Milan (AsiaNews) – On 13 March 2015, the second anniversary of his election as pope, Francis made a bold and surprising move; he convened a 'Holy Year of Mercy’ (from 8 December 2015 to 20 November 2016) in order that “the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy.”
Such words echo the pastoral spirit with which John XXXIII on 11 October 1962 opened the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. On that occasion, the pope said, “the Bride of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. [. . .] That being so, the Catholic Church [. . .] desires to show herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness toward the brethren who are separated from her.”
However, Pope Francis has not convened another council. He is reforming the Church and the faithful in a pastoral and missionary sense, through actions, deeds and words defined by mercy, which he wants to share with those who are afar, who do not believe, the poorest in every way possible. John Paul II developed this theme in his second encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in mercy) as did Pope Benedict in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love).
Since the start of his pontificate, God’s mercy has been the core message in Pope Francis’ papacy. He knows the Christian West well and is aware that well over 50 per cent of the baptised are not going to in church, leading lives away from Christ. He understands that the rejection of God’s mercy and forgiveness has led to society’s debasement (whose highest expression is today’s idea about "gender") in our still nominally Christian nations.
Francis believes in the Holy Spirit, "the main player in the Church’s mission." He strongly believes that if the Church and the faithful truly convert to Christ, the Spirit can do extraordinary, miraculous things, in other nations where the Church is in its nascency.
Late last year, in an address to the Council of European Bishops' Conferences, Francis spoke about the ills that have harmed and thrown Europe into crisis. However, he also said, “Europe has many resources for going forward [. . .] the greatest resource is the person of Jesus. Europe, return to Jesus! [. . .] This is the work of the pastors: to preach Jesus in the midst of these wounds.”
Indeed, “The Lord wants to save us. I believe this,” Francis said. “This is our mission: to proclaim Jesus Christ, without shame” for “he is ready to open the doors of his heart, because he manifests his omnipotence above all in mercy and forgiveness.” Thus, to a “wounded Europe, only Jesus Christ can speak a word of salvation today.”
Ultimately, Francis’ entire pontificate is geared towards reconverting the Christian West to Christ, as a crucial step towards proclaiming Christ to all men. This is so true that he has entrusted the organisation of the Jubilee of Mercy to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation.
Pope Francis’s faith is such that it can “move mountains". Ours should do as much. The Holy Father knows that nothing is impossible for God. We must understand that the purpose of the Year of Mercy is primarily to bring our Christian nations back to Christ, which also means bringing each one of us back to the love and imitation of Jesus Christ.
With regard to the Holy Year of Mercy, Francis has reiterated concepts and expressions he has used manifold in the past two years. God is good, loves everyone and is always forgiving . . . “God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. . . .” This is the Lord’s strongest message: mercy. . . . If the Lord did not forgive everyone, the world would not exist . . . . It is God’s mercy that changes the world . . . . The Church welcomes everyone, rejects no one." Whoever in his life experienced God’s goodness, tenderness, and infinite mercy must communicate to others such experience that fills him with joy.
Mercy means forgiveness, the recognition of our weaknesses and sins, and the conversion of our lives to Christ. In 10 of Evangelii Gaudium, to all of us who believe, “The Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane, but with no less intensity: ‘Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others’.”
Thus, “When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelization, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfilment. For ‘here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is certainly what mission means’.
“Consequently, an evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that “delightful and comforting joy of evangelizing, even when it is in tears that we must sow . . . And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ.”
Francis is convinced that only if the West comes back to Christ can the non-Christian world be evangelised. Even his short daily homilies at Santa Marta are designed to indicate the steps to take to convert to Jesus and a life according to his Gospel. This is what he said with regard to the problems of the family. During the Synod, he will beatify several of today’s families who attained holiness even in very difficult situations.
I fear that such an appeal about a personal conversion to a God who forgives and to the Gospel that offers us the model of Christian life is not understood by the public. In general, mass media read Francis says and does through “secular” lenses, without concern for issues like sin, conversion to Christ, or confessing one’s sins. They give his actions a socio-political meaning that does not grasp the core of Francis’ papacy.
Some wonder whether Francis is conservative or progressive. Such terms do not apply to the pope. Francis is a sinner, like all of us. But he is in love with Jesus Christ, because in his life he experienced the Father's infinite mercy and goodness. For this reason, he is calling on everyone to change their lives and become real Christians, which means falling in love with Jesus and be like Him in our lives.
In his Letter to all Consecrated People (21 November 2014), we can read, "The question we have to ask ourselves during this Year is if and how we too are open to being challenged by the Gospel; whether the Gospel is truly the “manual” for our daily living and the decisions we are called to make. The Gospel is demanding: it demands to be lived radically and sincerely. It is not enough to read it (even though the reading and study of Scripture is essential), nor is it enough to meditate on it (which we do joyfully each day). Jesus asks us to practice it, to put his words into effect in our lives."