Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
We did not see a ball descending in Times Square last night at midnight to welcome in the new year of Advent. Fortunately, the Vatican did not think it appropriate to do anything like that either. Nonetheless, we are in a new year of the Church.
Today is the First Sunday of Advent around the world. And this year it’s really a big thing. You won’t find it as a headline on the first page of the Washington Post, or breaking news on your computer. But there is rejoicing in heaven among the angel hosts.
Why is this Advent different from any other Advent? Something big has happened–an extraordinary thing. In nine days the Church will begin a Jubilee Year, a Jubilee Year of Mercy. For those whose memories go back far enough, the Church has a traditional Jubilee Year every fifty years–in 1950 by Pope Pius XII and in the millennial year 2000, by Pope John Paul II. We do that every fifty years as a special time of grace for Catholics. It is based on the Jewish Torah and the command of God to Moses to celebrate a year of redemption throughout Israel ever fifty years. We now continue this same holy practice in the Church.
But this year is an extraordinary Jubilee Year, taken at the special initiative of Pope Francis. As the world is “going to hell in a handbag”, if you’ll pardon the expression–but you get my meaning–Pope Francis is doing something perhaps as momentous as Pope Saint John XXIII did in 1958, when he unexpectedly called a new ecumenical council in the Church.
This Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis is just as unexpected as what Pope John XXIII did. But that does not mean that it is not well planned and thought out by Pope Francis. He first announced it eight months ago the Sunday after Easter Sunday, which is now called the Sunday of Divine Mercy. A perfect occasion for his announcement of the new Jubilee Year, Divine Mercy Sunday. Since then Francis is making regular announcements about the practices that will be enacted during the Year of Mercy. It will be celebrated in all the dioceses of the world, not just in Rome. With the opening of the Holy Door on December 8 at Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, there will be churches appointed in every diocese that will share in the Jubilee grace of the Holy Year, to be accessible to everyone.
Moreover, people are to be made aware of the special outreach of the Church to spread the grace of the mercy of God. The Sacrament of Reconciliation will become far more extensive, and the availability of Confession and counselling can reach so many who have been cut off from the Church and may feel it has abandoned them. People in our parishes will be challenged to embrace the truth of God’s mercy, the message which Jesus continually proclaimed during his public ministry to Israel. This has always been the message of the Church. But at times this Gospel truth has been clouded and disfigured by more negative attitudes that dominated the proclamation of God’s message. This Year of Mercy can bring new life and healing to the spread of the Gospel. This is the new evangelization which the Church has been urging these past fifteen years since the celebration of the Jubilee Year of 2000 by Pope John Paul II.
So this Jubilee Year of Mercy is not a new thing, but it is a new and necessary emphasis on Jesus command to all his disciples. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. To be a carrier of God’s mercy to those around us is to fulfill the command of love that Jesus gave us, and which the Gospels and the letters of Saint Paul and of Saint John taught so clearly. Follow closely what will unfold in the weeks ahead as we enter this Extraordinary Jubilee Year.