw”came to be in a heartless race of robotic aliens, he has an idea. He goes back in time to the young Davros whom he had once abandoned. Only a moment after he had initially left, as the boy stands crying for help, the Doctor reappears on the scene and offers mercy to his future enemy. The young boy asks “Are you the enemy?” The Doctor answers him, “Friends, enemies, I’m not sure if any of that matters as long as there is mercy. Always mercy.” It seems, in the end, the “design flaw”of the Daleks resulted from young Davros experiencing mercy from the Doctor (and if this all sounds confusing, it’s because it’s a time travel television show).
Pope Francis spoke at great length about compassion and mercy during his visit, too. It was an undercurrent of each of his talks or homilies. He stressed the need to be compassionate with family members, to show mercy to those in prison and to the homeless, to those who disagree with us and stand on the other side of issues and causes. As we continue to process Pope Francis’visit to Cuba and the United States, and as we move into the Jubilee of Mercy, this quote from Doctor Who will continue to resonate with me: “Friends, enemies, I’m not sure if any of that matters as long as there is mercy. Always mercy.”It is a truth that didn’t originate from a science fiction show or even the Holy Father.
It is a truth grounded in Christ, who told his disciples on the mountain: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy”(Mt 5:7) May we, too, be merciful –even to those we may not like or agree with –for God is so gracious in his mercy towards us.
Yesterday, we celebrated the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, which gives the faithful the opportunity to reflect on many different subjects. For instance, it is on this feast that the Pope traditionally presents the pallium to newly installed metropolitan archbishops, signifying their union with the Holy See. The feast is also important for the ecumenical movement because it is on this day that leaders of both the Catholic and Orthodox churches come together to pray and work towards full communion. However, one theme that seems to be missed is that of God’s mercy as exemplified by the lives of these two leaders of the early Church. And with the Jubilee Year of Mercy upcoming, one might want to look to these great saints for some inspiration.
One of the most well-known moments of the Passion is when Peter denies Christ three times (Mt 26:69-75) even after promising Jesus that, “though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be” (Mk 14:29). Likewise, Paul also denied Jesus by his persecution of the disciples. He even takes part in the death of the first martyr, St. Stephen (Acts 7:58-60). If their stories had stopped there, we might judge the first as a fare-weather follower and the second as a ruthless fanatic.
Yet, we know that is not how the story ends. In the Gospel of John, Jesus appears to his disciples as they are fishing. They are eating breakfast on the shore when Christ asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” to which Peter replies yes twice and at the third time says, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you” (Jn 21:15-17). And thus, Peter is redeemed and given the charged by Jesus to “Feed my sheep.” He becomes the leader of the early church and by tradition is regarded as the first pope.
On his way to Damascus, Paul sees a bright light from the sky and voice crying out, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). The voice is revealed to be that of Jesus himself. Blinded by the light, Paul enters Damascus when one of Jesus’ disciples, Ananias, lays his hands on him at the Lord’s command. Upon doing so, Paul’s vision is regained, is baptized, and goes on to preach the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean.
Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, “The Church is not holy by herself; in fact, she is made up of sinners…Rather, she is made holy ever anew by the Holy One of God, by the purifying love of Christ.” Similarly, Pope Francis recalls, “[God] never tires of forgiving, but at times we get tired of asking for forgiveness…He is the loving Father who always pardons, who has that heart of mercy for us all.” The lives of Sts. Peter and Paul show us that no one is beyond forgiveness, so long as he or she seeks the mercy of God. Therefore, these two great pillars of the Church are a great reminder to have as we approach the Jubilee Year.
Victor David is a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.