Today, we begin as a universal Church the Year of Mercy. It is an opportunity for new beginnings, fresh starts, reconciliation with those around us, reaching out in love to those who are most in need, and finding peace through forgiveness in our families, community, and beyond. Above all, it’s an opportunity for us to remember and experience anew how much God loves us and forgives us, even in our sinfulness and weakness. God knows our sins, big and small. Yet he loves us. He loved us from the beginning of creation and will love us until the end of time. He is always reaching out in forgiveness and mercy upon mercy. May we never lose sight of his mercy and then share the same with those around us.
I hope that we as a parish will find new life, continued strength, and an increased openness to God’s Spirit in this year ahead. I hope our parish and school and the sacraments that we receive will be the furnace of God’s love and mercy which we then go forward and share with the world. I look forward to sharing with you soon a number of local ways that we will celebrate the Year of Mercy at Saint Timothy’s.
In the meantime, I would like to share with you some of the important ways to take part in this holy year. The Pope has granted special indulgences attached to this year. Some of you might pause and say, “I thought we got rid of indulgences some time ago.” Indulgences are still in the Church. It was the sale of those indulgences and how people thought of them sometimes that was the problem. Here is Pope Francis’ description of an indulgence from his “Bull of Indiction” for the Year of Mercy:
Thus God is always ready to forgive, and he never tires of forgiving in ways that are continually new and surprising. Nevertheless, all of us know well the experience of sin. We know that we are called to perfection (cf. Mt 5:48), yet we feel the heavy burden of sin. Though we feel the transforming power of grace, we also feel the effects of sin typical of our fallen state. Despite being forgiven, the conflicting consequences of our sins remain. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God forgives our sins, which he truly blots out; and yet sin leaves a negative effect on the way we think and act. But the mercy of God is stronger even than this. It becomes indulgence on the part of the Father who, through the Bride of Christ, his Church, reaches the pardoned sinner and frees him from every residue left by the consequences of sin, enabling him to act with charity, to grow in love rather than to fall back into sin.
— Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 22.
Basically, God forgives our sins in confession but the consequences of our sins remain. If we die before overcoming those consequences, we need to be cleansed of our sins in purgatory. An indulgence allows us to overcome those consequences instantly as an expression of God’s mercy and love. They can be applied to those who are already dead. It can be a complicated topic, but, as Pope Francis says, it’s really an expression of God’s grace and love. He wants us to experience freedom from sin and eternal joy, and He will do anything he can to help us get there. These should not be seen as “magic”, however. There are conditions that coincide with them in order to receive them. To receive a plenary indulgence, one must be in a state of grace, totally detached from all sin, make a sacramental confession within days of the action, receive the Eucharist within days of the action, make a profession of faith, and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father.
How do you receive the plenary indulgence for the Jubilee year? Here are the two main ways that Pope Francis has outlined:
- A pilgrimage to a designated shrine for the Year of Mercy. In our Archdiocese, this will be the Cathedral in Saint Paul or the Basilica in Minneapolis. The Holy Doors at each location will open this Sunday. For the home-bound and sick, Pope Francis has said, ” Living with faith and joyful hope this moment of trial, receiving communion or attending Holy Mass and community prayer, even through the various means of communication, will be for them the means of obtaining the Jubilee Indulgence.”
- Every time that we practice a spiritual or corporal work of mercy.
Here are some additional resources for the Year of Mercy:
- The Archdiocese has a helpful guide for suggestions on works of mercy to do during each week of the first twelve weeks of the Year of Mercy.
- Here is Pope Francis’ prayer for the Year of Mercy. Perhaps we could add it to our morning or evening prayers.
- Here is the official website for the Archdiocese’s Year of Mercy information and content.
- If you want some heavier, but wonderful and profound, reading and reflection, here is Pope Francis’ full “Bull of Indiction” for the Year of Mercy where he discusses mercy more extensively.
Again, I hope this year of mercy is a great time of renewal, love, and joy in your life and in our parish’s life. I look forward to sharing more about some new initiatives coming soon in our parish. May we all experience God’s mercy and love anew and share it with others.