This past June, I had an incredible opportunity to visit Rome. I was chosen to help lead a group of high school students on a pilgrimage to learn about the history of the Church and its impact on the world. My time in Rome was unbelievable. Filled with walking, gelato, museums, delicious food, more walking and visiting incredible places of history like the Coliseum, the Pantheon and, of course, St. Peter’s Basilica.
On the day we visited the Vatican City, the magnificence of St. Peter’s Basilica was striking from blocks away. With every step down the Piazza, the church became more beautiful and more awe-inspiring. We wanted to stop every few feet to take a new picture.
As we rounded the corner towards the entrance we noticed there were many doors to enter, but one in particular had a long line with lots of people taking pictures. We couldn’t quite see what the holdup was so we asked our guide, who told us that this was the Holy Door of Mercy, only open in Jubilee years. So naturally, we jumped in line. We couldn’t pass up this once-in-a-lifetime experience to enter through the Door of Mercy.
On December 8, 2015 Pope Francis opened the door at St. Peter’s Basilica to begin the Jubilee year. During a Jubilee Year (which in Jewish tradition occurred every 50 years), Jewish people were instructed to forgive debts, free slaves and give back land that was paid due to debt. The point in doing this was to remind Jewish people of the mercy they had received from God.
Pope Francis called for a Year of Mercy to help the Church remember the same thing. We are to give mercy to others because we have received mercy from God. That is why the motto for the Year of Mercy is “To be merciful like the Father.” In Jesus’ life, we see tangible ways we can do this.
Through Corporal Works of Mercy we extend God’s mercy to people’s concrete needs when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead. Through Spiritual Works of Mercy we extend God’s compassion by tending to a person’s spirit, heart, and mind when we counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently and pray for the living and the dead.
These works of mercy can restore the world into right relationships because when people see us acting in these ways, even toward those they believe do not deserve it, they begin to see the world in a new way—in the way God sees it. The Year of Mercy therefore becomes a season for Christians to become “stronger and more effective” witnesses to the faith we proclaim, changed both by contemplating the depths of God’s mercy and by imitating Christ in the world today (Misericordiae Vultus, No. 3).
As I walked through the Holy Door of Mercy and came into St. Peter’s Basilica, I gasped. There was so much to look at, I froze. I didn’t know where to start. The sheer size alone was spectacular. The ornate details and amount of history that was within this one building was so much to take in. It was overwhelming in the best sense.
I only had a small amount of time in this incredible place before our lunch reservation, so I jumped into action. I rushed around trying to see, touch, photograph and remember everything. I knew I could never see it all in my limited time, but I gave it my best shot. Two hours of exploring and admiring flew by before my group suddenly surrounded me and pulled me out the door, anxious to get to lunch. I didn’t want to leave.
I want others to have that same feeling. To walk through the doors of the church and be so amazed, they don’t want to leave. In order for that to happen, I must do my part. I must be a door stopper—holding the door open to the Church for others to walk through. Living my life in such a way that it gives others a sneak peek of what’s inside, so that they are drawn to walk through and “experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.” The Year of Mercy ends on November 20th, but we can still hold on to a lifestyle of mercy, holding the door open for others to walk through.
You can hear more about living out the call to Mercy at our next all-parish faith formation event. We have these events a few times a year for all ages to gather together for prayer and learning. There is no pre-registration and these events are free.
On Wednesday, November 16th at 6:30pm, Dr. Jeffrey Kaster will be our special guest. He is the Director of Youth in Theology and Ministry and Adjunct Professor of Theology at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary. He will remind us that “mercy through evangelization and discipleship is not just a one year event, but a calling from Jesus Christ for ongoing conversion and evangelization.”
I hope to see you there; and if someone comes to mind that you can invite to attend this event with you, please do!
Coordinator of Youth Ministry & Catechesis for Grades 6-8