Be merciful just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36
What draws us to the throne of God’s mercy? Scripture tells us, that many people were drawn to Jesus – the Apostles, Zacchaeus and other unwanted and unlovable people – the blind, the lame, lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes etc. The Pharisees and scribes too were drawn to Jesus, but for reasons other than His mercy. Ironically, these very people (like us too) were as much in need of God’s mercy, as the people they despised.
Pope Francis writes that in today’s society, in which forgiveness is so rare, mercy is ever more important. Keeping these words in mind, he announced an “Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy” which has begun on 8th December 2015 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) and will conclude on 20th November 2016 (Feast of Christ the King). Bishops all over the world have opened the doors of “Mercy” by symbolically opening the doors of cathedrals and select churches through which the “faithful” can pass and obtain indulgences by fulfilling certain criteria. Let me try and make this simple for us lay people to understand.
What is “Extraordinary”?
Beyond what is ordinary, very unusual or remarkable. Uncommon, exceptional, singular.
What is “Jubilee”?
Dictionary Meaning: An anniversary, thought of as a time of rejoicing – of great joy.
Biblical Understanding: According to the Roman Catholic Church, the jubilee year will be one in which consequences of sin are remitted, after repentance and performance of certain spiritual acts.
Leviticus 25:8-12: The 50th year will be a jubilee year – it shall be holy to you.
Since the year 1400 a jubilee has been announced every 25 years.
What is “Mercy”?
Dictionary Meaning: More kindness than justice requires. Kindness beyond what can be claimed or expected. Something to be thankful for; a blessing.
Biblical Understanding: Has more to do with grace: the favour and love of God. The influence of God operating in a man to improve and strengthen him. A condition of being influenced and favoured by God.
He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
What does this “Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy” mean for the lay faithful? How does it affect us? What must we do to obtain the Jubilee indulgence?
The theme: “Merciful like the Father” is an invitation for us to follow the example of the merciful father as personified in the parable of the “Prodigal Son”. How? By not judging or condemning (as all of us are so quick to do); but by trying to put ourselves in the shoes of the person and seeing a different perspective, because there is always another side to every story.
There is a red-Indian saying, “Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes!”
Let me illustrate this with a little story:
“My boss drove a luxury car and it was my duty to greet him and to open the gates for him, as I worked as a watchman in his villa. But he never responded to my greetings. One day he saw me open the garbage bags outside the villa in search of any leftover food. But, as usual he never even looked at me; it was as if he never saw anything!
The very next day I saw a paper bag next to the garbage bags, but it was clean and the food inside was packed well. It was fresh and good food like someone had just brought it from the supermarket. I didn’t bother as to where it came from, I just took the paper bag and I was so happy about it.
Every day I found this paper bag at the same place with fresh vegetables and all that we needed for the home. This became my daily routine. I ate and shared this food with my wife and kids. I wondered who this fool was who forgot his paper bag full of fresh food every day.
One day there was a commotion in the villa and I was told that my boss had died. There were so many guests coming to the villa that I didn’t get any food that day, so I thought that one of the guests must have taken it. But the same thing happened the 2nd day, the 3rd day and the 4th day.
It went on like this for a few weeks and I found it difficult to provide food for my family, so I decided to ask the wife of my boss for a raise in my salary or else I would quit my job as a watchman. After I told her, she was shocked, and asked me, how come I never complained about my salary for the last 2 years? And why is this salary not enough for me now? I gave her so many excuses but she was not convinced!
Finally in the end, I told her the entire story of the bag of groceries, and how it was my daily provision. She then asked me as to when this stopped? I told her after the death of her husband. And then I realized that I stopped seeing the paper bag immediately after the death of my boss. Why didn’t I ever think of this before? That it was my boss who was providing this for me? I guess it was because I never thought that a person who never replied to my greetings could ever be this generous!
His wife started to cry and I told her to please stop crying and that I’m really sorry that I asked for a raise, I didn’t know that it was your husband who was providing me with the meals, I’ll remain as a watchman and be happy to provide my service. His wife told me, I’m crying because I’ve finally found the 7th person my husband was giving this bag full of food. I knew my husband was giving 7 people every day, I had already found 6 people, and all these days I was searching for the 7th person. And today I found that person.
From that day onwards, I started to receive the bag full of food again, but this time his son was bringing it to my house and giving it in my hand. But whenever I thanked him, he never replied! Just like his dad!
One day, I said THANK YOU in a very loud voice! He replied, “Please do not be offended if I do not reply, because I have a hearing problem, just like my dad!”
How often have we jumped to conclusions and judged others without knowing the true story behind their actions?
Door of Mercy:
The Jubilee of Mercy is a year to be lived out in each church, allowing every person to encounter the mercy of God the Father. It is desired that the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy may be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, so that the faith of every believer is strengthened. It is meant for everyone: people of all ages, from far and near. There are no walls or distances that can prevent the Father’s mercy from reaching and embracing us. For this, a “Door of Mercy” is to be opened in every diocese. These doors, similar to the Holy Doors of the Papal Basilicas in Rome, are to enable people who cannot travel to Rome, to make a Jubilee pilgrimage.
What is an “Indulgence”?
“An indulgence is obtained through the Church, who by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favour of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies, the remission of the temporal punishment due for their sins.” (CCC 1478)
To gain any indulgence, one must be a Catholic and in a state of grace. There are two types of indulgences – Partial and Plenary.
Partial Indulgence: To gain a partial indulgence, you must perform with a contrite heart, the act to which the indulgence is attached.
Plenary Indulgence: To gain a plenary indulgence, you must perform with a contrite heart the act to which the indulgence is attached, PLUS:
- You must go to confession
- Receive Holy Communion
- Pray for the Pope’s intentions (an Our Father and a Hail Mary will suffice)
- You must be free from all attachment to sin, including venial sin
This final condition makes it virtually impossible to gain a plenary indulgence. However if you attempt to receive a plenary indulgence, but are unable to meet the last condition, a partial indulgence is received instead. (The Essential Catholic Survival Guide).
What is the difference between a partial and a plenary indulgence?
“An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin” (Indulgentiarum Doctrina I)
Only God knows exactly how efficacious any particular partial indulgence has been, or whether a plenary indulgence was received at all. (The Essential Catholic Survival Guide).
After the above conditions have been fulfilled, we have to walk through the “Doors of Mercy” to obtain the Jubilee Indulgence. This indulgence can be obtained as often as we wish during this Year of Mercy.