By Fr. Frank DeSiano, CSP
As November passes by, we say farewell to the Year of Mercy. I’m old enough to have lived through a whole spate of special “Years”–Holy Spirit, Son, Father, Consecrated Life, St. Paul, etc. But I do not think any theme has had the impact, or contained the potential for further impact, than has this Year of Mercy.
No other theme has challenged Christians as deeply as this one. It has revealed a central paradox: that even though mercy–as the gratuitous gift of God’s love even the face of sin and evil–lies at the heart of Revelation, particularly as revelation has come to its climax in Jesus Christ, nevertheless it is still instinctual for Christians, and Catholics, to try to find the rules, borders, and systems so that everything will be orderly.
For how many centuries has Christianity-and especially Catholicism-played the lower end of the New Testament scale: sin, shame, law, guilt, punishment, hell? Of course, these are all in the New Testament one way or another, but to emphasize them before everything else is to distort what the Christian message is about. So the Year of Mercy insists that these notes on the scale need to be put into their relatively small space in order to strike the notes that form the key melody of Christian life.
What notes? How about grace, love, peace, forgiveness, assurance, and new life? Indeed, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus starts off announcing a, “year of favor–an acceptable year,” in other words, a jubilee year, as the hallmark of his ministry. The jubilee perspective of Jesus means that we can all start over, that people who feel lost and scorned can now be invited and included into the Kingdom of God (See Luke 4:16 ff.) In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus then begins to enact his ministry–healing, bringing sight, liberating people, showing mercy–even before he calls his disciples.