Monday, December 7, 2015

Year of Mercy

Brother John Kiesler, OFM is a member of the facility of the Franciscan School of Theology in California. Brother John is a member of the Formation Facility for long-term missionaries through Mission Doctors and presents at the Annual Retreat Seminar on the theology of mission. Additionally he serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Mission Doctors Association.

We recently asked him: "How can we speak about the Year of Mercy in light of our work?" 

His answer:
As you may recall from Old Testament studies, one feature of early Israelite society was the Jubilee time every seven years- a time to re-balance life and society. This took very concrete forms: fields were to lie fallow for a year; debts were forgiven; and land sold after the previous Jubilee was returned to the original owners. The scriptural foundation for this practice is found in the Book of Leviticus Chapter 25. Additionally, there was a major Jubilee year every 50 years.

The Church historically took up this idea, not in terms of social re-adjustments, but in declaring every 50 years a Holy Year, a year of Jubilee, marked by special indulgences, special penance services and a time for reflection on God's mercy.

In more recent times this Jubilee year has continued every fifty years but additionally some popes have declared special Jubilee years to encourage penance, forgiveness and reconciliation.

So what about the 'year of mercy'? On April 11 of this year Pope Francis in a bull of indiction declared the period from December 8, 2015 until November 20, 2016 (the Feast of Christ the King!) to be an extraordinary year of Jubilee (meaning that it does not fall in the normal 50 year cycle[verses. 4-5]). In the document Misericoriae Vultus the Pope picked December 8 in order to point to Mary as Mother of Mercy as well as a celebration of the fifty years since the close of the Second Vatican Council.

In Misericoriae Vultus the Pope calls for this year to be a time of repentance, pilgrimage and the granting of special indulgences to sinners in order to remind us of God’s great mercy (verses 12-14; 22). It also calls for the faithful to pay special attention to the poor and marginalized: "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 the modern society creates." (verse 15). It is the hope that Catholics would re-awaken a sense of mercy as well as "...Reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty." (verse 15). This concern is more than a new awareness of the poor but a call for action as Pope Francis says: "Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy.... (verse 15). Finally, there is a discussion on need for confessors, “ missionaries of mercy” and a communal Church to witness of mercy.

As you can see this fits very well with a call for Catholics to be mindful of our brothers and sisters in need of medical care in poorer parts of the world!

The document in its entirety (only 21 pages) can be found on line at 

I hope that this helps and if you have any other questions please ask.
Brother John Kiesler,OFM