The Lay Faithful
Men and Women of Good Will
We are gathered here to mark the solemn closing of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which began on December 8, 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception to November 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King. Pope Francis announced it on March 13, 2015. The declaration was contained in the Holy Father’s 2015 Papal Bull of Indiction Misericordiae Vultus, meaning “The Face of Mercy”. This Jubilee is the 27th Holy Year in the history of the Church. The last ordinary Jubilee was in 2000 during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, who is now a saint.
This jubilee is extraordinary because it had not been predetermined. Since 1470, a jubilee usually occurs every twenty five years.
The celebration of the Year of Mercy, as the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is commonly known, has taken place in every Catholic diocese around the world. Besides Rome, it has been significantly characterized by the opening of Holy Doors in cathedrals and historical churches in dioceses around the world. His Holiness, Pope Francis opened the first Holy Door on November 29, 2015 at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Bangui in the Central African Republic, a nation afflicted by the scourge of poverty, religious and ethnic tensions.
The official logo of the Year of Mercy depicts Jesus as the personification of mercy. We see Him tenderly holding a “lost man” in his hands. Jesus reaches out with love and compassion to bring a man out of the darkness of sin into the light of grace.
We have been celebrating the Year of Mercy under the theme “Merciful like the Father” (Lk. 6:36), which stands as an invitation to each of us to love and forgive without reservation. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, “blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt.5:7). We are also told by the prophet Hosea that what God wants from us is mercy rather than sacrifice (Hosea 6:6).
MEANING OF MERCY: What is the meaning of mercy? In ordinary language, mercy is a quality of love and care we have for another person. It is our disposition to forgive someone who wrongs us. It is our willingness, even though difficult and challenging, to reach out to relieve the pain and suffering of another person.
But the meaning of mercy is more broad and profound. It refers to the kind of love which is mutual and enduring. This kind of love exists between husband and wife (e.g., Abraham and Sarah). It refers to the kind of love between friends who are in a bond of deep friendship (e.g., David and Jonathan).
Mercy designates the kind of love a mother has for the child of her womb. Does a mother ever forget the child of her womb? It is the kind of love existing between brothers and sisters from the same womb. There is mutual compassion felt for one another.
The Old Testament depicts God as one who has the love of a mother for her child. This love leads God to forgive her children who go astray. We read thus in Jeremiah 31:20 “Israel, you are my dearest son, the child I love best. Whenever I mention your name, I think of you with love. My heart goes out to you. I will be merciful.” When the children of Israel thought they were forgotten and abandoned by God, there is the motherly reassurance that they were not forgotten for their name is written on the palm of His hand (Is.49:14-16).
Mercy can also mean grace or favor which is given freely through the good will and benevolence of the giver. It is the kind of love which the receiver does not necessarily deserve. God bestows His grace and favor on whomever he wishes. The Book of Exodus 34:6 tells us that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.
In the New Testament the meaning of the mercy is brought to us through the actions and teachings of Jesus and other main characters in the Synoptic Gospels. Jesus is a man of compassion and mercy in his action of feeding of hungry people (Mk.6:30-44) and healing the sick and afflicted. The practical meaning of mercy is brought to our understanding in the gospel stories of the master who forgave the wicked and merciless servant all of his debts (Mt. 18:21-35); the prodigal son who is unconditionally forgiven by his father (Lk. 15:11-32)) and the action of the good Samaritan who cared for a victim of robbery on the way to Jericho (Lk.10:25-37).
According to Pope John Paul II, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and His resurrection are the ultimate expressions of God’s mercy (Dives Misericordiae #7). Jesus tells us that a man can show no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends (Jn.15:13).
The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Lk.15:11-32 makes the contrast between the love of the father and the sin of the son. The young man in the gospel squandered and lost his material goods and even his dignity as a son. He later came to his senses and returned to his father in humility when he experienced hardship. He pleaded for forgiveness and asked to be taken back as a servant rather than as a son. He confessed his lack of worthiness to be called a son. He is only fit to be a servant in his father’s house (Lk15:18-19). But deep emotions of compassion (Lk.15:20) led the father to forgive the young man, and even restored his lost dignity as a son (Dives Misericordiae #5).
This story tells us how God, as a loving Father, deals with us His wayward children who turn to Him with humble and contrite hearts that plead for mercy and forgiveness.
The conduct of the father is a true act of mercy. Love and compassion rather than anger and rejection saved a lost son. Justice would have demanded that the young man be treated less than a son. But love led the father to go beyond justice and treat his lost son with mercy and compassion. The love and mercy of the father restored the lost humanity and dignity of the son.
Like the prodigal son in the gospel story, there are hundreds of young men and women and even boys and girls who have lost their humanity and dignity to drugs and substance abuse. There is still the lost generation of Liberian youths who bore arms during the civil war. These young men and women are visibly present in the streets and neighborhoods of Monrovia and in our cities and towns across the country. Some of them have been given the derogatory name of “zogoes”. They live in squalid and dehumanizing conditions in graveyards, markets and ghettos. They eke out a living daily in the streets by fair and foul means. They harass people and hustle to get money to buy food, drugs and other substances.
