This talk was presented on November 19, 2015 at DBCS Paranaque City, and is the first in a series of four presentations under Talakayan: A theological-pastoral forum organized by DBCS FIN (Salesian Philippine North Province) students of theology for AY 2015-2016.
Good afternoon confreres and friends. I wish to extend my special greetings to Rev. Donnie Duya, our moderator, Br. Ryan Oliver Bautista and Fr. Cris Magbitang, our distinguished reactors. My presentation is drawn from the following sources:
- Misericordiae Vultus (MV), Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (April 11, 2015);
- The catechetical material prepared by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB);
- Documents from the official website of the Year of Mercy; and
- Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life by Walter Cardinal Kasper.
In Need of God’s Mercy
Let’s begin on a personal note. When was the last time that you committed sin? Or had fallen short of the Salesian ideal religious life? Or failed miserably in you endeavor? Lord, I’m a sinner, and you continue to love me?! I invite everyone to reflect on our utter nothingness before God, and, simultaneously, on the immensity of God’s mercy for us.
[Song: Lord I Need You]
We begin our Talakayan on this note because this Jubilee of Mercy, for which we are preparing, will attain a special and very personal significance in our Christian life only when, on a personal level, we become aware of our own need for God’s mercy every moment, when we realize that we are really no more than miserable sinners, when we come to understand that we are nothing and therefore exist only because of God’s mercy.
We recall that the Jubilee (Yobel in Hebrew) in the Bible (cf. Lev 25:8-17, 29-31) is a moment of great celebration commemorating the lordship of YHWH over all Israel; a time for restoring broken order, and an opportunity to recall the nation’s ideals and exalted vocation. It happens every seven years, and every fifty years, a great Jubilee. For us Catholics, the Jubilee celebrations began in 1300 during the papacy of Boniface VIII who envisioned it to be celebrated every century. However, in 1475 an ordinary Jubilee year was celebrated so that every generation may experience a Jubilee. To date, there have been 26 ordinary Jubilee Year celebrations, the Great Jubilee 2000 being the last.
The Holy Year of Mercy
On March 13, 2015, Pope Francis announced the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy. It is “extraordinary” inasmuch as it celebrates not an anniversary, but the attribute of God the Father revealed in history and recorded in both the Old and the New Testaments: Mercy.
The word hesed found in the Hebrew Scriptures, which in Greek is eleos and in Latin Misericordia, is translated into English as “mercy.” Bible scholars agree that much of hesed’s meaning is lost in the translation. YHWH’s hesed is related to his faithful love or his covenantal love, therefore unspeakably dependable. Hesed is both divine grace and mercy. The other Hebrew words related to mercy are the following: rachamin – compassion, from rechem which means womb; hen – grace, leb or kardia in Greek – heart, splanxna in Greek – intestines).
The Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae Vultus, given on April 11, 2015, guides our reflection on the Holy Year and gives us information on its implementation.
“The Holy Year of Mercy will begin on December 8, 2015, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception… (which) recalls God’s action from the very beginning of the history of mankind.”(1) The book of Genesis reveals the dignity of the human person who is created in the “image and likeness” of God (1:26). The stories of the Fall (cf. Gen 3), Cain and Abel (cf. Gen 4), Noah and the Flood (cf. Gen 6), and the Tower of Babel (cf. Gen 11) speak of the various and repeated ways in which man rejected and violated imagehood. But time and again, God proved his faithfulness by restoring order to man’s chaos and lifting man up from his miserable condition. Each story of the fall ends with a sign of hope: the protoevangelium in 3:14 and the clothes for Adam and Eve in 3:21; the mark on Cain in 4:15; survival from the flood in 8:21-22; the new beginning in the person of Abraham in 12:1.(2) “When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive” (3).
The history of salvation finds a new beginning in Abraham and culminates in the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Redeemer. We refer to Mary as the Mother of Mercy whenever we pray the Salve Regina.
