Reflections

Jubilee Year a challenge to the Church

Bishop Saunders

The prayer of Pope Francis for the Jubilee of Mercy is material enough for a week’s retreat and some.  It is laden with images that are surely bound to provoke conversation on the Christian life in today’s world and to give rise to many prayerful reflections in quiet moments, writes Bishop Christopher Saunders.

Prayer of Pope Francis for the Jubilee

Lord Jesus Christ,

You have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,

And have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.

Show us your face and we will be saved.

Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;

The adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;

Made Peter weep after his betrayal,

And assured Paradise to the repentant thief.

Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:

“If you knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible face of the invisible Father,

Of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:

Let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.

You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness

In order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:

Let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,

So that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,

And your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,

Proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,

And restore sight to the blind.

We ask this of you, Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of

Mercy; you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.

Amen.

The Holy Father's hopes and aspirations for what might be achieved in the celebration of this Jubilee Year are equally impressive and challenging for a Church which, at least in the west, has been languishing for some time in the confusion of vast cultural changes, including an aggressive secularist agenda at work in so many different ways. His proclamation of the Year of Mercy is a positive and earnest reply to peoples overwhelmed by the arduous struggles of modern life: “Mercy is the best thing we can feel. It changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient”. 

In his announcement of the extraordinary Jubilee the Holy Father said: “I am convinced that the whole Church will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and making fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time”.

A Holy Year in the tradition of the Church is a year of forgiveness of sins, of reconciliation between enemies, of conversion of heart and of participation in  celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

 With the teachings of Pope Francis on ecology so clearly articulated in his encyclical Laudato Si, our examination of conscience in preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation is now expanded to include matters arising from what he terms the need for our ecological conversion.  Clearly, as individuals, we have some responsibilities towards promoting a healthy harmony between humanity and that which gives life to the earth and its creatures. Whenever we have opposed this inter-connectedness by our detrimental behaviour there may lie some sort of culpability needing contrition. 

With the solemn opening of the Holy Door of Mercy in Rome to mark the beginning of the Jubilee Year, on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis called for a Church that always puts mercy before judgement: ”This extraordinary Holy Year is itself a gift of Grace”, he said.  And citing the generosity of Mary in her response to the invitation of God to be the Mother of our Saviour, he reminds us that “The fullness of Grace can transform the human heart and enable it to do something so great as to change the course of human history.”  How wonderful if we could all but put mercy before judgement.

To pass through the Holy Doors the Pope suggests is to “rediscover the deepness of the Mercy of the Father who welcomes all and goes out personally to encounter each of them. It is he who seeks us!...This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy”.

Life, we are fond of saying, is a journey and I have the distinct feeling that with the beginning of the Year of Mercy, following  closely after the publication of the encyclical Laudato Si, we have moved in a new direction on our life’s pilgrimage. At least I hope so! Each particular Church in Australia will approach the Jubilee Year in its own distinctive way.  But whatever is done at Diocesan or at Parish level will need to capture the freshness that has come with the leadership of Pope Francis.  Our constant entreaty in prayer should be that this is to become a year in which all of us will be convinced of God’s mercy and we ourselves will be “Merciful Like The Father”. (LK.6:36)

In 2016, during the Jubilee Year of Mercy, coincidentally, the Diocese of Broome is celebrating its Golden Jubilee of 50 years since foundation.  Parishes in the Kimberley have been asked to develop new spiritual pathways to encourage people to pray and if necessary teach them how to pray. They are also to promote the bible in the homes, to foster in families a living relationship with God in prayer, to revisit stalled practices in ecumenism, to have retreats and days of recollection centred on the promise of the mercy of God.  Sacred Heart Parish at Beagle Bay, the first mission and the cradle of the Faith in the Kimberley, is to be a centre of local pilgrimage in the Diocese this year for groups and individuals, while an invitation has been extended to people to a pilgrimage to Rome and the Holy Land – our first such Diocesan pilgrimage since the Year 2000.  Each parish is putting together a strategic plan of evangelization which will centre on the inspiration given by The Holy Father to feel “that we ourselves are part of the mystery of Love”. And as part of the mystery of love we are bound therefore in our calling to open our hearts to those living as outcasts or on the fringes of society, to be the visible face of God in the world, “to feel compassion for those in ignorance and error, to let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved and forgiven by God”.

As suggested by Pope Francis, let us allow God to surprise us. It is in a faithful openness to the work of the Spirit among us that wonderful things can happen. While we concentrate on being heralds and witnesses to God’s mercy there is great hope that the seed of the Good News will be planted in the lives of others and nurtured in our own.  It is our hope-filled prayer that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of choicest Graces for us all.    

- Bishop Christopher Saunders of the Bishop of Broome in the Kimberley

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