Like the father in the gospel story, where is our compassion to redeem and restore the lost humanity and dignity of these young Liberians? Rather than shunning and seeing them as a menace and nuisance to society, our hearts should be moved with deep love and compassion to redeem and restore their lost humanity and dignity. The Year of Mercy makes this a moral and religious imperative for us.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE EXTRAORDINARY JUBILEE OF MERCY?
In the Ancient Jewish tradition, a jubilee was called forth every fifty years to especially seek God’s mercy and forgiveness and to remind the people about God’s providence.
The intent of this Jubilee of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis is for us to contemplate the mystery of mercy on which our salvation depends. It is an opportunity afforded us to grow spiritually, thus becoming strong and effective witnesses of our faith. As mercy forms the bridge between us and God, the Year of Mercy is meant for us to seek reconciliation with God and one another.
Our Lord revealed to St. Faustina that mercy is the greatest attribute of God. The other attributes of God are his holiness and justice. Our Lord, in his revelation to St. Faustina, invites us to trust in his mercy. The sinner who trusts in the mercy of God will not perish. It is consoling to know that Jesus told this humble Polish nun that even the greatest sinner has a right to his mercy. Our Lord encourages the greatest sinners to place their trust in his mercy for they have the right to trust in the abyss of his mercy.
The greatest sinner who appeals to the mercy and compassion of God will not be punished. Jesus assures us in his revelation to St. Faustina that he will plead for mercy before his Father for the sinner. He will come between them and the Father not as a judge but as the one who pleads for mercy.
In another revelation, Jesus told St. Faustina that now is the time of mercy for he is opening the door of his mercy before he comes as Judge. Anyone who refuses to pass through the door of his mercy will definitely pass through the door of his justice. Hence, this jubilee is about us turning from sin and seeking the mercy and forgiveness of God.
It is also about us seeking to forgive and reconcile with one another. St. Faustina said that “we resemble God when we forgive our neighbors.” We are individually and collectively still struggling with the fundamental issues of forgiveness and reconciliation. It takes an individual to make the choice to forgive. But it takes two or more persons to reconcile. The Year of Mercy should challenge us to prioritize forgiveness and reconciliation. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was right in saying that there can be no future without forgiveness. Liberia will have a more peaceful and bright future if we act rather than just talk about reconciliation.
The proliferation of political parties like mushrooms for the 2017 Presidential and Legislative Elections is a recipe for the division and polarization of a small country like Liberia. This country stands to be divided left and right on party lines. Politicians do however have a moral and civic responsibility to ensure that Liberia remains peaceful, stable and united.
A jubilee is also about justice and restoration (Lv.25:8-17). We read in Book of Leviticus 25: 8-17 that it was required of the Jew not to cheat or deal unfairly with his fellow Jew during the Jubilee Year. This Jubilee of Mercy likewise demands that we act with justice and fairness with one another. Corruption is the greatest evil and injustice in our country. It has become so entrenched and endemic in some of our public and private institutions. Stealing has become a way of life to the extent that criminal cartels are seemingly operating in some of our public and private institutions.
Pope Francis describes corruption as a sin which has become a system in society, a mental habit and a way of living. He says that corrupt people, rather than trying to seek mercy and forgiveness, tend to justify their behavior as it is a mental habit and a way of living for them.
As in the past, some people are using public and private offices entrusted to them to steal and enrich themselves. There is a powerful minority stealing from the powerless majority. This is the greatest evil and injustice of our time.
PRACTICAL ACTIONS OF MERCY: We have been celebrating the Year of Mercy under the theme “Merciful like the Father” (Lk.6:36) which challenges us be the true reflections of mercy. Our Lord told St. Faustina that “every soul, especially the soul of every religious, should reflect My mercy.” Mother Theresa of Calcutta, now St. Theresa, was a shining example and a true reflection of mercy. She loved and served the poorest of the poor.
We too can reflect the mercy of God through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. When Jesus comes as Judge, He will judge us on the merit of how we have loved and shown mercy to others in feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming and sheltering the stranger, visiting the sick and those in prison, and burying the dead. Jesus will also judge us on how we have prayed and worked for the conversion of sinners, instructed the ignorant, counseled the doubtful, comforted the sorrowful, borne wrongs patiently, forgiven injuries and prayed for the living and the dead. Jesus will tell us on the Day of Judgment that whatever deed of mercy we did for the least important of our brothers and sisters, we did it for Him (Mt.25:45).
CONCLUSION: Though the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy ends on November 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King, our acts and works of mercy should last and endure forever. Just as the psalmist tells us in Psalm 136 that the love and mercy of God endure forever, so we too must be constant, faithful and unwavering in our acts of love and works of mercy.
Let us commend ourselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Mercy, that she may intercede with Jesus, Her Son, to give us each of us the grace to be “merciful like the Father.” “Blessed are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy (Mt.5:7).