On April 11, 2015, Pope Francis stood in front of the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica handing out copies of the Year of Mercy “Bull of Indiction” to the priests of the major basilicas of Rome and to Vatican officials. Inside St. Peter’s Basilica, portions of the 9,300-word proclamation were read aloud and then Pope Francis processed into St. Peter’s Basilica to celebrate first vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday, 2015.
In his homily at vespers, the pope said that he proclaimed the Year of Mercy because “It is the favorable time to heal wounds, a time not to be weary of meeting all those who are waiting to see and touch with their hands the signs of the closeness of God, a time to offer everyone the way of forgiveness and reconciliation.”
In a recent media interview the inquirer asked me, “Who needs to be healed?” I responded, “Who doesn’t?” Will we live this favorable time intensely and allow divine mercy to heal wounds?
Sin sickness is a wound that we all share. We can learn to cover it up so that everything appears well from the outside. We know how to get up each day and go to work. We have our daily routines and perform our duties. But in the stillness of the night we ask, “Is this all there is?” Deep inside we hope for more. This is by God’s design. He made us for the more. But what is it? God. Heaven. Eternal Life. Beatitude. We long for these. Our longing for the more is meant to urge us forward to the goal. Too often on the journey we get sidetracked, wounded, forgetful, and attacked from within and without. As the Holy Door has opened, also our hearts must open. Then divine mercy provides for healing, holiness and happiness.
Where to begin?
We can decide to live the Jubilee of Mercy with intentionality, intensity and integrity. The Jubilee offers the promise of extraordinary grace. Using an acronym for the word MERCIFUL, here are eight suggestions meant to be practical but purposeful.
Mercy: manifesting forgiveness
Eucharistic: encountering Incarnate Mercy
Reconciliation: healing through Confession
Intentional: mercy in the present moment
Faithful: spiritual & corporal works of mercy
Unity: mercy in relationships
Love: self-emptying mercy
1. Mercy: manifesting forgiveness
Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan is featured in my new book (God’s Healing Mercy) as an exemplary “profile in mercy”. He was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for many years. The following quote reveals the healing power of forgiveness.
“It was very hard for my guards to understand when I spoke about loving our enemies, reconciliation and forgiveness. “Do you really love us?” “Yes, I really love you.” “Even when we cause you pain? When you suffer because you’re in prison without trial?” “Look at all the years we’ve been spent together. Of course, I love you!” “And when you get out, will you tell your people to find us and beat us and hurt our families?” “I’ll continue to love you even if you wish to kill me.” “But why?” “Because Jesus taught us to love always; if we don’t, we are no longer worthy to be called Christians.” (God’s Healing Mercy, pg. 78 )
Who is capable of such merciful love and courage? Grace makes us capable of heroic virtuous mercy. Our fallen nature may prefer to cry out “Justice! Vengeance!” But we are capable of loving those who do not love us in return. After all, Christ loved us first when we did not love Him. What prevents us from repeating Christ’s words from the cross when with dying breath He prayed for his persecutors, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?” Christ gives forgiveness but He cannot force us to accept it. Knowing that we are “receivers” of divine mercy is key to becoming a vessel of mercy for others.
St. Phillip Neri teaches us an important lesson about the poison of unforgiveness: “If a man finds it very hard to forgive injuries, let him look at a Crucifix, and think that Christ shed all His Blood for him, and not only forgave His enemies, but even prayed His Heavenly Father to forgive them also. Let him remember that when he prays the Our Father, every day, instead of asking pardon for his sins, he is calling down vengeance on himself.” Who can afford to call down vengeance upon himself?
2. Eucharistic: encountering Incarnate Mercy
Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote, “The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white Host.” We become active participants in the drama of salvation through Eucharistic intimacy. Blessed Mother Teresa wrote, “The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time that you will spend on earth. Each moment that you spend with Jesus will deepen your union with Him and make your soul everlastingly more glorious and beautiful in heaven, and will help bring about an everlasting peace on earth.”
Some complain that the Mass is boring or that they have no time for Adoration. They rob themselves of the intimacy that is realized by living an intensely Eucharistic life. They long for healing but deprive themselves of the Divine Physician and the medicine of mercy.
