Pastoral vision continues message of mercy brought into focus throughout Jubilee year
Almost a year ago, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and he invited all of us to enter a Jubilee of Mercy. These months of jubilee have been rich in mercy for many of us in the church. You have shared with me your experiences of mercy, in prayer, in the sacraments and in good works. I have found it to be a time of renewal myself, having experienced God’s mercy in a more personal way.
It is clear that the pope intended for this jubilee to be experienced personally. In Pope Francis’ understanding, rooted in the scriptures and in his own experience, God communicates mercy not as a concept or a program. Rather, he knows mercy to be a personal encounter with a loving God.
When he first announced the Jubilee, the Holy Father wrote: "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him … Jesus of Nazareth, by his words and actions, and his entire person, reveals the mercy of God."
The foundational truth of the Christian faith is that Jesus is alive. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we encounter the living Jesus in the church. We encounter him not only in memory and in teaching, we meet him in person. As soon as we begin to look for healing and forgiveness, we find that the Lord has come to look for us. In this age, he comes gently, mercifully, to meet us where we are. In merciful accompaniment, he helps us to take a step in the direction of healing and reconciliation. We cannot earn this gift of the encounter with Jesus, and we should not try to do so. We simply have to let him in, and to accept him as the merciful savior.
We have been invited during the Jubilee of Mercy to become more familiar with the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The Holy Father has urged us to be instruments of mercy for our neighbors near and far, in practical ways. These good works, too, facilitate an encounter with the living Jesus. He has promised that we will meet him in the poor, the sick, the imprisoned. And he has warned us that we cannot claim a place in the Kingdom of God without a willingness to meet and care for the least among us.
In just a few days, on the Feast of Christ the King, Pope Francis will close the Holy Door at St. Peter’s, and he will bring the Jubilee of Mercy to a close. Happily for you and me, this will not mean the end of mercy in our time. The gift of mercy endures because mercy is an attribute of the eternal God. Mercy endures because Jesus is alive and accessible to us, even in our weakness. The Holy Spirit gives life and form to the Body of Christ, the church, where mercy is one of the hallmarks of our life together in Christ.
If we have allowed the offer of mercy in Jesus to touch us personally during this jubilee, then we will continue to enjoy the fruits of the jubilee during the coming year and beyond. These may include a readiness to call upon Jesus in our need and to allow him in to heal and forgive.
We also can expect to see a corporate benefit, an experience of mercy in our communal life, as members of the Body of Christ. I see this good fruit of mercy already taking shape in our recently published Pastoral Vision for the Archdiocese of Omaha. As I heard from so many of you during the listening sessions, and as I worked through the summer with the envisioning team, we all were conscious of articulating our vision during the Jubilee of Mercy.
The personal presence of the living Jesus gives form to every aspect of our vision and priorities. That personal gift of Jesus, the face of the Father’s mercy, is highlighted in one of our three pastoral priorities. We are saying that more and more, over the next three to five years, we want our archdiocesan church to be known, by our members and by our neighbors, as a place to encounter mercy.
Our vision document describes a commitment to "create a culture that enables mercy to be received and lived." This pastoral priority will enable us to carry forward the powerful experiences of the year of jubilee. As we acknowledge and accept God’s mercy in our own lives, we are sent as leaven to transform the world by sharing God’s mercy with others.
As we bring the jubilee to a close, and as we begin the implementation of our archdiocesan pastoral vision, I invite you to pray for a deeper experience of mercy, in the words of Pope Francis:
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; 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 addressed to each one 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 in 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 for ever and ever. Amen.