The Year of Mercy is ending, but the world needs mercy now more than ever.
Last spring, Pope Francis announced an extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy. As he celebrated a penitential service in St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis asked his flock to be an example of compassion in the world: “I am convinced that the whole church — which has much need to receive mercy, because we are sinners — will find in this jubilee the joy to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are all called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.”
“I will heal their defection, I will love them freely; for my wrath is turned away from them.”
Mercy is the voluntary choosing of compassion over punishment. The merciful person forgives others, even when it is within one’s rights to reprimand.
The pope went on to remind his audience, “God forgives, and God forgives always.”
The jubilee year began on December 8th, 2015, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and ends November 20th.
Over the past year, Catholics have been encouraged to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation more frequently — to acknowledge the limitless mercy of God by seeking His forgiveness.
Sunday homilies have revisited the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, ways for Catholics to alleviate the emotional and material needs of others, such as visiting the sick and imprisoned, feeding the hungry, and comforting the sorrowful. Throughout this holy year, Catholics have sought God’s mercy, and tried to live out His compassion and forgiveness in their daily lives.
As the year draws to a close, consider the book of Hosea. In the Old Testament, God tells the prophet Hosea to marry a “harlot wife,” a woman who will not remain faithful to him. Hosea obeys, and the couple becomes a living representation of God’s mercy. The struggles between Hosea and his wife are symbolic of the turbulent relationship between God and Israel. The woman continuously reverts to her sinful habits, yet finds her way back into sin overgrown with thorns of remorse.
The book rebukes the people of Israel for their infidelities. Pages and pages are dedicated to Israel’s unfaithfulness.
“Come, let us return to the Lord.”
God says He will be like a lion, a panther, a bear: He will “devour them” for the sins they have committed against him. Yet the justified reproaches are followed by some of the most beautiful verses in the Old Testament. God promises that if Israel returns to Him, He will be merciful:
“I will heal their defection, I will love them freely; for my wrath is turned away from them. I will be like the dew for Israel: He shall blossom like the lily; He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar, And put forth his shoots… I have humbled him, But I will prosper him.” (Hosea 14:5-9)
Israel turns her back on God, but her lover acts differently. Although her crimes merit severe punishment, God offers forgiveness.
The virtue of mercy hasn’t played a significant part in American conversation over the past two weeks. Rather, discussions on social media and elsewhere have been dominated by criticism of political factions, college cry-ins, protests, and the myriad problems that face the new Trump administration next year.
It’s interesting that the final days of the Year of Mercy should coincide with one of the most controversial and emotionally charged presidential elections in U.S. history. For the first time in decades, many conservative Christians consider themselves winners.
The sudden and unexpected triumph of conservatism over the past couple of weeks has given Christians new hope that the social and ethical battles they have fought for years will finally be resolved. Causes once labeled hopeless have been revived. Many Christians, even those who did not approve of or vote for Donald Trump, were elated to watch the Clinton campaign crumble on election night. In the wake of this revolutionary election, it is important to remember the message of Hosea: Just as God will never give up on His people, His people must never give up on others.
Is it any coincidence that so many people need compassion at the same time that the Year of Mercy draws to a close? If Christians believe they have missed the mercy cutoff, they are wrong. Jubilee years are not a one-time celebration — they are a means of highlighting virtues that Christians are meant to demonstrate every day of their lives. The Year of Mercy was not merely a celebration — it was a springboard.
Let the church resolve, as this year ends, that the value of mercy will not be forgotten. “Come, let us return to the Lord,” says the prophet Hosea, “for it is He who has rent, but He will heal us. He has struck us, but He will bind our wounds.”