This December 8, the Holy Father will open the “Holy Door which will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope. On the following Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent, the Holy Door of the Cathedral of Rome – that is, the Basilica of Saint John Lateran – will be opened. In the following weeks, the Holy Doors of the other Papal Basilicas will be opened.” A Door of Mercy will also be opened for the duration of the Holy Year in every local Church. In this way, therefore, the particular Church and a greater number of faithful will be directly involved “in living out this Holy Year as an extraordinary moment of grace and spiritual renewal. Thus the Jubilee will be celebrated both in Rome and in the Particular Churches as a visible sign of the Church’s universal communion.”(4)
December 8 was chosen also to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.(5)
The Jubilee year will close with the liturgical Solemnity of Christ the King on November 20, 2016. (6)
Merciful Like the Father
The Jubilee of Mercy celebrates the Mercy of the Father, revealed in both the Old and the New Testaments. The name of YHWH was revealed thrice in the book of Exodus, each time revealing an aspect of Divine Mercy.
When Moses asked God for his name, he received the mysterious answer: “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14). Cardinal Kasper explained that the Septuagint “interpreted the revelation of God’s name according to Hellenistic philosophical thought and translated it as ‘I am the one who is’ … On the basis of this translation, one was convinced that what is the highest in thought – Being – and what is highest in faith – God – correlate to each other.” However, modern biblical scholarship has pointed out the difference between the Hebraic and Greek understanding of the concept of “being.” For the Hebrews, being means “concrete, active and powerfully effective existence… In the revelation of his name, God thus enunciates his innermost reality: God’s being is being present for his people and with his people.” In Ex 33:19, God says “I will be gracious (hen) to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy (rachamin) on whom I will show mercy.” Because YHWH refuses to be understood according to the neat categories of compensatory justice, this passage may be taken as an expression of God’s sovereignty and his irreducible freedom. The same idea is repeated in Hos 11: 9 where it is written, “For I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.” Finally in Ex 34:6, YHWH passed by Moses and called out, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful (rachum) and gracious (henun), slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (hesed) and faithfulness (emet).” Here, “mercy is not only an expression of God’s sovereignty and freedom; it is also an expression of his fidelity. In his mercy, God is faithful to himself and to his people, despite their infidelity.”(7)
In the New Testament, we find the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians which speaks of God as “rich in mercy” (2:4). The Gospel according to Luke includes in the Sermon on the Plain the following exhortation of Jesus to his disciples: “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (6:26).
The revelation of Divine Mercy throughout Israel’s long history culminates in Jesus Christ. “In the ‘fullness of time’ (Gal 4:4) … he sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way.”(8)
“Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” By his teaching and preaching, deeds of power, table fellowship with sinners and social outcasts, casting out of devils… by his entire person, Jesus revealed the mercy of the Father, and for this reason ushered in God’s Reign, God’s Power in history. Here we gain better understanding of how Jesus’ testimony to Philip in Jn 14:9 becomes absolutely true: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” The Gospel of Luke used the story of the Good Samaritan and the Merciful Father and the Two Sons to express God’s unfathomable mercy. In the Gospel of Mathew, we read of Jesus’ compassion for the people, “he felt sorry for them” (spanxnizomai) in 9:36, a compassion that is not sentimental but effective. That is why we have the sending of the Twelve in chapter 10, and the long discourse on the Kingdom and the seed of the Church from Mt 11-18.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12), extends in history this ministry of revealing the Father’s mercy to the world. In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis wrote: “The Church has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of her own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy.”(9)
According to Cardinal Kasper, the Church gives witness to divine mercy by first proclaiming the mercy of God, second, by making the sacrament of reconciliation readily available, and, third, by allowing God’s mercy to appear and be realized in its concrete structures, its entire life, and even in its laws. (10)
A World Athirst for Mercy
Cardinal Kasper argued that the twentieth century that lies behind us was a horrible century in many respects, and the twenty-first century, which is still young and which began ominously and sensationally on September 11, 2001, with the terror attack on the World Trade Center in New York, promises as yet to be no better. He recalled the two totalitarian regimes, two world wars, and the several genocides that happened in the past century. He described the present century as threatened by ruthless terrorism, outrageous injustice (widening gap between the rich and the poor), abused and starving children, millions of people in flight, increasing persecution of Christians (by ISIS, for example), and – in addition – devastating natural catastrophes in the form of earthquake (like the one in Bohol), volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, typhoons and floods (like the devastation of Typhoon Yolanda), and droughts. According to him, given these signs of the times, we cannot escape from the problem of “the suffering of the innocent.”
