Based on the papal bull Misericordiae Vultus, we are headed for a Holy Year of Mercy. How might we celebrate that?
Ultimately each nation’s bishops will decide, but here are my two cents worth, based on what’s in the document.
Pope Francis calls on us to “contemplate the mystery of mercy.” (2) This requires us to “listen to the Word of God. This means rediscovering the value of silence in order to meditate on the Word that comes to us.” (13) He mentions a few of the many passages of Scripture worthy of meditation on mercy in 17. So one suggestion would be a fast from the noise of modern life, a Blackberry Sabbath, devoted to meditating on Scripture.
He speaks of pilgrimage, and asks bishops to find ways for believers who can’t make it to Rome to make a pilgrimage. I hope to go, but would love to see my diocese set up a pilgrimage to a nearby shrine (maybe Mary Queen of the Universe in Orlando?), or better yet, offer ways for us to create a local pilgrimage through different churches in our diocese to celebrate unity and prayer in different neighborhoods and different sanctuaries than our familiar home.
He speaks of “opening our hearts to those living on the fringes of society” (fringes we create, he adds!) and asks “Let us open our eyes to see the misery of the world.” (15) A greater awareness of who we exclude from our attention seems like an important first step. I learn a lot about the rest of the world listening to Vatican Radio news and would commend it. But learning about our sister parish in Haiti or the plight of those served by St. Vincent DePaul would help, too.
Beyond open hearts and eyes are corporal and spiritual works of mercy. He lists corporal acts from Matthew: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead. Lots of opportunities there.
But don’t overlook the spiritual works of mercy: counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant (which he interprets not only in the spiritual but in the socioeconomic sense), admonish sinners (about which he says little), comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear patiently those who do us ill, pray for the living and the dead. (15) An intimidating list requiring lots of self-examination.
I particularly like his formulation of Isaiah 61: “to bring a word and gesture of consolation to the poor, to proclaim liberty to those bound by new forms of slavery in modern society, to restore sight to those who can see no more because they are caught up in themselves, to restore dignity to all those from whom it has been robbed.” (16) This prevents us from writing off as anachronism and disability terms like slavery and blindness. There could be a great study on who falls in these categories in our lives, our community, our world.
The heart of mercy is the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and Francis calls for a devoted effort in Lent to bring us to that healing sacrament.
So meditation and silence, pilgrimage, awareness, service, witness, study and sacrament. How’s that for a list of ways to celebrate this next year?