The Jubilee Year is the Year of Mercy
By Fr. Tirso Villaverde
St. Thomas of Canterbury, Chicago
Back in April of 2015, I wrote about the proclamation of a Jubilee Year by Pope Francis. In Catholic dioceses throughout the world, the Jubilee Year officially began this past December 8th with the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Since then, the coming year has been dedicated as being the Year of Mercy for Catholics throughout the world. Especially in light of world and local events, mercy is a gift every human being needs to receive and one that every human being is called to share with others whether they are believers or not. Yet, it oftentimes is necessary to understand what mercy truly means.
The idea of mercy may sometimes be misunderstood. To some, it is seen as a sign of weakness to show any sort of mercy to anyone. This is especially true in our contemporary society that many times values getting ahead and eliminating the competition by any means necessary. Such ruthless disregard for the cares or concerns of others has created a world in which people tend to get isolated from one another. But, in our Christian way of life, to be a person of mercy is a strength that empowers the faithful to be a powerful force for change.
Mercy is an active compassion toward another person who is in any sort of need. This is an essential aspect to who we are as followers of Jesus. Yet, mercy does not only mean that we sympathize with a person or need or even empathize with the person. More importantly, to be merciful impels us to action. Mercy motivates us to do whatever we can to alleviate the difficulty of another person. Mercy does not allow us to stand by and simply say, “I feel so bad for that person.” The mercy to which God calls us is a dedicated way of life in which we respond in taking whatever steps are necessary not only to help lighten whatever spiritual, emotional, of physical burden the other person is experiencing but also, at times, to address the root causes of the circumstances that has made a person come to face such difficulty. Sometimes, those root causes come from the person and at other times, they are caused by outside influence or an imperfect social system.
To be a person of mercy impels a person to do much more than simply offer a kind word or make a donation to a good cause. To live a life of mercy motivates a person to “get involved,” as the saying goes. It is not enough to let others worry about things but a life of mercy convinces a person that he or she himself or herself must contribute to the positive change that needs to happen. For this reason, true mercy actually transforms the lives of the every human being and becomes a powerful force of change in the world.
The logo for the Jubilee Year that we can see on this page sums up the example that God Himself has given. In it, we see an image of Jesus carrying a person over his shoulders. The words “Merciful Like the Father” are written on the side of the logo. The image invokes the story of the lost sheep where the shepherd will leave the 99 sheep in search of the single sheep that has strayed. The story tells us that, once found, the shepherd will carry the sheep on his shoulders returning the lost back to the fold.
The words “Merciful Like the Father” bring to our attention the parable of the Prodigal Son. In that story, the father anxiously and daily sits at the doorway of his home waiting for his son to return as if he knew for certain that his wayward son would come back to him. Then, instead of punishing the rebellious son, the father did the unthinkable and held a festival to celebrate his son’s homecoming.
Desperate for God’s mercy
Both of these parables of Jesus are contained in the logo. Both are reminders of the Christian vocation to be merciful like the Father. Time and again Jesus has taught us that the Father’s mercy is unlike any other. God saw the human situation when we were slaves to sin. God not only had pity on us but God Himself took the ultimate action to destroy the root cause of our miserable state. That is, God became human in order that He Himself might restore the broken relationship that we humans had caused by separating ourselves from Him in choosing to sin rather than live in relationship with God. In Jesus, God chose to die for our sins. In this act, God again not only looked on us with pity but He took action to address the situation. God went to the point of even dying a humiliating death on the cross. That was the length to which God was willing to go. God’s mercy makes clear that God responded by taking every step necessary to correct the situation. As a result, for everyone who believes in God, life is forever changed and we can share that same gift to the rest of the world.
This is the same mercy to which we are called no matter to what Christian denomination we may belong. The world needs mercy. The world is desperate for God’s mercy. This is a strength that all followers of Christ can display. In this coming year, we are invited to celebrate the mercy that God has shown to us and recommit ourselves to showing the same mercy to every human being.