Every fifty years, the Church celebrates a Jubilee year, a time dedicated to reflecting on God’s forgiveness, providence and mercy. This year, the Church celebrates the Jubilee of Mercy and Pope Francis has called it an Extraordinary Jubilee in order to place a special focus on the theme: Merciful like the Father.
“…The Church, in this time of great historical change, is called to offer more evident signs of God’s presence and closeness,” said Pope Francis during his homily on Divine Mercy Sunday last year. “The Holy Year must keep alive the desire to know how to welcome the numerous signs of the tenderness which God offers to the whole world and above all, to those who suffer, who are alone and abandoned, without hope of being pardoned or feeling the Father’s love. A Jubilee to receive the warmth of his love… A year in which to be touched by the Lord Jesus and to be transformed by his mercy, so that we may become witness to mercy.”
Pope Francis began the Jubilee year with the opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica on December 8, 2015, during the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Dioceses around the world followed suit with the blessing of a Door of Mercy in their locally designated cathedrals. In the Diocese of Orange, Bishop Vann opened a Holy Door at Mission Basilica in San Juan Capistrano and another at Holy Family Cathedral in Orange.
“The door is a powerful and profound symbolic reminder that God’s mercy is the open door that leads to our heavenly reward,” explains Father Gerald Horan, episcopal vicar for faith formation for the Diocese. “Passage through the Holy Door and the completion of specified devotional acts imparts a special grace called an ‘indulgence.’ The Holy Father has directed that every local church should designate special pilgrimage sites with a Door of Mercy so that all the faithful, even those who cannot journey to Rome, will have the grace of this special year available and accessible to them.”
The diocese has scheduled events throughout the year to connect the faithful with opportunities for spiritual or corporal works of mercy. One such event last February included feeding the hungry, where volunteers handed out breakfast and hygiene packages to the homeless in Santa Ana. Another event invited volunteers to visit the Crittenton Center where adolescents who are homeless or victims of abuse and human trafficking seek help. The biggest event of the year was 24 Hours With the Lord, held in March.
“We had a multifaceted 24 Hours With the Lord event with confession and services at Christ Cathedral. It also included adoration and children events and pilgrimage opportunities. It was very well received and a very positive experience for all the people who participated,” said Katie Dawson, director of Parish Faith Formation at the Diocese. “People came to confession at 2 in the morning and 4 in the morning. It was a very beautiful experience for everyone who participated.”
Also at Christ Cathedral Cultural Center, people are invited to experience the Stations of Mercy.
“They are places on the campus that are connected to one of the spiritual or corporal works of mercy,” said Father Christopher Smith, rector at Christ Cathedral. “People can walk the campus, praying the Stations of Mercy. We have a booklet that goes with reflections or prayers so that not only is it a matter of coming to the campus and viewing the physical campus, but it’s a way for the campus to remind us that we are always there to be people of mercy as Catholics.”
Although the Jubilee Year of Mercy will come to a close on the Feast of the Solemnity of Christ the King, November 20, God’s mercy continues on.
“We will continue to focus on mercy because we live in a world that is desperate for it,” said Dawson. “Human beings are somehow deeply suspicious of religion and God and are often expecting that God is sitting in judgment of them when He really is extending mercy and love to every human being. This is the message that we have to proclaim to the world; that God is a welcoming Father who wants to extend mercy and love to us.”
Father Horan added: “In our age, it is difficult to think of any commodity a gift or an object that is freely given. Most things that we get are merited, earned, purchased or obtained. Mercy is the gift of the Father’s love. It is freely given. Not because we earn or deserve it. This notion of the Father’s freely given love is the foundation of everything that we believe about God’s interaction with us and his presence in our lives. It is the realization that we have been created out of God’s love, we are sustained by that love and that God’s love is our purpose, our future and our hope. That love becomes most concrete in the person and saving work of Jesus who is the face of the Father’s mercy.”