The Jubilee Year or the Holy Year on Mercy

The Holy Year of Mercy begins Dec. 8, 2015 and concludes Nov. 20, 2016, the Feast of Christ the King

The Sunday Gospel readings for ordinary time of this year all come from the Gospel of Luke, which is often referred to as the Gospel of Mercy.  The two most famous stories in Luke are the story of the Prodigal Son and the Forgiving Father, and the story of the Good Samaritan. These stories are not found in the other three gospels. Together as a Church we will encounter anew the tender and awesome mercy of God.

As we think about the Holy Year, we may ask, “Well, what difference will this make for me?  So, what?”

These are good questions.  Perhaps we can phrase it differently:  “Do I want or need greater mercy toward myself and toward others?”  Maybe we could think of this year as a spiritual theme park experience.  Whenever we show mercy to ourselves or to others we really do get a powerful positive jolt and good feeling.  Offering and accepting mercy is not only healing but it is contagious!

Pope Francis is calling on all of us to be more merciful.  He writes: “This is the time of mercy.  It is important that the lay faithful live it and bring it into different social environments.”

There is a curious ritual associated with the beginning of a Holy Year.  There is a “Holy Door” in each of the four basilicas in Rome:  St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul’s Outside the Walls.

On December 8 the pope will ceremonially “open” this Holy Door at St. Peter’s, which is never used except during a Holy Year.  Then, at various times throughout the year, each of the other three holy doors will also be opened.

What does this all mean? Some will have the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to Rome to actually walk through one of these doors. The notion of pilgrimage is strong in our tradition.  We “journey” either physically and spiritually or just spiritually to a holy place. Visiting this place gives us a new perspective on life, new understandings of our faith and new appreciations of our relationship to God and one another.  During this year we can imagine the door of our hearts being opened to receive the grace of mercy. We can “travel” to new places of holiness in our lives. This is the meaning of a Jubilee Year, to take time and to be renewed.  The Pope offers all who enter into this spirit a “Jubilee Indulgence” which simply means that God is gracing us to reach out to the poor and needy in our midst like never before. We are being “indulged” by God to do good deeds, and to be more merciful.

Those who will have the great fortune of going to Rome sometime over the course of this year may physically pass through this doorway to symbolize their intention to remove obstacles to mercy in their hearts and to cross the threshold to Jesus who gives us the grace to be more merciful.   All who pass through this door, literally or who enter into the spirit of this Holy Year will receive a general pardon.  God forgives our sins and our past injustices and, more importantly our breaches of mercy toward ourselves  or toward others.

We have this year to celebrate all these wonderful aspects of our faith.