In his Reflection on the Year of Mercy, Bishop Vincent Long considers the word which is the cornerstone of the Pontificate of Francis.
If there is one word that best describes the scope, mission and substance of Pope Francis’ pontificate, it is the word “mercy.” For him, it reveals the very mystery of God.
It is the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. It is the bridge that connects us with God and one another.
Pope Francis was so impressed by the mercy of God that he took as his episcopal motto miserando atque eligendo –a phrase taken from Matthew’s Gospel, which means having mercy, He chose him.
By proclaiming the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis wants it to be a special time for the Church to contemplate the mystery of mercy and become a more effective sign of God’s action in the world.
The symbolic opening of the Holy Door in Rome – which is to be replicated in all particular Churches- serves to remind us of the joy and hope that the Holy Spirit ushered through the Second Vatican Council.
One cannot help but feel the ardent desire of the Holy Father in relaunching the project of the Council which is to present the Gospel to the men and women of their time in a new, fresh, more accessible and credible way.
For Pope Francis, the Church is not a museum for saints but a hospital which heals the wounded, strengthens the weak and lifts up the lowly.
Our very credibility is at stake when we lack merciful and compassionate love for those who are on the periphery or are removed and disengaged with the lived reality.
The Jubilee is opportune for us to respond anew to the clarion call of the Council to engage with the hopes and joys, the griefs and anxieties of the people of our age.
Thus he affirms “The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters.”
Seen from the perspective of the Jubilee of Mercy, we can appreciate the Synod on the family. It was essentially an exercise in administering the medicine of mercy to the wounded.
In the past, the results of synods were sometimes seen to be foregone conclusions. This synod, however, has seen the unleashing of the energy long locked up beneath the ice of institutional security.
Pope Francis has really lived up to his vision of the Church daring to break loose from its comfort zone and self-referential mentality.
Much emphasis has been placed on the question of communion to the divorced and remarried.
Yet, through the lens of mercy, the real question is how the missionary Church can accommodate and accompany those struggling to live and still falling short of the Christian ideal. This ecclesial inclusiveness which was instrumental to the doubting Thomas’ journey to faith is characteristic of a Church that walks the walk with the weak.
We are called to be instruments of mercy, which means that we have to open our hearts to those living on the outmost fringes of society.
We are called to believe that no one is ever beyond hope, past the point where God's grace and love apply to them.
God does not give up on people, even if they give up on themselves.
After all, we are not called to have all the answers, understand all life's mysteries, or fix everyone's problems. But we are called to love especially the least of our brothers and sisters, to assuage their wounds, to heal their hurt and brokenness.
In this Jubilee of Mercy, let us reflect on how can best be the church of the poor and for the poor. How can we be more of an oasis for the unchurched and the disenchanted rather than an enclosure for the virtuous? How can we facilitate not an economy of exclusion and inequality within the Church but an encounter of Christ’s radical equality, inclusiveness and justice for the marginalised, wounded and victimised?
Let this Jubilee of Mercy be a time of true repentance, humility and conversion to God’s total self-emptying in Christ and his audacious identification with those on the periphery.
Let it be a time in which we as the Church reclaim the powerlessness of Christ and the fundamental ethos of care for the weak and justice for the excluded.
Then in the words of Martin L. King, the Church no longer adjusted to the status quo, should stand as “a headlight leading humanity to higher levels of justice” and as the conduit of mercy and the sign of hope for all.
- Bishop Long, OFMConv, is Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne.