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Day of Mercy

/ 02:18 AM December 25, 2015

There are stirrings within the Roman Catholic Church, the world’s largest single assembly of the faithful, that are not only revolutionary but also radical—a bold attempt to return even more determinedly to its roots. And yet at the same time it is a search for the Church as it has always been. In this light, we can understand today’s great Christian holy day as the original feast of mercy.

Pope Francis has declared the time from Dec. 8, 2015, to Nov. 20, 2016 (the feast of Christ the King, the traditional end of the Church’s liturgical year) as an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, “a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective.”

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His “bull of indiction” proclaiming the jubilee year offers a fourfold theological definition of mercy: “the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity,” “the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us,” “the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person,” “the bridge that connects God and man.” But it begins with a simple, vivid article of faith: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.”

In the Christian faith, the act of God-becoming-man, the Incarnation, is the supreme expression of God’s love for humanity; he became one of us. But understood in the light of the jubilee year, the gift of Christmas can also be seen and received and embraced as the ultimate expression of God’s mercy.

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Pope Francis again: “Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him. The Father, ‘rich in mercy’ (Eph 2:4), after having revealed his name to Moses as ‘a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ (Ex 34:6), has never ceased to show, in various ways throughout history, his divine nature. In the ‘fullness of time’ (Gal 4:4), when everything had been arranged according to his plan of salvation, he sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way.”

Those of us who have been following the extraordinary impact of Francis’ papacy—and the number must include millions from the Philippines, where he made an unforgettable pastoral visit at the start of the year—must know that, even beyond the “joy of the Gospel” which the Pope radiates, it is his emphasis on what St. John XXIII called the “medicine of mercy” that has come to define him and his time as St. Peter’s successor.

His bull of indiction adds to that growing glossary of mercy. Out of many passages, the faithful (and even the doubter, the skeptic, or the nonbeliever) can choose, for instance, this insightful paragraph: “In the parables devoted to mercy, Jesus reveals the nature of God as that of a Father who never gives up until he has forgiven the wrong and overcome rejection with compassion and mercy. We know these parables well, three in particular: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the father with two sons (cf. Lk 15:1-32). In these parables, God is always presented as full of joy, especially when he pardons. In them we find the core of the Gospel and of our faith, because mercy is presented as a force that overcomes everything, filling the heart with love and bringing consolation through pardon.”

The core of the Gospel. The core of our faith.

But in placing the emphasis on these roots, Francis and the Church he is leading have been nothing but traditional. Indeed, in the bull he quotes extensively from Scripture and from other popes before him, including “the great teaching offered by Saint John Paul II in his second Encyclical, ‘Dives in Misericordia,’ which at the time came unexpectedly, its theme catching many by surprise.”

As it turns out, the pope who stared down communism, the athletic pope who crisscrossed the globe, the resolute pope who held the Church steady in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, also preached the same good news: “The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy—the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and of the Redeemer—and when she brings people close to the sources of the Saviour’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser.”

Today, the Christian world celebrates the original Day of Mercy.

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TAGS: Day of Mercy, Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis, Roman Catholic church
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