On December 8, 2015, Pope Francis, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy – a year to learn how God forgives us and extends mercy to us. It is also a year to learn how we, in turn, are called to love as he loves, and extend that same mercy to all we meet.
This year of great mercy extends until the Feast of Christ the King on November 20, 2016. How is the celebration of this year for you? What difference has it made in your life? Let’s take a look at some of the things we could be doing to receive the graces God has ready for us. Many of us Catholics tend to remain passive, even when God holds out such grace-filled opportunities to us. Why is that? Well, often, it is because we don’t understand the part we play in God’s gifts. So let me share with you some steps I think we can take to be open to and actively seek what God has in store for us.
1. Believe that God is infinitely merciful. When we come to him with our sins and failings, acknowledge our mistakes and ask for forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation, God wipes that sin away. Your job is to repent, but God’s mercy wipes the darkness of that sin away. Truly! Of course, we do need to make a decision to work to avoid the circumstances that lead to sin, and strive as best we can not to give into temptation again. (We may fail; it takes time to break a habit or pattern of sin so don’t be discouraged.)
2. Take it back to the confessional each time. If you are sincere, the number of occurrences will honestly lessen until your sin is conquered by your willingness and God’s mercy. God makes it possible. God never says, “You have done it once too many times,” and then withholds forgiveness – never. His mercy endures forever. It is a gift beyond price. In this Year of Mercy, actively seek these graces in the confessional and perhaps in a face-to-face encounter with someone you have hurt.
3. Ask God for the grace to be a man or woman of God – a man or woman who truly reflects God’s presence by thoughts, words and actions. (That’s a way of defining holiness.) How does this look when we are relating to others whom we have hurt or who have hurt us? It means asking for forgiveness and being patient.
4. Go to the person you have hurt, and keep it simple – “I am sorry for what I said or did. I am sorry if I hurt you and I will try not to do it again.” Keep it “clean” (no excuses, no long speeches) and simple. Even if the person does not forgive right away, you have done your part. Entrust it to God. Don’t give in to anger. Just wait and pray. You may be surprised at what happens in the next week/month/year. God’s grace is always at work, but because he gave us free will, it takes time for us to ask for forgiveness; sometimes it takes time before we can forgive. Think! Pray! And act as soon as you are able.
Following these simple steps will open your heart to the joy that God gives those who follow him and obey him. As Jesus says in John’s Gospel: “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (16:22)
God has so much of his love expressed in his mercy toward us that he longs to give it. Let us take the simple – although not always easy – steps that make it possible for us to receive the love God has for us, and allow us to give it to others.