It seems an odd choice, for Pope Francis to make today’s feast the starting point for the Jubilee of Mercy.
Today, we celebrate the Immaculate Conception—marking the prevenient grace that, in one sense, freed Mary from needing mercy. She alone among humankind was born ‘untouched by any stain of sin,’ as we hear in the Prayer Over the Offerings at Mass.
So what’s the connection between this feast…and the extraordinary experience of mercy that the Pope has begun praying out over the whole world?
As this question rumbled, unbidden, in my heart this morning, I noticed something else lurking there. A darkness. A wretchedness. A bile of unforgiveness that has been bubbling up lately. I noticed how hard my heart had become in recent days and weeks toward a certain ideology…a way of thinking, and living, and worshiping that could so twist the mind that two young parents would be moved to embrace murder over the chance to raise and nurture their six-month-old child. There is precious little room in my heart for mercy—I noticed—toward the San Bernadino killers, or toward any who foment the ideology they espoused.
I thought, too, about what a friend said the other day: How he’d been struggling to forgive the teenage driver whose bad decision led to a crash that wrecked the man’s truck…and pretty much destroyed his business. Mercy is much more difficult to profess, I realized, when the offender’s act threatens to take food off your table.
Whether in the world at large…or in the mundane details of our everyday lives…it seems we desperately need what Pope Francis proclaims—a Jubilee of Mercy.
But how do you make that happen? How do you make it real?
As Mass continued this morning, I think I found a hint or two. The first came in the Collect—the opening prayer: ‘O God, who by the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin prepared a worthy dwelling for your Son, grant that…through her intercession we, too, may be cleansed…’
The next appeared in the excerpt we heard from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: ‘Blessed be God…who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us…to be holy and without blemish before him.’
Like Mary, we have been given the grace to make room for Jesus in our hearts. And that’s where the Year of Mercy begins.
Jesus, ever gracious, is awaiting our ‘yes.’ My ‘yes.’
So let’s make that our prayer on this glorious feast day: Let Christ—who is Mercy—reign!
Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Year of Mercy
Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”
You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.
You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:
let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.
Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.
We ask this of you, Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of
Mercy; you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.