Pope Francis declares a Jubilee Year
By Fr. Tirso Villaverde
St. Thomas of Canterbury, Chicago
Recently, to mark his second anniversary of election as pope, His Holiness declared a coming Jubilee Year. It will begin later this year on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception which is always December 8th. The Jubilee will conclude on November 20th, 2016 which will be the Feast of Christ the King, the celebration that officially marks the end of every liturgical year in the Catholic Church. For many of us, we may recall that the last Jubilee Year was pronounced by Pope St. John Paul II in the year 2000 as the entire world entered into the new millennium. Still, the declaration of a Jubilee Year might prompt many people to ask, "So what is the big deal?"
First of all, the designation of a particular year as a "jubilee" comes from Old Testament times. The command comes from Leviticus 25:10 where it says that the fiftieth year shall be holier than all others. During the entire jubilee year, farm lands would be left to grow according to nature's bidding. Meaning, farmers would not work their land. Rather, they would simply allow nature to follow its own course. Furthermore, in the fiftieth year, all debts would be forgiven and wiped clean. Anything that people had borrowed from others had to be returned to their rightful owners. It was seen as a time to realize once again that everything and everyone belonged to God alone. The jubilee year was a period of great rejoicing and an era to experience the profound love and mercy of God.
The Catholic Church has oftentimes used the custom of the Jubilee Year in its own history. Most often, every 25th or 50th year has been so designated. But, from time to time, as is the case with the upcoming Jubilee Year, the Church can and has declared certain years to be extraordinary jubilee years. Still, what is the purpose?
To use one word, it is simply for the purpose of rejoicing. A Jubilee Year is a time to experience the joy that comes from knowing that God's mercy knows no limits. It is a period to celebrate the awesome love of God. Of course, this is something that ought to be celebrated every year. However, as is the case with many things, assigning a unique importance to a particular year gives it greater significance. This is not out of the realm of our everyday experience.
For example, why do many people give greater importance to 25th, 50th, or even 75th anniversaries? Why do many people throw larger parties when celebrating their 25th, 40th, 50th, 80th, or 100th birthdays? Every anniversary and birthday is a milestone in and of itself. So why give greater importance to some rather than others? It is for the same basic reason as the jubilee year from the Old Testament and even from the Catholic Church's tradition. Those particular years have more significance because virtually everyone sees it as a tremendous accomplishment and testimony to life, love, or fortitude when individuals or couples reach those special moments of life.
Likewise, it is almost certain that anyone reading this article has known someone who has given a greater celebration in any given year simply because of a major accomplishment that took place in that year. For example, people can choose to celebrate a 26th birthday with greater significance because he or she landed the dream job during that year. Again, declaring a particular year to have greater importance than others is not outside of anyone's understanding.
In the coming Jubilee Year, there will be greater emphasis given on the loving mercy of God. Pope Francis has already referred to this when he announced the Jubilee Year. Catholics will be encouraged to make special pilgrimages to specific holy sites and/or other practices. The point to all of this is to give oneself the opportunity to experience in a more profound and powerful way the love of God that continually forgives sin. In this way, the faithful open themselves up to the power of God's grace in a more unique way as to see more clearly the path that will lead to the ultimate destination of all God's holy ones, namely, the heavenly kingdom. This is the modern understanding of the ancient idea of an "indulgence." It is not so much that Catholics are "buying their way into heaven," as it is allowing themselves to become more receptive to the power of God's grace by which all people are ultimately saved. Then, in becoming more disposed to the grace of God, the faithful are able to live the life to which God has called them.
May the coming Jubilee Year truly be a time to rejoice and let the love of God embrace all who profess faith in His Son Jesus.