About The “Year of Mercy”

December 8, 2015 - November 20, 2016

Pope Francis opens the doors of the Cathedral of Bangui, Central African Republic, for the “Year of Mercy.”

Pope Francis has declared the period between the recent Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 2015) until the Feast of Christ the King (November 20, 2016), the “Year of Mercy.”  Rooting the Church’s renewed focus on Divine Mercy in the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is wonderful.

Mary is the first Christian to receive God’s Mercy, the first to be saved: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk 1:46-47).  Mary calls God “Savior” not because he has saved her from any actual sins, but he has saved her for himself.  The New Eve receives salvation at the moment of her conception, so as to be able to offer to the New Adam her unsullied and undivided humanity.  She is the Mother of All Mercy, proven some 15 or so years after her Immaculate Conception, as she is able to provide God with the perfect humanity he needs to save the world.  For the salvation that Christians preach is not one of power, or even of spirit, but rather it is a helpless child who simply wants the world to receive him.  In Mary, God calibrates his greatness to our littleness, his power to our weakness.  This is the great “jest” of the Incarnation, Chesterton illustrates so beautifully: the great “joke” is that power is now defeated by smallness, and that the Almighty comes to us as a newborn babe.

The Year of Mercy!  What else should we expect from a man who has chosen “Miserando atque eligendo” for his papal motto? “Jesus hence sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy {miserando} and by choosing {eligendo}, says to him, ‘Follow Me’” (from Venerable Bede’s “Commentary on Matthew”).

The official logo for this “Year of Mercy” will be misunderstood and mocked by many.  The fusion of the eyes between the Good Shepherd, and the “everyman” in need of Christ’s elevating mercy, has already been called “monstrous,” and some amateur theologians have even called Francis’ Christology into question.  Artistic tastes aside, here the cry of the poor becomes the cry of the Crucified, the cry from the Cross is echoed through the inner-cities of America, the cafes of Paris, and the slums of Uganda.  This is the great exchange of Christmas: God becomes a man, so we men and women can become God’s.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, God’s mercy is at the heart of all his actions toward creatures.  Whereas love is the expected attribute between equals, mercy is what motivates a  superior to grant a subordinate any good thing.  Creation is the primal act of mercy, bringing out of nothing that which has absolutely no claim of its own, not even to existence itself!

This is why Francis can open Misericordiae Vultus by asserting that, “Mercy reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.  Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us” (MV §2).  Here, he is picking up on the Thomistic understanding that “mercy takes precedence of other virtues, for it belongs to mercy to be bountiful to others, and, what is more, to succor others in their wants, which pertains chiefly to one who stands above. Hence, mercy is accounted as being proper to God: and therein, his omnipotence is declared to be chiefly manifested” (Summa Theologiae II-II, 30, art. 4, resp.).

As Francis has lived his priesthood, and as he is trying to encourage in his papacy, this act of mercy must be the distinguishing mark of the Christian, as it is the characteristic attribute of the Perfect God toward his (very) imperfect creatures:

In this Holy Year, we look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society: fringes which modern society itself creates. How many uncertain and painful situations there are in the world today! How many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich! During this Jubilee, the Church will be called even more to heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy, and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care. Let us not fall into humiliating indifference, or a monotonous routine, that prevents us from discovering what is new! Let us ward off destructive cynicism! Let us open our eyes, and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters, who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! May we reach out to them, and support them, so they can feel the warmth of our presence, our friendship, and our fraternity! May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme, and mask our hypocrisy and egoism! —Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus §15.

Mercy is not forgetting what sinners have ruined; mercy is not dismissing as insignificant what brutal men and women have inflicted on one another.  For God to be merciful is not for God to be senile.  He does not forget our sins, but instead, through the Cross, weaves our imperfections into a beautiful life.  Through grace, God shows us his power, not only to forgive, but to make right the waywardness that is ours.

In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrote how this is very much against our sensibilities, this perfect reconciliation of love and mercy: “We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven, as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, liked to see ‘young people enjoying themselves,’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’ … I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.”  Love means not dismissing, but forgiving; not rejecting, but redeeming.  If Christ can forgive his persecutors at the very moment of his crucifixion, how much more readily should I be able to love those who have wronged me!

So, I thank Francis for this renewed look on mercy.  I think many of us who care deeply about our Church realize that Francis’ pontificate has been “bruised” through the Synod on the Family, and his more recent comments to a Lutheran wife of a faithful Catholic has left many of us confused as well.  Unlike John Paul II, Francis is not able to work huge crowds, and have them hang on his every well-thought-out word.  Unlike Benedict, Francis is admittedly not an erudite theologian for whom definitions and distinctions carry the day.  But Francis is opening hearts, and hopefully minds, because he is convinced of God’s incessant mercy to all of us.  He may speak too inexactly, but people do hear mercy in his every word.  Maybe we could have more mercy on him.

The Holy Father has set aside the following dates in 2016 for parishes to think about God’s divine mercy. How will you focus yourself, and your people, on God’s misericordia? This might be the time to restock your bookstores with Sr. Faustina’s Diary, or to rethink the placing of your Sacred Heart imagery.  It is certainly the time to preach, in and out of season (2 Tim 4:2), God’s loving concern for each and every one of us, to win people back to Christ’s only true Church, where mercy is celebrated and thus received—“Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy…”—and where the broken, poor heart can finally know the love that redeems.

2016 Dates of Which to be Mindful:

January 19-21: Organization and Call of Pilgrimages

February 10 (Ash Wednesday): Designation of the Missionaries of Mercy

April 3: Celebration of All Christians Engaged in Works of Mercy

April 24: Celebration of World Youth Day for younger teens, ages 13-16

May 29: Celebration of the Deacons

June 3: Celebration of Priests (160 year Anniversary of the Beginning of the Sacred Heart)

June 12: Gathering for the Disabled

July 26-31: World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland

September 25: Celebration of Catechists

October 9: Celebration of Mary, Mother of Mercy

November 6: Mercy for the Imprisoned              

All Events are at: www.iubilaeummisericordiae.va


David Vincent Meconi, SJ About David Vincent Meconi, SJ

Fr. David Meconi, SJ is professor of patristic theology at St. Louis University and editor of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review (HPR). Fr. Meconi would like you to know that he offers Mass each month for readers of HPR; please be assured of his prayers for you.


  1. Avatar Tom McGuire says:

    What I find remarkable about Francis, Bishop of Rome, is his imitation of Jesus. His words do cause consternation and confusion, as did Jesus’ words. Jesus spoke in parables. Francis tells stories, especially of the poor. We are so used to the rigid categories of Philosophy and Theology that we are not able to pastorally encounter Christ in the common person, especially the poor. Francis is showing us the way of the Gospel. We cannot expect that way to be free of conflict. Jesus’ ministry was full of conflict and He ended up executed. We must experience conflict and learn to die to our self assurance and pride of self righteousness.

    • Avatar Dave Jamieson says:

      Tom, I admire your loyalty and desire to see the good in Francis’ efforts. Alas, I believe he is proving to be sadly ill-equipped for the office and therefore suffers greatly in comparison with his two immediate predecessors as gently inferred by Fr. Meconi. The pope must bring light and truth to bear in his message of mercy, not obfuscation and accommodation which results in false mercy.