Reflections on the Jubilee Year of Mercy

The Jubilee Year of Mercy, initiated by Pope Francis, began on Dec. 8, 2015 and lasts through Nov. 20, 2016. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), a jubilee year has roots in Jewish tradition, when a jubilee was called every 50 years as a time of forgiveness. Catholics adopted this practice of jubilee years, with themes of mercy, forgiveness and solidarity. During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis called for this “celebration of mercy to be lived out in the daily lives of the faithful, and all who turn to God for compassionate love and mercy,” according to the USCCB.

Inspired by Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy in the daily lives of Catholics, HCM asked members of our campus community to reflect on their own personal observance of the Year of Mercy:

Matthew T. Eggemeier, Associate Professor of Religious Studies
Mercy comes from the Latin “misericordia,” which means quite simply to have “heart” (“cor”) for the “poor” or “suffering” (“miseri”). To be merciful is to open one’s heart to the suffering of others—particularly the marginalized and the oppressed—and to do everything in one’s power to eradicate that suffering. Jesus provides us with a number of concrete pictures of what mercy looks like in the Gospels—from the Samaritan attending to the suffering victim on the side of the road to Jesus’ instruction to his disciples that the concrete acts of feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting those in prison represent the most fundamental way in which we, as human beings, express our relationship with God (Matthew 25: 31-46).

During his papacy, Pope Francis has invited us to reflect more deeply on the meaning of mercy in a globalized world. So, for instance, what does it mean to be merciful in a world in which almost 3 billion people live on less than $2 a day while 85 individuals possess as much total wealth as 3.7 billion (the bottom 50 percent of the global population). What is the merciful response to an environmental situation in which we just experienced the hottest month on global record in July as a result of climate change, a crisis which led Pope Francis to ask in his recent encyclical, Laudato Si, what “Thou shall not kill” means when 20 percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive?” These pressing global crises invite us both to critically analyze those institutions, ideologies and cultural practices that perpetuate the suffering of others and to discern how we might more radically embody God’s mercy in response to this suffering.

From a Catholic perspective, when we show mercy to others we receive mercy from God. Or, as Pope Francis puts it, “God’s mercy toward us is linked to our mercy toward our neighbor.” My prayer during this Year of Mercy is that we open our hearts to the suffering of the poor and oppressed, are moved to act to alleviate it and that by showing mercy to others our own hearts are opened to the mercy of God.

Rev. James Stormes, S.J., Rector of Ciampi Hall
My friend, retired Bishop Rodrigo Mejia S.J., of Nairobi, Kenya, taught me just how deep in human experience the Biblical notion of mercy is. He explained that one of the Hebrew words we translate as mercy [raµûm], pictures it as the love and the relationship that a woman has for the child she is carrying in her womb. Can you imagine a closer connection between two people than this? Yet that is the relationship that our mercy-full God has with us. Indeed, in Spanish, Bishop Rodrigo’s native language, God’s love is characterized as “amor entrañable,” love deep in our “guts,” in the loving mother’s womb. The English translations of “affection” and “compassion” do not quite seem to capture this most human experience.  

Indeed, those translations might lead us to an overly romantic view of mercy. However, Bishop Rodrigo’s lesson was based on a half century of ministry in various countries of Africa. In the struggles he shared with his people, he learned that God’s mercy is not a romantic or “cheap” mercy, ignoring sinful experiences and downplaying  justice and judgment, but rather a mercy that takes that human experience so seriously that it perfects justice; restoring, not destroying, life, that “the sinner may not die, but live.” It is part of the consoling revelation that “I am God and not man. My ways are not your ways, nor are my thoughts your thoughts.” Thank God!

Brenda Hounsell Sullivan, Assistant Dean and Director of Student Involvement
The Year of Mercy was an intentional invitation to Catholics by Pope Francis—an invitation to love wholeheartedly with kindness, forgiveness, healing and generosity; an invitation to encounter the incredible mercy of God through the things that are important to us in our life, in our relationships and in our work. This can be done through corporal and/or spiritual works of mercy.

As I think about my 16 years at the College of the Holy Cross, I am reminded about how often I spend time embracing contemplation and action. In my role as an assistant dean/director of student involvement, I provide time for students to consider the questions, “Who am I?” “Who do I hope to become?” and “Who shall I be for others?” As a mother of two daughters, Kaeleigh, 11, and Maeve, 8, I provide daily for their spiritual and physical well-being. In both roles, I can plan and be intentional and, at other times, I must be adaptable. Sometimes in life, you experience things that shake you to your core. I realize that through forgiveness and healing you can come back stronger than ever.  

The Year of Mercy has helped me realize that you can plan your actions and experiences with God and, at other times, you may simply fall in the lap of God’s love. I truly believe that if you surround yourself with the right moments and with the right people, opportunities will come your way. Thank you, Holy Cross, for surrounding me with the love that I need to be successful both in my vocation and at home.

Brooke Tranten ’17
Pope Francis has emphasized the integral role the sacrament of penance plays in this Year of Mercy and so urges us to rethink our understanding of mercy. Mercy comes through the emptying of self that derives from the graces uniquely available through the sacrament of penance. True mercy does not allow license in morality and ethics, but is a direct challenge to grow in holiness. The Holy Father himself demonstrates this mercy through and by the sacrament of penance in his ecclesiastical functions. Pope Francis’ decision to declare a Jubilee Year of Mercy was undoubtedly inspired by the Holy Spirit, if the extraordinary violence of global events of the last few months is any indication. From unprecedented massacres to civil unrest, this Year of Mercy was sorely needed, so that we may be able to ask for mercy for ourselves and for others. The sacrament of penance is too often overlooked in Catholic spiritual life, but the Holy Father reminds us that the Church and the entire world require it, if we and our world may be sanctified.  

In my effort to engage spiritually with the Year of Mercy and answer Pope Francis’ call to the confessional, I have tried to be more deliberate about making my examination of conscience before confession. I have a tendency to rush through the examination, which in turn leads me to rush through a confession, as if it were just another perfunctory item to cross off from my to-do list. Instead, I have been doing my best to slow down, sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament during Thursday night adoration on campus and deliberately go through my examination. ■