The Jubilee Year of Mercy begins on December 8, 2015. Here are some practices to integrate into your prayer time, starting now, to open your heart to the Holy Spirit and prepare to “live” mercy during the Jubilee Year.
1. Pray for awareness of God in your own life. Where is God’s grace present in your daily life? In the communities you are part of? Next, pray for awareness of how you are in need of God’s love and mercy. Where is there brokenness in your relationship with yourself, God, other people, and creation?
2. Pray with the Gospel. Mercy, Pope Francis says, is “the beating heart of the Gospel.” Prayerfully read these parables devoted to mercy: the lost sheep (Lk. 15:1-7), the lost coin (Lk. 15:8-10), and the lost son (Lk. 15:9-32). Consider: What do these parables reveal about the Father’s attitude towards those who are lost? Read the parables again, imagining yourself as the lost sheep, coin, and son. How does it feel to be found or forgiven? Read the parables a third time, imagining that the lost sheep, coin, or son is someone who is marginalized or at the periphery. How does the Father extend mercy to the one who is lost? How have you practiced mercy towards those on the periphery? Open yourself to what God may be saying to you through these passages.
3. Encounter. We open ourselves to the Father’s mercy, Pope Francis writes, when we look “sincerely” into the eyes of our brothers and sisters—including those “who are denied their dignity.” Who are you called to encounter? Perhaps it is an estranged family member or neighbor, or someone of a different culture, religion, socioeconomic status, or political viewpoint. Ask the Holy Spirit to prepare your heart to be open, your ears to listen, and your eyes to adopt Jesus’ gaze towards the “other.” Parishes or communities desiring to facilitate a communal experience of encounter may find this resource useful.
4. Prepare to be merciful. Consider the spiritual works of mercy (counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead), and the corporal works of mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead). Which of each do you find easiest? Which do you find more difficult? Where do you need to grow? Select one work to practice each week. During your prayer time each evening, check in about how you are doing and ask for God’s help.
5. We’re in it together. Individual acts are important, and our collective actions and decisions help create spaces for grace—or structures of sin. As a society, and in our laws and policies, where do we practice mercy? Where do we fail to extend mercy? In our families, parishes, schools, neighborhoods, towns, nation and world, to whom do we extend mercy? From whom do we withhold it? How does this help or hurt all of us?
These exercises for prayer and reflection are only a start. Preparing our hearts for the Jubilee Year can help us live out Pope Francis’ vision in Evangelii Gaudium of a Church, which, “guided by the Gospel of mercy and by love for mankind, hears the cry for justice” and responds to Jesus’ command by Mk. 6:37 by “working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty” (no. 188). We start with prayer, then reach out to encounter others. Then we learn and discern together about how we might be called to act. The Jubilee Year of Mercy is the perfect opportunity to engage this process. Let’s get started!