by Doug Culp
On March 13, 2015, Pope Francis was presiding over a penance service in St. Peter’s Basilica when he announced an extraordinary jubilee dedicated to Divine Mercy. During his homily for the service, the pontiff drew a clear connection between the sacrament of reconciliation and our Heavenly Father, who is “rich in mercy” and who “extends his mercy with abundance over those who turn to him with a sincere heart.”
The Year of Mercy begins on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8, 2015) and will end on the feast of Christ the King, Nov. 20, 2016. The pope declared the organization of the jubilee was to be given over to the Pontifical Council for the promotion of the New Evangelization in the hope that it “might animate it as a new stage in the journey of the Church on its mission to bring to every person the Gospel of mercy.”
According to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the promotion of the New Evangelization, on the official website for the Year of Mercy (www.im.va), this year will be an opportunity to encourage Christians to meet the “real needs” of people with concrete assistance, to experience a “true pilgrimage” on foot and to send “missionaries of mercy” throughout the world to forgive even the most serious of sins.
In addition, the Sunday readings for Ordinary Time will be taken from the Gospel of Luke during the Jubilee. Luke is often referred to as “the evangelist of mercy” in part because it is in the Gospel of Luke that we find the famous parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the merciful father.
According to Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, the CEO of the Salt and Light Catholic Television Network of Toronto, Canada, and assistant to Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, the Vatican’s official press spokesman, in ancient Hebrew tradition, the jubilee year was celebrated every 50 years. The purpose of the jubilee year was to “restore equality among all of the children of Israel, offering new possibilities to families which had lost their property and even their personal freedom.”
The Catholic practice of the Holy Year began with Pope Boniface VIII in 1300 and has been given a more spiritual significance: “It consists in a general pardon, an indulgence open to all, and the possibility to renew one’s relationship with God and neighbor.” In short, it is an opportunity to deepen our faith and to renew our commitment to live a life of Christian witness.
Why mercy matters: A brief reflection
In his 1980 encyclical Dives in Misericordia, Pope St. John Paul II describes how the yearning for justice can go awry when it is removed from its tension with love and mercy. He first affirms the Church’s support of the ardent desire to correct unjust relationships – whether among individuals, social groups and classes, individuals and states, or even entire political systems.
For Pope St. John Paul II, love is greater than justice in that it is primary and fundamental. Justice “consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor” – which is to keep the commandments to love God and neighbor. Consequently, love conditions and orders justice, which, in turn, serves love. Put another way, without love, justice is rendered ultimately incapable of establishing or restoring right relationships between God and humanity or between neighbors. In fact, without love, justice can actually destroy the possibility of right relationships.
This brings us to mercy. The question of power lies at the core of the concept of mercy. Mercy is only conceivable when a relationship exists in which one party has power over another. In order to be merciful, one must have power over the one to whom mercy is shown.
Now, throughout our tradition, one of the attributes that has been assigned to God is that of omnipotence – all-powerful. This means we are ultimately at the mercy of God, for God has all the power. So how God exercises this power will be the key to teaching the proper spirit and use of power for Christians.
Jesus Christ teaches us the humility of love constitutes the proper exercise of power. Simultaneously, the Incarnation of God’s love for humanity and his power – Jesus Christ, the Word of God, the Logos, the second person of the Trinity – emptied himself to take the form of a human being and accepted death on a cross (cf. Phil 2:7-8) so that we might be brought to life with Christ (cf. Eph 2:5) and share in the divine life of the triune God. Christ chose to exercise his power by emptying himself and submitting to death so that we might have life more fully with him. (cf. John 4:9)
The mercy of Christ then reveals that the love of the Father is more primary and fundamental than the Father’s justice. Mercy, in the words of Dives in Misercordia, “signifies a special power of love, which prevails over the sin and infidelity” of the world. In fact, “love is transformed into mercy when it is necessary to go beyond the precise norm of justice – precise and often too narrow.”
Our Catholic faith demands that we live in the tension of love, mercy and justice.
For resources about the Year of Mercy, visit:
For the Jubilee Year of Mercy calendar, visit:
A SAMPLE “TO-DO” LIST…
Here are a few ways you can mark the Year of Mercy:
- Make sandwiches and pass them out to the homeless.
- Prepare and take a meal to someone in your community who is seriously ill or welcoming home a newborn.
- Pass out water bottles to the homeless.
- Donate baby formula to a local pregnancy help center.
- Go through your closet and give away what you don’t need.
- Host a clothing drive and donate the items.
- Volunteer to do manual labor to help in the upkeep of a homeless shelter.
- Become a mentor to a foster child.
- Volunteer at a hospital.
- Take the Eucharist to the homebound in your community.
- Lead a Bible study at a local prison.
- Mentor a teen at a juvenile correction center.
- Visit the cemetery and pray for the dead.
- Donate to ministries that offer free Catholic burials to those who are unable to afford one.
On Dec. 13 in the Diocese of La Crosse, Holy Doors will be opened at the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse. Holy Doors will remain open throughout the world until they are closed on Nov. 13, 2016, with the exception of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica, which will be closed by Pope Francis on the feast of Christ the King, Nov. 20, 2016, bringing the Year of Mercy to a conclusion.
Each deanery of the diocese has a Year of Mercy Pilgrimage Church designated by Bishop Callahan, listed below. A Year of Mercy plenary indulgence can be obtained by visiting these churches (as well as the Cathedral of St. Joseph the Workman and the Shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse) and carrying out the prescribed prayers and actions for gaining the indulgence. For contact information for each of the deanery pilgrimage churches, go to www.diolc.org/mercy/
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus – Pine Creek
Sacred Heart of Jesus – Jim Falls
Sacred Heart of Jesus – Spring Valley
Sacred Heart of Jesus – Eau Claire
Sacred Heart of Jesus – Marshfield
Sacred Heart – Wauzeka
Sacred Heart – Lone Rock
Sacred Heart – Polonia
Holy Rosary- Owen
Sacred Heart of Jesus – Cashton
Sacred Heart – Cassel
Sacred Heart of Jesus – Nekoosa