For the conclusion of the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has released a new Apostolic Letter. Entitled ‘Misericordia et Misera’, it begins by painting a beautiful image of the encounter between the ‘Mercy and Misery’ of the title – the meeting of Christ with the woman caught in adultery, as described by Saint Augustine. Of course, the Lord forgives the woman, and in so doing He continues to reveal the Mercy of God. This forgiveness, say the Holy Father, is the most visible sign of the love of God for us. He goes on to note that the experience of mercy brings joy, which lets us approach life in serenity.
Pope Francis then speaks of how the Jubilee of Mercy has swept through the world, touching people with an abundance of grace; an experience which has changed us forever. This has been to such an extent, says the Pope, that is has been ‘like a new visitation of the Lord’, Whose breath has been poured out anew upon the Church, reaffirming and renewing Her mission. But now, he says, we need to determine how best to carry all of this forward, into the future.
To do so, says the Holy Father, we need to celebrate mercy – that mercy which the liturgy of the Church calls upon so very often, and which culminates in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Indeed, the Sacramental life is filled to overflowing with mercy, not least of all in the Sacraments of healing – Reconciliation, and the Sacrament of the Sick. The Sacraments not only exhort mercy – they perform, or bring about, mercy.
The Pope goes on to speak about the Word of God, so central in the celebration of the Sacraments; he exhorts Priests to preach well, saying that they will do so particularly when they are touched by the mystery of mercy. He then exhorts the faithful to dedicate one Sunday each year to a deeper focus on the Scriptures – ‘a Sunday given over entirely to the Word of God’, perhaps through Lectio Divina or other initiatives, so that we become ‘living vessels for the transmission of God’s Word’.
He then speaks about the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the particular way in which we normally encounter the gentle caress of the Merciful Father, leading us to be merciful to one another, as He has been to us.
The Holy Father noted that the specially designated Missionaries of Mercy will continue in their extraordinary role until further notice – ‘This extraordinary ministry does not end with the closing of the Holy Door. I wish it to continue until further notice as a concrete sign that the grace of the Jubilee remains alive and effective the world over’. He describes what he considers should be the characteristics of a good Confessor and he encourages the practice of ’24 Hours For The Lord’, already happening in many places – a special time in Lent given over exclusively to Confession, particularly with the intention of bringing back souls who have long been away.
To remove any possible obstacle in the journey of the soul to the Father through Confession, the Pope has granted Priests the faculty to forgive the sin of the procuring of abortion, a faculty given temporarily during the Holy Year. In a similar spirit, the Pope has also extended the faculty of Priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X to validly and licitly continue to forgive sins ‘until further provisions are made’.
The Holy Father then speaks briefly about the beauty and power of both consolation and silence, in being present to those who are suffering in any way. He also comments on the grace of the Sacrament of matrimony, adding that complexities of contemporary family life must always be seen with the eyes of mercy. Pope Francis then speaks on the reality of death, and particularly the moment of death – a moment which, he says, should be filled with both mercy and hope.
“The Jubilee now ends and the Holy Door is closed. But the door of mercy of our heart continues to remain wide open”, says the Holy Father. And this is very much the key to the Letter – continuing the grace and mercy of this Jubilee. In responding to the graces of this Jubilee, it has set us on the path of charity, the road of mercy, and we cannot turn back from that mercy – “Mercy renews and redeems because it is an encounter between two hearts: the heart of God who comes to meet us and a human heart”. In this context, the Pope thanked all those who quietly and daily go about life in the way of mercy in a variety of ways – and this is something he was able to share in during his ‘Fridays Of Mercy’. He now asks all of us to “unleash the creativity of mercy”, particularly through initiatives based on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. These, he said, “continue in our own day to be proof of mercy’s immense positive influence as a social value”. He puts it this way –
“Let us make every effort, then, to devise specific and responsible ways of practising charity and the works of mercy. Mercy is inclusive and tends to expand in a way that knows no limits. Hence we are called to give new expression to the traditional works of mercy.. The social character of mercy demands that we not simply stand by and do nothing”
These works of mercy encourage and enable us to promote a ‘culture of mercy’, says the Holy Father, because “they affect a person’s entire life”. And this culture of mercy “is shaped in assiduous prayer, in docility to the working of the Holy Spirit, in knowledge of the lives of the saints and in being close to the poor”.
In moving toward the conclusion of his Apostolic Letter, Pope Francis is very, very clear on one point, the most basic and crucial point of all, the point which is the synthesis and crystallisation of his entire Petrine ministry, and it is this –
“This is the time of mercy”.
The Pope then makes a concrete suggestion of a new initiative to be included in the liturgical life of the Church and it’s people, on the thirty-third Sunday of the year, preceding the Feast of Christ the King – a World Day of the Poor.
He ends by asking us all to take refuge beneath the mantle of Our Lady, the Mother of Mercy, She who always counsels us to “look to Jesus, the radiant face of God’s mercy”.