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'Merciful Like the Father'
Quite simply, Pope Francis has had enough. The Holy Father has had it. He's done. The world has not ceased to misbehave, so the earthly spiritual father of us all is going to turn this ship around and put into the port of God's mercy.
And how's he going to do it? By heeding the wisdom of St. John Paul II, who wrote in his book Memory and Identity, "[T]he limit imposed upon evil, of which man is both perpetrator and victim, is ultimately Divine Mercy."
On April 11, right before First Vespers of the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, the Holy Father stood before the Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica, a special door that's cemented closed except during jubilee years, and officially released the papal bull Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy).
"Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy," Pope Francis says in opening his bull. In this light, "Merciful like the Father" is the motto he chose for the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. It comes from Luke 6:36, "Be merciful just as your Father is merciful."
The bull (an important papal document) for the indiction (or declaration) of an extraordinary jubilee "constitutes the fundamental document for recognizing the spirit in which it is announced, and the intentions and the outcomes hoped for by the Pontiff, who invokes it for the Church," said the Vatican Information Service.
The document officially declared the upcoming extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, which will run from Dec. 8, 2015, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, to Nov. 20, 2016, the solemnity of Christ the King and the close of the liturgical year. The Catholic News Agency explained that a Jubilee Year is traditionally a year of forgiveness of sins and also the punishment merited by one's sins. Further, it is a year for reconciliation between enemies, conversion, and receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession.
The Holy Father called for an array of concrete actions during this Holy Year dedicated to mercy:
* He asked for all to steep themselves in the Word of God through reading and meditating on the Sacred Scriptures. "In order to be capable of mercy," the Pope wrote, "we must first of all dispose ourselves to listen to the Word of God [by] rediscovering the value of silence in order to meditate on the Word that comes to us."
* The Holy Father spoke of the special place of "the practice of pilgrimage" in the Holy Year. Traditionally, many pilgrims travel to Rome during jubilee years to take advantage of the Holy Year indulgences to be gained by practices such as passing through the Holy Doors of the basilicas of Rome, which are only open during such jubilees.
* Holy Doors will be opened in the cathedrals, co-cathedrals, and particular local churches throughout the world. Pope Francis indicated that, at the decision of the local bishop, particular shrines with large numbers of pilgrims may also have a Holy Door. Rector of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, told pilgrims during his homily at the Vigil Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday that he intended to ask the local bishop, Most Rev. Mitchell Rozanski of the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, for a Holy Door to be established at the National Shrine.
* "The season of Lent during this Jubilee Year should also be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God's mercy," especially by meditating on the passages from Sacred Scripture that help us rediscover the merciful face of the Father.
* The 24 Hours for the Lord initiative of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, designed to widen access to the Sacrament of Confession, is to be celebrated in every diocese throughout the Church on the Friday and Saturday preceding the fourth week of Lent in the Jubilee Year. In fact, Pope Francis first announced the extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy during the opening of the 24 Hours for the Lord held in St. Peter's Basilica on March 13, the second anniversary of his pontificate. Its theme? "God, rich in mercy."
* Further emphasizing the importance of the Sacrament of Confession, Pope Francis said he would send out Missionaries of Mercy during Lent 2016 to preach on God's mercy and forgive sins, even those sins usually reserved to the Holy See, "so that the breadth of their mandate as confessors will be even clearer. They will be, above all, living signs of the Father's readiness to welcome those in search of His pardon." He called on dioceses to organize "missions to the people" to allow the faithful to be blessed by the ministry of these missionaries.
* "It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy" and perform them readily, the Holy Father said.
* Pope Francis called everyone to conversion, especially those involved in criminal organizations or who have enriched themselves through corruption, saying, "All one needs to do is to accept the invitation to conversion and submit oneself to justice during this special time of mercy offered by the Church."
* The Holy Father said he hoped the Jubilee Year of Mercy would foster an encounter with Judaism and Islam, "both of which consider mercy to be one of God's most important attributes," as well as with "other noble religious traditions" so as to end "every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, driving out every form of violence and discrimination."
In the papal bull, Pope Francis also offered a number of theological meditations, drawing from Sacred Scripture and St. John Paul II's encyclical letter Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy) to lay out a profoundly powerful vision of God's mercy. Sunday readings during Ordinary Time for the Holy Year will be taken from the Gospel of Luke, often referred to as "the Gospel of mercy," which includes well-known parables of mercy such as the parable of the prodigal son (see Lk 15:1-32).
Let us all prepare to celebrate this extraordinary Year of Mercy in our hearts, our homes, our families, our communities, and our parishes through prayer, reading the Word of God, and performing works of mercy. And in upcoming issues of Marian Helper, the Marian Fathers will announce some initiatives to help you prepare for this time of mercy in the life of the Church.
Go here to read a summary of the bull.