Tag Archives: Christ’s Mercy

Five Things You Should Know about the Year of Mercy

Today is the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. Here is what you need to know about it.

What a jubilee year is.

The custom of celebrating jubilee years is an ancient one that dates backs to the Old Testament. Leviticus 25:10 prescribed that the Hebrews “shalt sanctify the fiftieth year and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of thy land: for it is the year of jubilee.” The jubilee year was a time of restoration and forgiveness during which every household was to recover its absent members, land was to be returned to its former owners, Hebrew slaves were to be set free, and debts were to be remitted.

The Catholic Church continued this tradition of restoration and forgiveness in a more spiritualized manner. Although prior jubilees existed in various forms, Pope Boniface VIII was the first pontiff to formally declare a jubilee year in 1300, granting “great remissions and indulgences for sins” obtained “by visiting the city of Rome and the venerable basilica of the Prince of the Apostles.” He stated that the jubilee would take place every 100 years.

Since Pope Boniface, jubilee years have become more frequent and more generous. Subsequent popes lessened the time between jubilees to 25 years, taking into account the average human lifespan. They also made it easier to obtain indulgences by allowing the faithful to make pilgrimages to churches and shrines in their own countries as opposed to trekking all the way to Rome. The last ordinary jubilee year took place under Pope John Paul II in 2000.

All jubilee years are special, but this one is extra special.

Popes also have the power to announce extraordinary jubilees, a privilege they have used on 65 occasions. Numerous popes have declared extraordinary jubilees to mark special anniversaries, as Pope John Paul II did in 1983 to celebrate the 1,950th anniversary of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other popes announced extraordinary jubilees because they discerned the Church was in need of a special outpouring of graces, as Pope Leo XIII did in 1885.

This extraordinary jubilee has been announced because Pope Francis has discerned the Church is in need of of a deep and sustained reflection on divine mercy. He has seen that the Church needs to renew her awareness of God’s infinite mercy and of her mission to communicate it to the world.

Mercy is a special theme for Pope Francis.

When Pope Francis was a young man, he had a powerful experience of God’s mercy in a moment of prayer that led to his pursuing the priesthood. His personal spiritual life has been marked by a profound awareness of his status as a sinner who is dependent upon divine mercy. When asked in an interview “Who is Jorge Bergoglio?” his response was “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

His episcopal motto is taken from a sermon by St. Bede on Christ’s calling of the tax collector Matthew: Miserando atque eligendo, which can be roughly translated as “Looking at him with mercy and choosing him.”

His entire pontificate has been characterized by a special desire to “go to the periphery” (using his words) and reaching out to the marginalized. From the beginning, he has gone out of his way to make it very clear that no one is beyond God’s mercy. I can personally attest from my time in Rome that he always became very emotional when inviting his audience to approach God without fear and with great trust in his mercy.

The Holy Doors.

The jubilee officially begins with the opening of the Holy Doors of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Tuesday, December 8th. The Holy Doors are only opened during jubilee years and remained sealed the rest of the time. The Holy Doors will remain open until the Solemnity of Christ the King November 20, 2016.

The Sunday after the opening of the Basilica’s Holy Doors, December 13th, all Holy Doors throughout the world will be opened. Every diocese’s cathedral will have Holy Doors, as will local shrines designated by the bishop.

All pilgrims who walk through the Holy Doors are granted a special indulgence (the remission of temporal punishment for sins) by fulfilling the following conditions:

  • Having an interior disposition of complete detachment from sin.
  • Going to confession within twenty days of walking through the Holy Doors.
  • Receiving the Holy Eucharist within twenty days of walking through the Holy Doors.
  • Praying for the intentions of the Pope within twenty days of walking through the Holy Doors

Planning a pilgrimage.

A great way to take advantage of this Year of Mercy is to make a pilgrimage to a church with designated Holy Doors (which are also being referred to this year as Doors of Mercy). A pilgrimage is more than just a trip to a shrine – it is a profound spiritual journey. As a pilgrim, one willingly makes the sacrifice of time, resources, and comfort in order to approach God in humility and ask for His grace. A pilgrimage during this jubilee year should have the added emphasis of approaching God to receive His ever-available mercy and forgiveness.

