By Larry Urish     11/2/2016

Following a confession on the Feast of St. Matthew in 1953, 17-year-old Jorge Mario Bergoglio felt the mercy of God, who called him to a religious life. Once ordained as a bishop years later, Bergoglio chose the words of St. Bede as his motto: “miserando atque eligendo.” Today this man, now Pope. displays the same motto on his Papal Coat of Arms. The motto means, “to be shown mercy and chosen.”

Mercy has played a significant role in the life and teachings of Pope Francis, and the concept is central to Catholicism. For example, every devout Catholics can recite the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy.

“One of the recurring themes in so many of Pope Francis’ messages has been that of God’s unfailing mercy to His people,” says Msgr. Arthur Holquin, the Diocese’s episcopal vicar for divine worship and pastor emeritus of Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano. “Because of the central role of this theme in the expansive years of [his] ministry, it’s no wonder that in his first Holy Year he would have mercy as its theme.”

The Year of Mercy began last Dec. 8 – on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the closing of Vatican II – and will conclude on Nov. 20. “This is the time for mercy,” Pope Francis has said. “It is the favorable time to heal wounds … a time to offer everyone the way of forgiveness and reconciliation.”

Regarding mercy, “He is particularly focused on consumerism,” says Father Troy Schneider, parochial vicar of Holy Family Cathedral in Orange. “He pointed out how we spend more on cosmetics and animals than we do on human beings. His own pastoral zeal is that we need to be more intentional about mercy.”

A look at this special year would be incomplete without a discussion of plenary indulgences. This Year of Mercy features a special plenary indulgence: the complete remission of all temporal punishment due to sin.

To receive the special Year of Mercy indulgence, Catholics must fulfill the “usual conditions” (more on this below) and either pass through a designated Holy Door or perform a Corporal or Spiritual Work of Mercy.

“Holy Doors are an expression of conversion,” Father Troy says. “You’re literally going through a door to Christ. You’re leaving the past and crossing the threshold from sin to grace, from slavery to freedom.”

Pope Francis started the Year of Mercy by opening the Holy Doors of St. Peter’s Basilica. The Diocese of Orange opened two, at Holy Family Cathedral and Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano, on Dec. 13, the third Sunday of Advent.

To receive a plenary indulgence, one must be in a state of grace, have complete detachment from sin, sacramentally confess his or her sins, receive the Holy Eucharist and pray for the intentions of the pope.

Thus far, the Year of Mercy has been observed with an assortment of local and international activities. On March 25, Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of Muslim, Christian and Hindu refugees, declaring them all children of the same God. On June 15, Sister Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad, who saved many Jews during World War II, was canonized, and the pope prayed, “May the Lord give me the grace to cry,” during a visit to Auschwitz on July 27. He invited 1,500 homeless people to a pizza party at the Vatican on Sept. 7.

Locally, the Diocese of Orange has celebrated the Year of Mercy with a host of activities, including the Lights On Project on Feb. 12, which assisted men and women without any resources who have been released from Santa Ana Jail; a Packing Event, which produced 200 “blessing bags” of food for the homeless on Feb. 19; an event at the Crittenton Center devoted to adolescents who are homeless or have been abused on Feb. 20; and two Feed the Homeless events, on Feb. 26 and 28. On March 4 and 5, the Diocese celebrated the Worldwide 24 Hours for the Lord, which featured Masses with Bishop Kevin Vann, prayer and pilgrim walks, a mercy messages wall, movie screenings and much more.

Those who haven’t participated in Year of Mercy activities can still get involved. “The fruit of these events include reflections from Bishop Vann and Pope Francis,” Father Troy says. “They can read some of these reflections. And the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a lot of related resources on its website.”

“There are many practical things you can do,” he adds. “The Holy Doors in the Diocese are still open. You can participate in prayer or visit pilgrimage sites in Orange County. Hopefully this will continue beyond the Year of Mercy, here and throughout the world.”

Msgr. Holquin notes the importance of having a spiritual mindset this year, and every year: “The disposition that is always required to receive the unmerited gift of God’s grace and mercy is humility and a willing desire to become that ‘new person’ in Christ. We approach the throne of God’s mercy with ‘open hands and open hearts.’”