How does anyone judge the "success" of a Jubilee Year? Certainly the Vatican can point to the several international pilgrimages Pope Francis made during this year: to Sweden, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Greece, Mexico and to World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. Literally millions of people have themselves made the pilgrimage to Rome to see and hear the Holy Father and walk through the Holy Door of St. Peter Basilica. Untold millions have journeyed to Holy Doors of cathedrals, chapels and shrines in their own diocese.
(The website of the Jubilee Year, www.im.va , incredibly states that 19,246,338 persons have participated in the Jubilee in Rome, as of October 24. How do they know this?)
Catholics are just beginning to gain insight into the love of husband and wife in the sacrament of marriage by reading the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia, The Joy of Love. The them of "Merciful like the Father" has been tweeted and re-tweeted around the world, as the key understanding of Pope Francis's ministry of Christ-like service, and the witness of Christians everywhere.
But more importantly than these externals are the spiritual exercises known only to God conducted by Catholics and other Christians. These include the gift of plenary indulgences offered to the faithful who received Holy Communion, made a confession, and prayed for the Holy Father and his intentions.
How many souls were re-awakened to the challenges and joys of performing the corporal works of mercy:
- feeding the hungry
- giving drink to the thirsty
- clothing the naked
- welcoming the stranger
- healing the sick
- visiting the imprisoned
- burying the dead.
Or how many have carrying out the spiritual works of mercy:
- counselling the doubtful
- instructing the ignorant
- admonishing sinners
- comforting the afflicted
- forgiving offenses
- bearing those who do us ill patiently
- praying for the living and the dead.
We priests know that our dear pope's kindly persistent references to mercy allowed us to be vehicles of God's forgiveness in the sacrament of confession (reconciliation) to larger numbers of penitents in Advent, Lent and throughout the year. In other words, like St. Peter we caught a great deal of big fish, and were blessed to bring them God's life and love.
Bishop Zubik was moved by the Jubilee Year of Mercy to waive all fees associated with the annulment process in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. This act has opened the door for so many more persons to seek a nullity of their prior marriage, and to move toward the sacrament of matrimony and more grace-filled lives.
We in New Castle had an official pilgrimage to the Holy Doors of St. Paul Cathedral and St. Anthony Chapel. At the end of June 52 parishioners joined me in a wonderful journey to Pittsburgh. In two weeks I will accompany the children, chaperone parents and faculty of St. Vitus School on a similar prayer-filled and joy-filled pilgrimage to these beautiful churches.
Perhaps the Jubilee Year of Mercy brought home the many references to mercy in the bible. Here are a few:
- Psalm 136 ("For his mercy endures forever")
- Luke 15: 1-32 (parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the merciful father with two sons)
- Matthew 18:22 ("forgive 70 times seven times")
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ("Love is patient, kind, not rude")
- Ephesians 4:26 ("Do not let the sun go down on your anger")
- 1 John 4:8 ("God is love")
In every Sunday Mass we celebrate God's mercy
- in the penitential act ("May Almighty God have mercy on us")
- Gloria ("You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us")
- Creed ("I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins")
- Eucharistic Prayer III ("In your compassion, O merciful Father, gather to yourself all your children")
- Lord's Prayer ("Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us")
Truly any success of this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy will be found in the days and years to come as we act upon the lessons offered and learned.
- When families more readily forgive.
- When the unborn, children, elderly, persons with disabilities and immigrants are given full human dignity.
- When diplomats are busy building peace and soldiers can stand down from waging war.
- When we desire to grow in the wealth of humble service, not mammon.
- When our parishes are hospitals for the sick and sin-filled.
- When our common home, the earth, is treated with mercy.
- When our daily prayer is enflamed by the words of Pope Francis: "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy.
In the few days remaining for this Jubilee Year, may we revel in the superabundance of God's mercy. May the blessings and joy of God's ineffable mercy because of our experiences of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.