Meditating on the reality of human suffering, Romano Guardini remarked that “he would not only let himself be questioned at the Last Judgment, but that he too would ask questions. ‘Why, O God, these awful roundabout ways to salvation, why the suffering of the innocent, why so much wrong?’”(11)
In the face of terrible sufferings, Mercy as God’s attribute becomes more relevant. Cardinal Kasper commented thus, “As preachers, we will only reach the hearts of our hearers when we speak of God concretely, in light of people’s hardships and woe, and help them to discover the merciful God in their own life story.”(12) In the face of evil, we are called to unleash the power of Divine Mercy! Perhaps this is one of the reasons why we are witnessing a reemergence and developing emphasis on the theme of God’s mercy in the teachings of the Church over the past decades.
Pope John XXIII wrote in his personal diary, “Mercy is the most beautiful name and the most beautiful way to address God.” In his speech at the opening of the Second Vatican Council “Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.”(13)
Pope St. John Paul II tackled the important theme of mercy in his second encyclical Dives in Misericordia published in 1980. His first canonization in the third millennium, on April 20, 2000, was that of the Polish sister and mystic Faustina Kowalska, and it dealt intentionally and programmatically with the issue of mercy. On August 17, 2002, he charged the Church with transmitting the fire of mercy to the world and declared the Sunday after Easter to be the Sunday of Mercy.
Pope Benedict XVI’s social encyclical Caritas in Veritate published in 2009 is unique inasmuch as the Pope proceeded no longer from justice, but from love as the basic principle of Christian social teaching.
For his episcopal motto, then Jorge Mario Bergolio chose the reflection of St. Bede the Venerable on the calling of Matthew, a sinner and social outcast – ”miserando atque eligendo” – Jesus looked upon him with merciful love and chose him.(14)
Slowly but surely, we are seeing in the Church the revival of the understanding of God as mercy, which hitherto, has been set aside in favor of a more metaphysical essence: Ipsum Esse Subsistens (the Very Subsistent Being Itself).
Recommendations to the Faithful
Throughout this Jubilee Year, the faithful are invited to experience God’s mercy, forgiveness and faithful love. The Holy Father suggests the activities(15) listed below.
- The practice of pilgrimage and entering the Holy Door.
- The practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as “a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty.”
- Meditation on the passages of Scriptures that deal with God’s mercy, especially during the season of Lent.
- The celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
- Gaining plenary indulgence.
Other Useful Information
Official website. The Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization has set up a website for the Jubilee which can be accessed in seven languages: www.iubilaeummisericordiae.va
From this site, you can learn more about other basic information about the Jubilee Year of Mercy including the following:
- The Missionaries of Mercy
- Pastoral Resources for Living the Jubilee
- The Motto and the Logo designed by Fr. Marko I. Rupnik, SJ
- The official theme song of the Year of Mercy is Misericordes sicut Pater by British composer Paul Inwood
- Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (April 11, 2015), 3.
- Cf. John Cabrido, SDB, Don Bosco Center of Studies Class Handouts on Pentateuch (2014).
- Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 3.
- Ibid., 4.
- Ibid., 5.
- Walter Kasper, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life (New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2014 ), 46-50.
- Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 1.
- Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World (November 24, 2013), 24.
- Kasper, Mercy, 159.
- Ibid., 2.
- Ibid., 160.
- Opening Address of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, (11 October 1962), 2-3, as quoted in Misericordiae Vultus.
- Cf. Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 8.
- Cf. Ibid., 14, 15, 16, 17, 22.
Cabrido, John. Don Bosco Center of Studies Class Handouts on Pentateuch. 2014.
Francis. Evangelii Gaudium, Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World. November 24, 2013.
__________. Misericordiae Vultus, Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. April 11, 2015.
Kasper, Walter. Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2014.
Br. Juvelan Paul N. Samia, SDB is taking up his third year of studies for the Degree Bachelor in Theology (BTh) in preparation for priesthood.