By Father Christopher Seibt
Editor’s note: Pope Francis has declared an Extraordinary Jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy, which will begin Dec. 8 and conclude Nov. 20, 2016. Father Christopher Seibt will explore various aspects of the jubilee in a series of Sun columns throughout the year. This is the first column in the series.
“Father, I am not really a religious person but I am looking for something more in my life.” “Father, I was baptized Catholic but I have been away from the Church for a while. I want to come back, but I do not know where to begin.” “Father, I live and practice my faith regularly and I want to go deeper. I want to be closer to God here and now and one day be with him forever in heaven.” If you find yourself saying these or similar things then the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is for you.
The Year of Mercy is a particular time for all of us, dedicated to proclaiming God’s mercy and to living it daily (Misericordia Vultus, 25). It is a time that is intended to both remind and even reveal more completely to us one of the central truths of our faith; namely, that God became man, united all of us to him, and restored us to the glorious life that he had planned for us from the beginning. And it is a time in which mercy stands in the face of sin, denounces it, and does something about it.
The Year of Mercy, therefore, is a time in which our Holy Father Pope Francis is calling all of us to turn away from sin and to turn toward God the Father and celebrate his mercy. How? There are a number of different ways to do so:
1 Contemplate the Father’s mercy by gazing upon the very face of mercy, his Son, Jesus Christ. Rediscover and imitate the Lord’s words, action, and person (MV, 1, 2).
2 Recognize that God’s mercy is greater than any sin, that God loves us and is ever ready to forgive. All we need to do is ask.
3 Be merciful to others because God the Father has been merciful to us and doing so makes us a more effective sign of the Father’s mercy in our lives (MV, 3).
Although this sounds like a lot to do, it is very simple really. During the Year of Mercy we are called to encounter mercy and extend it. We begin to encounter it first by reacquainting ourselves with the sources of God’s mercy: the Scriptures, the teachings of the Church, prayer, and the sacraments. Then, we encounter mercy by celebrating it — in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, by obtaining a jubilee indulgence, by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Door of Mercy at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, by turning to Mary and the saints, and by living Lent this year in a more deliberate and intense way.
We extend mercy by talking about our experience of it with others, by putting the corporal and spiritual works of mercy into action, by obtaining an indulgence for those who are deceased, and by reaching out to those who are on the peripheries, not only economically, but also spiritually.
On Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Year of Mercy will begin. This day is significant because it celebrates the moment in time when God “stepped up” his response to our sinfulness, showing us that mercy is greater than any sin and that he is always “ready to forgive” (MV, 3). From Dec. 8 until Nov. 20, 2016, we have an opportunity unlike any other to live the motto of this holy year: “Merciful like the Father” (Lk 6:36). Moreover, we have an opportunity to encounter and extend the Father’s mercy.
As Pope Francis says, “This is the opportune moment to change our lives! This is the time to allow our hearts to be touched” (MV 19). For “the Church feels the urgent need to proclaim God’s mercy [since she] is called above all to be a credible witness to mercy, professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ” (MV, 25).
If you are looking for something more in your life. If you have been baptized but have fallen away from the Church. Or, if you simply want to go deeper in your faith. Wherever you are in your relationship with God, make the effort during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy to celebrate and “contemplate the mystery of mercy.” Pope Francis reminds us, “our salvation depends on it” (MV, 2). After all, mercy is God himself coming to meet us and that which should open our hearts to the “hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness” (Ibid.).
Throughout this Year of Mercy, I invite you to join me as we reflect on mercy encountered and extended. I also encourage you to please check out the Diocese of Syracuse’s and the Catholic Sun’s websites for news, resources and a variety of other opportunities to encounter and extend God’s mercy during this Extraordinary Jubilee. May our celebration of this sacred time in the life of the Church bring us all many graces and blessings.
Father Christopher Seibt is parochial vicar of St. Rose of Lima Church in North Syracuse.