The Eucharist is meant to become the “heart” of our life. Christ asks that we show up. Jesus told St. Faustina: “My Heart overflows with great mercy for souls, and for poor sinners…for whom I dwell in the tabernacle as King of Mercy. I desire to bestow My graces upon souls, but they do not want to accept them.”
3. Reconciliation: healing through Confession
St. Faustina recorded the Lord’s words, “When you approach the confessional, know this, I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in your soul.”
Christ emptied every drop of His precious blood for the forgiveness of our sin. Do you seeking healing? Let it begin with the words, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”
When I unburden myself in the confessional I lay down the weight of my sin at the feet of the Good Shepherd. With the words of absolution, rivers of mercy flow into my heart and heal my sin-sickness. Confession sets me free for the works of mercy.
St. Isidore of Seville wrote, “Confession heals, confession justifies, confession grants pardon of sin, all hope consists in confession; in confession there is a chance for mercy.”
4. Confidence: Trust
Christ told St. Faustina, “Oh, how much I am hurt by a soul’s distrust! Such a soul professes that I am holy and just, but does not believe that I am Mercy and does not trust in My Goodness. Even the devils glorify My Justice but do not believe in My Goodness” (Diary 300).
St. Faustina also heard from Jesus, “My child, know that all the greatest obstacles to holiness are discouragement and an exaggerated anxiety. These will deprive you of the ability to practice virtue. All temptations united together ought not disturb your interior peace, not even momentarily. Sensitiveness and discouragement are the fruits of self-love. You should not become discouraged, but strive to make My love reign in the place of your self-love. Have confidence, My child.” (Diary, 1487).
5. Intentional: mercy in the present moment
When Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was imprisoned he created a “rule of life” for himself. He decided not to live his time in prison in a state of waiting. He decided to live in the grace of the present moment, to make the jail his mission field, the prison his cathedral. He would not lose the grace of the present moment because He would meet Jesus there. He did not compartmentalize his faith in prison. He integrated it into his daily life and consequently brought many unbelievers to Jesus.
We can decide (an act of the will) to live the Jubilee Year intentionally in the grace of the present moment. This means releasing the past to God and not worrying about the future because it is in Christ’s hands.
St. Faustina prayed, “O Jesus, I want to live in the present moment, to live as if this were the last day of my life. I want to use every moment scrupulously for the greater glory of God, to use every circumstance for the benefit of my soul. I want to look upon everything, from the point of view that nothing happens without the will of God.”
6. Faithful: spiritual & corporal works of mercy
The corporal works of mercy are: 1) feed the hungry, 2) give drink to the thirsty, 3) clothe the naked, 4) shelter the homeless, 5) visit the sick, 6) ransom the captive, 7) bury the dead.
The spiritual works of mercy are: 1) instruct the ignorant, 2) counsel the doubtful, 3) admonish sinners, 4) bear wrongs patiently, 5) forgive offenses willingly, 6) comfort the afflicted, 7) pray for the living and the dead. In the mentioned bull, Pope Francis speaks of the importance of undertaking these works of mercy.
7. Unity: mercy in relationships
The healing of relationships in marriage, family and the church begins with my conversion of heart so that I radiate God’s merciful love that unifies. Too often unforgiveness tears apart our relationships. Rampant division among the people of God not only displeases Him but it also weakens us. Is our heart and house united or divided? The Holy Spirit is a unifier, healer and restorer. Christ-like mercy is compassionate, not complicit. It requires sacrifice, not compromise, for the sake of a greater love that is priceless, permanent, and perfect. But there is mercy that unifies, is noble, beautiful and dynamic. It does not count the cost. It just loves selflessly and attracts others for the greater works of mercy. Where there is intentional merciful discipleship there is unity.
8. Love: self-emptying mercy
Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Jubilee: Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father, and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him. Show us your face, and we will be saved. Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money; freed the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things; made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured Paradise to the repentant thief. Let us hear as if to each of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman, “If you knew the gift of God!” You are the visible face of the invisible Father, of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy; let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified. You willed that your ministers would also be clothed with weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God. Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing, so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord, and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed, and restore sight to the blind. We ask this through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy, you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.