Saturday, 14 March 2015

A Year of Mercy

In the context of a world wide day particularly dedicated to repentance and the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance, Pope Francis has announced an extraordinary Jubilee Year dedicated to Divine Mercy:
Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought about how the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. It is journey that begins with a spiritual conversion. 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. We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord's words: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (cf. Lk 6:36)”
This Holy Year will begin on this 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 entrust the organization of this Jubilee to the Pontifical Council for Promotion of the New Evangelization, that [the dicastery] might animate it as a new stage in the journey of the Church on its mission to bring to every person the Gospel of mercy.
I have in the past commented on this blog about a "teaching moment" and a "pastoral moment" that I believe exist in the experience of living a Christian life. There are opportunities and times when it is entirely appropriate that the Pope, Bishop or priest should teach the content of the faith and its subsequent demand for conversion of life. In catechesis of the young and those who are new to the Catholic faith and in programmes of marriage preparation, for example, it would be entirely right to teach fully and with charity what the Church holds with regard to marriage and sexuality. And there are other moments when, in caring for an individual in their particular circumstances, it is a pastoral care that has priority in showing the love of the Father shown in Jesus Christ to an individual. Indeed, to teach at that moment might have the character of a proselytism that denies the freedom of the individual in circumstances where they are vulnerable. I suspect, to continue my topical example, that the person who has divorced and remarried does not need to be told that what they have done is wrong in the eyes of the Church. In fulfilling its mission, the Church needs both moments, the "teaching moment" and the "pastoral moment", held in their appropriate balance. To play the one off against the other, or to try and practice the one without an adherence to the other, is to undermine the work of evangelisation.

I think I have also in the past reflected on the nature of the various "Years of X" that were a feature of the pontificates of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI as a particular manner of the exercise of the office of the Successor Peter in the Church. They hold in balance the teaching of n.882 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter's successor, "is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful." "For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.
and the teaching of n.886:
"The individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches." As such, they "exercise their pastoral office over the portion of the People of God assigned to them," assisted by priests and deacons. But, as a member of the episcopal college, each bishop shares in the concern for all the Churches. The bishops exercise this care first "by ruling well their own Churches as portions of the universal Church," and so contributing "to the welfare of the whole Mystical Body, which, from another point of view, is a corporate body of Churches"
In other words, it is an exercise of the office of the Successor of Peter which promotes and encourages, in the local Churches by way of the rightful exercise of the office of the Bishop, priest and deacon, a universal concern and immediacy of the office of the Successor Peter. It is profoundly an act of ecclesial communion.

For me it is also essential to view the Year of Mercy in an absolute hermeneutic of continuity with the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and not to suggest that it is in any way in contradiction to them. If commentators want to see it that way, well, WYWSIWYWG - "What you will see is what you will get", with the angst that goes with that being spread through the Church - whether or not it is the reality. That Pope Francis should initiate a Holy Year that reflects the charism of pastor that he has brought to his particular way of exercising the office of the Successor Peter (where Pope Benedict XVI brought the charism of a teacher) should not surprise us.

I, for one, look forward to the Extraordinary Jubilee of the Year of Mercy.

But, meanwhile, don't forget the Year of Consecrated Life (and here).

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