I highly recommend a pilgrimage to Rome for those who can make it. For information on major events during the Year of Mercy and on how to register as a pilgrim, click here.

If you cannot make it to Rome, you can make a pilgrimage to somewhere that is more easily accessible. As mentioned above, every diocesan cathedral will have Doors of Mercy. To find out locations of Doors of Mercy click here. You can also contact your diocese’s chancery or visit your diocesan web site find out which churches besides your cathedral will have Holy Doors.

All Holy Doors, besides those of St. Peter’s Basilica, will be opened on Sunday, December 13th, and they will be closed on Sunday, November 13, 2016.

To learn more about the Year of Mercy, visit the official Vatican web site. Also, feel free to ask questions in the comments below or contact me through the “Contact Eric” link on this blog.

I wish you all a holy and blessed Jubilee Year. God bless!

Shepherding in Cassock

When I donned the cassock for the first time as a novice, it took me a while to get used to it. Believe it or not, going up and down stairs without tripping on the hem was a challenge at first, but, after some practice, I mastered the technique. It also took

Two confreres and I in cassock in Piazza Navona
Two confreres and I in cassock in Piazza Navona

a while to get used to being in a formal uniform almost all the time. The cassock is not supposed to be worn for outdoor physical activity, but on a few occasions, I have had to make exceptions, like the night of Pope Francis’s election when I ran full-speed in cassock to get a spot in St. Peter’s Square.

Not long ago, I found myself making another exception. Our seminary is located on the outskirts of Rome, where fields and open spaces are much more common than they are in the historic center. By Italian law, sheep are allowed to graze on any unused field, so the local flock frequently helps itself to the grass on the periphery of our property.

From time to time, I have come across the flock and spoken with the shepherd, who is a very nice broad-faced fellow. As his sheep graze, he likes to sit in the shade and talk on his cell phone, but he is always accompanied by a pack of Maremma Sheepdogs, Border Collies, and assorted mutts who bark at anyone who even thinks of getting close to the flock. He tells me that he tends about 600 sheep who are all doing well, grazie a Dio.


After lunch one day, I was walking down by the fields with a confrere when we suddenly heard bleating. We looked down and saw a lamb that was separated from the rest of the flock by at least 300 yards. The shepherd and dogs were nowhere to be seen  (quite unusual), so, being the kind-hearted seminarians that we are, we decided to guide the lost lamb back to the flock.

We did not want to pick up the lamb for fear of dirtying our cassocks (this turned out to be a very prudent decision, since the lamb let loose a couple of times), so we both positioned ourselves behind to guide him in the direction of the other sheep. The idea was to slowly move towards the flock, forcing the lamb ahead of us.

It turned out to be easier said than done. Every couple of yards, the lost lamb would do an about-face and run directly away from  flock, forcing us to re-position ourselves and try again. This went on for quite some time until we finally got the lamb close enough to a ewe that was not far from the edge of the flock.

Maremma Sheepdog

Reflecting a little later on this event, it occurred to me that perhaps God was trying to teach me a lesson for my future ministry as a shepherd of souls. My experience with the lost lamb was similar to what Christ goes through with his own lost sheep. When we stray, he positions himself to gently guide us back, but often we stubbornly run in the opposite direction. He always respects our freedom; he never grabs us nor forces us to go the right way. But he doesn’t give up – he loves us too much for that. He stands by us, reminding us through our consciences that we are straying. If we return, his joy is more than we can imagine.

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. – Luke 15:7

imageAs I was thinking this over in the little chapel by my room, I realized a very interesting coincidence: the Gospel passage during the community mass that morning had been  the parable of the Good Shepherd in Luke 15!

I took that as a sign that my experience of shepherding was not an accident…and that in the future, I will be doing more of it, albeit in a slightly different way.