Why did Pope Francis think the Church and world needed a Jubilee of Mercy now? Because we're living, he has said, in a "kairos of mercy," a special time in which mercy is needed.
On Tuesday, Pope Francis and the Church inaugurated the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. It was begun on the Solemnity of Mary's Immaculate Conception, which can be considered the beginning of the Redemption, when God responded to sin with the grace of his mercy and filled Mary's soul with it from the first moment of her life.
This 349-day Jubilee, like every ecclesiastical holy year, is meant not to remain at the periphery of the Church's life but rather to transform -- sometimes subtly, sometimes profoundly and conspicuously -- everything we do as Catholics. It is supposed to flavor our personal, familial and communal prayer, the way we celebrate baptisms, weddings and funerals, the way we mark Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter and all of the feasts of faith, as well as the way we go about our day to day life. It's meant to be a key by which we unlock anew the mystery of who God is, how he loves us, who we are, and how we're called to love him and others.
Why did Pope Francis think the Church and world needed a Jubilee of Mercy now? Because we're living, he has said, in a "kairos of mercy," a special time in which mercy is needed. He's given St. John Paul II credit for this intuition and John Paul II believed it was a special time of mercy because he thought that one of the greatest crises the human race faces is unexpiated guilt.
After two World Wars and the Cold War, after the Holocaust, after the genocides in Armenia, the Ukraine, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, after so many atrocities from tyrannical governments, after the waterfalls of blood flowing from more than two billion abortions worldwide, after the sins that have destroyed so many families, after so much physical and sexual abuse, after lengthy crime logs in newspapers every day, after the scourge of terrorism, after so much hurt and pain, the terrible weight of collective guilt crushes not only individuals but burdens structures and whole societies.
The modern world is like one big Lady Macbeth, compulsively washing our hands to remove the blood from them, but there is no earthly detergent powerful enough to take the blemishes away. We can converse with psychiatrists and psychologists, but their words and prescriptions can only help us deal with our guilt, not eliminate it. We can confess ourselves to bartenders, but they can only dispense Absolut vodka, not absolution, and inebriation never brings expiation. We can escape reality through distractions and addictions -- drugs, sports, entertainment, materialism, food, power, lust, and others -- but none can adequately anaesthetize the pain in our soul from the suffering we've caused or witnessed.
Whether we admit it, whether we realize it or not, we're longing for redemption. We're yearning for a second, third or seventy-times-seventh chance. We're pining for forgiveness, reconciliation, and a restoration of goodness. We're hankering for a giant reset button for ourselves and for the world. And if we can't have that personal and collective do over, then at least we ache for liberation from the past and, like Zacchaeus or Ebenezer Scrooge, for a chance make up for has been done. We want atonement.
And God responds to our age's great desire and need for expiation with his mercy.
In a homily on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday this year, Pope Francis explained the reason why he decided to call for a Jubilee of Mercy now.
"Many question in their hearts," he said, "why a Jubilee of Mercy today? Simply because the Church, in this time of great historical change, is called to offer more evident signs of God's presence and closeness. ...This is a time for the Church to rediscover the meaning of the mission entrusted to her by the Lord on the day of Easter: to be a sign and an instrument of the Father's mercy."
He was calling for a Holy Year, he continued, "to welcome the numerous signs of the tenderness that God offers to the whole world and, above all, to those who suffer, who are alone and abandoned, without hope of being pardoned or feeling the Father's love; ... to experience strongly within ourselves the joy of having been found by Jesus, the Good Shepherd who has come in search of us because we were lost; ... to receive the warmth of his love when he bears us upon his shoulders and brings us back to the Father's house; ... [and] to be touched by the Lord Jesus and to be transformed by his mercy, so that we may become witnesses to mercy."
The reason for the Jubilee, he said in short, is "because this is the time for mercy, ... the favorable time to heal wounds, a time not to be weary of meeting all those who are waiting to see and to touch with their hands the signs of the closeness of God, a time to offer everyone the way of forgiveness and reconciliation."
The Church is like a "field hospital in battle," to use Pope Francis' famous image, and he's called a Year of Mercy to open up this worldwide spiritual MASH unit, to nurse and help heal ours and the world's deepest wounds.
How are we to live it well? I will write in answer to that question throughout this Jubilee.
But to help get it off to a good start, I'd like to propose briefly four pillars:
First, come frequently to receive God's mercy in the Sacrament Jesus founded on Easter Sunday evening to forgive us of our sins and give us the joy of experience Resurrection through Reconciliation.
Second, take seriously and practice what Jesus himself revealed to St. Faustina Kowalska in the Divine Mercy Devotion as the means to grow in his mercy and share that same mercy with others.
Third, deepen our understanding of God's mercy through prayerfully reading Pope Francis' "The Face of Mercy," St. John Paul II's "God Who Is Rich in Mercy" and "Reconciliation and Penance," and other great resources I'll mention later in this series.
And finally, make a resolution to practice each of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy at least once this year, to grow in our capacity to receive the fullness of God's mercy by opening our hearts in mercy in all these ways toward others.
This is a kairos of mercy. We need it. Let's seize it!
Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.