This past Tuesday, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Pope Francis inaugurated the Jubilee Year of Mercy. He did this symbolically by opening the Jubilee doors at St. Peter’s. Opening these doors church he symbolically opened the doors of the universal church, inviting all of us to enter in and open the doors of our hearts to the mercy and the forgiveness of God.
The year of Jubilee goes back to the Old Testament. In the book of Leviticus God commanded that every seventh year God’s people should neither plant crops nor tend their vineyards trusting that God would care for the people. Every 50th year was to be a year of Jubilee. Fields were left fallow and all debts were to be forgiven. People sold into slavery because they could not pay their debts were to be set free.
The church declares a year of Jubilee every 25 years. Pope Francis has made this coming year a special jubilee of celebrating God’s mercy to all of us and calling us to have mercy on others.
What is mercy? Someone defined mercy this way. Mercy is the willingness to enter into the chaos of another. It is our willingness to understand and sympathize with the struggles and disappointments and failures of a spouse or a family member or a friend. Mercy is our willingness to accept the fact that we are all mistake making beings and so refrain from judging other people.
The most telling words of Pope Francis’ sermon on that day were that ‘mercy comes before judgement’. We go back to his famous words as he was flying back to Rome after his visit to Latin American – who am I to judge? We go back to the words of Jesus – judge not for with the same judgement you will be judged.’
In his sermon on Tuesday Pope Francis put before us the reality of our lives. He said ‘we are constantly tempted to disobedience, a disobedience expressed in wanting to go about our lives without regard for God’s will. This is the enmity which keeps striking at people’s lives, setting them in opposition to God’s plan. Yet the history of sin can only be understood in the light of God’s love and forgiveness. Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures. But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy
This Extraordinary Year is itself a gift of grace. To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them. It is he who seeks us! It is he who comes to encounter us! This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy. How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy.
But that is the truth. We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgement will always be in the light of his mercy.
There are many ways we can walk through the door into God’s mercy. We lose our tempter, we tell a racist or sexist joke, we put down other people by crude remarks, and we know in our hearts we were wrong and we apologize and in our hearts we ask for God’s forgiveness. We began this Mass by remembers the times we failed to respond to God’s goodness to us. We open ourselves to God’s mercy and forgiveness in a special way in the sacrament of reconciliation. The sacrament of pardon and peace.
The Archbishop has set aside this coming Saturday for the sacrament of reconciliation to be celebrated in every parish in the Archdiocese. The hours for our parish’s celebration are in the bulletin.
Preparing ourselves for our celebration of this sacrament we look at the sins we know, the sins we do not know and at the sins that do not bother us. I think those are the ‘biggies’. They are our ways of speaking to others, relating to others, thinking about others that have become so much a part of us that we fail to see how much they are so un-Christlike, we fail to see how hurtful they are to others. They don’t bother us but they should. In this sacrament of God’s mercy we place the sins we know, the sins we do not know and the sins that do not bother us before a merciful Father, before a forgiving Christ and come to know the mercy and the peace they offer us.
One of our problems is that we have memories. We remember past hurts and snubs. We won’t let go of them. Our memories are like healing scabs that we keep picking, we like to see the blood, we remember. God has amnesia – when God forgives, God forgets.
Fr. Brando and I invite you to enter the doors of St. Gabriel’s next Saturday – enter the doors of mercy.