Last week, in the Central African Republic, Pope Francis offered a universal truth about the human person. “All of us,” he said, “ask [God] for mercy, reconciliation, forgiveness and love.”
Every single human person is made by God to love, and to be loved. We are each formed in God’s image, and we are each made for eternal life with him. And all of us—no matter who we are, what we know, or from where we come—have a hunger for the love of God, for his forgiveness, and for his presence in our lives. Each one of us has sinned. Each one of us has been separated from union with our Creator. And every person is born longing to be reconciled to God our Father.
Mercy is what makes unity with God possible. Mercy is God’s grace, present in our lives, forgiving our sins, and preparing us for holiness. Mercy is the means by which we can perfectly reveal the image of God written in our very being.
Mercy is the Incarnation of Jesus Christ—God who became man, so that all mankind might share in God’s life. Mercy is Christ’s death on a cross, by which our sins can be forgiven. Mercy is Christ’s resurrection, which opens heaven to us. Mercy is the Church that Christ gave us, and the sacraments that manifest his presence, his grace, his power, for each one of us.
Mercy is the gift of God that each one of us longs for from the depths of our hearts.
Mercy does not mean that God simply ignores the things that separate us from him. Mercy does not mean pretending that sin is good, or that falsehoods are true. Mercy can never be separated from justice, or from truth. Instead, mercy means that God gives us the grace to be truly freed from our sins, and the grace to follow God’s call in our lives—to love as he loves. Mercy seasons justice and lives in the light of truth.
On December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Church will begin a special Jubilee Year of Mercy. During this year, Pope Francis asks each one of us to reflect on the mercy of God in our lives. He asks us to contemplate the “mystery of mercy.” And he asks us to be merciful—to reflect the mercy of God in our treatment of others.
In Rome, the Holy Father will open a jubilee door of mercy, through which pilgrims can enter in prayer, asking for the merciful grace of indulgence—freedom from the temporal effects of our sin. In the Diocese of Lincoln, we’ll open a jubilee door at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ, for the same reason. An indulgence, says Pope Francis, is a gift by which God the Father, acting through the 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.”
The Holy Father has asked that the sacrament of penance be made more available for the mercy of forgiveness of sin. Across the Diocese of Lincoln, special times for confession will be available during the Year of Mercy, in which God’s forgiveness will be manifested to all who seek it in humility and repentance.
Most especially, in the Diocese of Lincoln, I pray that we will spend time thinking about the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The works of mercy are the practices by which we participate in the merciful love of God—by which we extend God’s mercy to those in need of it.
The corporal works of mercy are to feed the hungry; to give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked; to harbor the harborless; to visit the sick; to ransom the captive; to bury the dead. The spiritual works of mercy are to instruct the ignorant; to counsel the doubtful; to admonish sinners; to bear wrongs patiently; to forgive offences willingly; to comfort the afflicted; to pray for the living and the dead.
During the Year of Mercy, our diocese will undertake initiatives to practice the works of mercy. I’ll write about them in the weeks to come. But I pray that your family, parish, and community will do the same. I pray that during this Year of Mercy, you’ll find ways to share the mercy of God with everyone, particular with those who are in most need.
All of us, in the depths of our hearts, ask for the Lord’s mercy. During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, may we receive the mercy of God, and may we extend mercy to all those whom we are called to love.