Grace and peace to you in our Lord Jesus Christ, today and always. When I took my required confessions practicum at Boston College, in preparation for ordination, our professor taught us three things on the first day of class that I have never forgotten: 1) “Like all sacraments, reconciliation is a celebration. In this case, it’s a celebration of God’s mercy. So treat it that way.” 2) “Most of the people who walk into your confessional believe that you are seeing them at their worst. In truth, you are seeing them at their very best!” And 3) “If anyone walks out of confession feeling worse than when they walked in, then you, the priest, have failed miserably.” I repeat these three pearls of wisdom to myself every time I start to hear confessions.
Last week, our Holy Father used a homily to announce a Jubilee Year of Mercy, to begin on the feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 2015). An abbreviated version of his homily follows below:
The Gospel we have just heard [the pharisee and the sinful woman] opens for us a path of hope and comfort. It is good that we should feel that same compassionate gaze of Jesus upon us, as when he perceived the sinful woman in the house of the Pharisee. In this passage two words return before us with great insistence: love and judgment.
There is the love of the sinful woman, who humbles herself before the Lord; but first there is the merciful love of Jesus for her, which invites her to approach. This woman’s every gesture speaks of love and expresses her desire to have an unshakeable certainty in her life: that of being forgiven. And Jesus gives this assurance: welcoming her, He demonstrates God’s love for her, just for her! For her, there will be no judgment except that which comes from God, and this is the judgment of mercy. The protagonist of this meeting is the love that goes beyond justice.
Simon the Pharisee, on the contrary, cannot find the path of love. He stands firm upon the threshold of formality. He is not capable of taking the next step to meet Jesus, who brings him salvation. In his thoughts, he invokes only justice, and in so doing, he errs. His judgment on the woman distances him from the truth and does not allow him even to understand who his guest is. He stopped at the surface, he was not able to look into the heart.
No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house that welcomes all and refuses no one. Its doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace can find the certainty of forgiveness. The greater the sin, so much the greater must be the love that the Church expresses toward those who convert!
Brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. For this reason, I have decided to call an extraordinary Jubilee that is to have the mercy of God at its center. It shall be a Holy Year of Mercy.
This Holy Year will begin on the coming Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will end on November 20, 2016, the Sunday dedicated to Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – and living face of the Father’s mercy. I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every person of our time. From this moment, we entrust this Holy Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she might turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey.
I look forward to our celebration of the Jubilee Year as a parish community. On a much closer horizon of mercy, I invite you to considerour Lenten Day of Reconciliation, scheduled for Monday, March 30th. Jesuit confessors will be in the church from 4-8pm for individual confessions and the Blessed Sacrament will be present for adoration during these hours. It will be sacred time to be sure.
Prayers and best wishes as our Lenten journey continues and the joy of Easter approaches once again.