Year of Mercy: God’s Call to Us All
When Pope Francis announced his intention to call for an Extraordinary Jubilee, he said, “It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy,” a time for animating “a new stage in the journey of the Church on its mission to bring to every person the Gospel of mercy.” He decreed that the Holy Year should begin on December 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council. It is Pope Francis’ hope that “the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God.” The Holy Year will conclude on November 20, 2016, the Sunday dedicated to Jesus Christ as King of the Universe.
Pope Francis’ dedication to promoting the concept of God’s mercy is reflected in his personal motto: miserando atque eligendo. Although it does not translate easily into English, the gist of it is clear: It is through God’s mercy that we have been chosen. The Latin expression comes from a sermon by Venerable Bede (673–735), who was commenting on Jesus’ decision to call Matthew the tax collector to be an apostle. In addition, Pope Francis’ many acts of mercy shown to strangers and at the risk of his own life when he was Fr. Jorge Bergoglio, SJ, superior of Jesuits in Argentina, underscore his sense of mercy and compassion. Only now are stories emerging about his efforts to save dozens of people who were on the enemies list of the Argentine military junta during the so-called Dirty War of the late 1970s and early 1980s. As one rescued man put it, “I’ve always wondered if Bergoglio was fully aware of the risks he took. I don’t know if anyone else would have saved me without knowing me at all.”
Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy continues the call for mercy issued by other popes during the last century. We recall Pope St. John XXIII’s address in 1962 to the assembly at the opening of the Second Vatican Council: “Nowadays the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.” The second encyclical of Pope St. John Paul II was Dives in misericordia, “Rich in Mercy,” which he described as “a heartfelt appeal by the church to mercy, which humanity and the modern world need so much.” And of course Pope Francis’ exhortation the Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) was animated by his focus on mercy, reiterating his oft-spoken reminder, “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.”
Awareness of divine mercy, however, is not new to God’s people. Examples are found throughout the biblical story of salvation. God intervenes for a number of women who are childless, such as Abraham’s wife, Sarah, or Samuel’s mother, Hannah. Yahweh forgives his people’s rebellion as they wander through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. The prophets and the psalms consistently offer the Year of Mercy The “ God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy.” Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium)does not translate easily into English, the gist of it is clear: It is through God’s mercy that we have been chosen.