Today to celebrate the opening of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, here at the Newman Center, we had what we call a “Dogmatic Dinner” – where students cook a meal and discuss a different topic.  Everyone – from those who prepared, served and cleaned up the meal, to our presenter did a terrific job, and those who participated had some great questions.  So I thought I’d put together a “cliffs notes” version or a brief guide explaining the Year of Mercy for those who couldn’t join us.


Just asking “What is Mercy” a lot of times we get synonyms that are partially correct.   The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Mercy as:  The loving kindness, compassion, or forbearance shown to one who offends (e.g., the mercy of God to us sinners). 

To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”
In short it’s a time of Joy!  We see the origins (as with most things in the Catholic-Christian faith) of Jubilee’s coming from the Old Testament.  It was meant as a time, a period set apart for remission or universal pardon.  So prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, it would be a time of reconciliation  (You can read about it in the Hebrew Scriptures Leviticus 25: 8-13)  

This tradition fell out of use in Judaism, but began in the Catholic Church in the year 1300.  In 1299, after a period of intense suffering from plagues and war, the Pope saw the start of a new century for people to experience that tradition of a “Jubilee year” and encouraged Catholics to make pilgrimage to the city of the Apostles (Rome) and to the holy sites – the tombs of St Peter, St Paul – and repent and experience the joy of the forgiveness of all their sins,   The experience was so historic that the intention was for this to occur every 100 years.  But then some argued that there was a great likelihood that people might never have an opportunity to experience this universal occassion that a “Jubilee Year” was.  So there was another Jubilee year held 50 years later.  The intention was that there would be another Jubilee every 33 years (representing the 33 years Jesus was on this earth).  But the third Jubilee year that was held in 1390 was so large that Pope Boniface IX announced another Jubilee Year 10 years later in 1400.  At that point it was decided that there would be a Jubilee every 25 years.  Which has been the case.  The last Jubilee was ushered in by Pope John Paul II for the New Millenium – the year 2000.

WHAT IS UP WITH THIS “HOLY DOOR”?    As Catholics we like sacramentals… it’s in our DNA that something of this earth points us to something of God.  In Jesus Christ, God became Man, He became one of us – and Jesus used things of this world to help explain universal truths.  Whether it was in parables where he would use seeds to illustrate the growth of faith; or in action where he would stoop down take a bowl and water and wash his apostles feet to demonstrate humble service – Jesus new the importance of us having visible, tangible things to explain universal, transcendent realities.  

So you may have seen pictures of  the “Holy Door”  that Pope Francis opened on December 8th as way of starting this Jubilee Year.  This  particular doorway is in St. Peter’s Basilica (one of the 4 Major Cathedrals in Rome, this one being where St. Peter was buried) that is only opened in a Jubilee Year.

The symbolism of it is to remind us that each and everyone of us that our lives are ultimately a Journey to our Father’s House (Heaven).  The Church is meant to be “The Father’s House” here on earth.  We go to the Church to experience the Father’s love, mercy, forgiveness.  The Door – between God and Humanity is Jesus Christ Himself.  So going to Rome, on a pilgrimage is meant to remind us of the spiritual journey that is life; Going to the Basilica is to remind us of our ultimate hope (that is going to Heaven) and the Door is Jesus Christ.

Now – the Church in her wisdom realizes that not everyone can afford a couple of thousand dollars to go to Rome on a pilgrimage (if you can, you absolutely should as it is a  life-changing experience.  Just search on the top here ROME and read all my homilies the last 4 years that I finally got over my fears of flying and went)  So the Pope has also asked every Archdiocese to have a “Holy Door” in their Cathedrals, so that people can join in this experience of pilgrimage right in their own home dioceses.  So this coming Sunday (December 13 at 12noon) the “Holy Door” will be opened at Sacred Heart Basilica in Newark by our own Archbishop John J. Myers – and there will be spiritual events throughout this year so people can experience some of the special spiritual graces the Lord bestows on His people during this Jubilee Year.
So we just had a Jubilee year 15 years ago… the year 2025 is only 10 years away.  Why bother with another Jubilee year?  Pope Francis in the 1000 days he’s been Pope (which happens to be today, December 8th, the Opening of this Jubilee of Mercy)   has been speaking boldly and directly about the difficulties, the challenges, the struggles the world is facing and that the Church is facing.  There’s intense persecution of Christians throughout the world.  There’s been scandalous failures in the Church by some of her leaders that have caused disillusionment and betrayal.  There’s frightening and atrocious examples of evil on display and to be seen (and shared) thanks to our modern technological advancements. 

Pope Francis in decreeing this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy said: 

I am confident that the whole Church, which is in such need of mercy for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time. Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always. Let us never tire of asking forgiveness. 

One of the best things to do is to perform what are called the CORPORAL WORKS OF MERCY and SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY:  
The Corporal Works of Mercy are:
  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Clothe the naked
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Visit the sick
  • Visit the imprisoned
  • Bury the dead

The Spiritual Works of Mercy

  • Admonish the sinner
  • Instruct the ignorant (This and the next work are extremely pertinent categories today, when so many people are confused by what the Church teaches on contraception, abortion, homosexuality, etc.)
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Comfort the sorrowful
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive all injuries
  • Pray for the living and the dead