On December 8, 2015, Pope Francis opened a global Jubilee Year of Mercy. Historically, a jubilee year was a time of great rejoicing. During the jubilee there were parties and feasts, debts were cancelled, slaves were freed, and prisoners were released.
We read of the jubilee in Isaiah:
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour (Isaiah 61:1–2).
A jubilee year is all about liberation.
So how do we take advantage of this offer of liberation? Over the past few years, Pope Francis has given us some great takeaways that will aid us in getting the most out of this Jubilee Year of Mercy.
1. Open your heart. Just like the holy doors that Pope Francis and bishops around the world are opening for the jubilee, God’s love is open and available to us at all times. We need to open our hearts in return. Pope Francis says, “‘The Lord is waiting for me, the Lord wants me to open the door of my heart’ and we must have this certainty that He will wait for us just as we are and not as we are told to be” (Homily 1/8/16).
2. Take that first step, and don’t be afraid! Mercy requires action on our part. Pope Francis reminds us that “God is always waiting for us, he always understands us, he always forgives us.” But we must take that first step back toward God. When we do, Pope Francis says, God’s “attitude is that of the ‘elderly father’ who ‘saw his son coming, returning from afar’ and immediately went to meet him and ‘embrace him’. God too, ‘awaits us: always, with the door open’. Because his heart ‘isn’t closed: it’s always open’. And ‘when we arrive like the son, he embraces us, kisses us: a God who celebrates’” (Homily 10/20/15). When we finally let go of our fears and get up the gumption to move toward God, God runs to embrace us.
3. Let God do the judging. Have you ever had the experience of going to Reconciliation and, upon receiving your penance, thought,“Two Hail Marys? That’s it? I thought it was worse than that!” When we approach God, we’ve got to check our pre-conceived notions of what we think we deserve at the door. God judges us differently than we judge; God judges out of an abundance of mercy and love for us. Pope Francis says “Never forget this: The Lord never gets tired of forgiving us. It is we, who get tired of asking for forgiveness.” We may believe ourselves unworthy and irredeemable, but God, in mercy, says we are worthy, we are loved.
4. Allow God’s love in. God’s love is life-changing, but we must let God love us. Pope Francis reminds us that, “‘we always have the attitude of gauging situations and things with the measures we have: and our measures are small’. This is why, ‘it will do us good to ask the Holy Spirit for the grace, to pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace to bring us at least a bit closer to understand this love and to have the will to be embraced, kissed, with that boundless measure” (Homily 10/20/15).
5. Share the love. God’s loving mercy is transformative. Once we experience it, we just can’t keep it to ourselves. Pope Francis urges us to “serve Jesus crucified in every person who is emarginated, for whatever reason; to see the Lord in every excluded person who is hungry, thirsty, naked…to see the Lord who is imprisoned, sick, unemployed, persecuted; to see the Lord in the leper—whether in body or soul—who encounters discrimination!” (Homily 2/15/15). Mercy calls us outward into compassionate action for our suffering brothers and sisters throughout the world.
God’s merciful love frees us. The Year of Mercy is an invitation to return that love. The choice is simple. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.