Misericordia et Misera: To extend mercy beyond the close of the Jubilee
Americans are about to celebrate their Thanksgiving holiday. This is a wonderful opportunity to reflect not only on the material gifts we have received, but also on the spiritual gifts. Which of us can fail to thank God not only for food, clothing and shelter, but for Christ, the Church, the sacramental life and our growing awareness of truth and grace? But for the mercy of God, we would not possess these goods; we would be lost in our sins.
I am particularly thankful this week for the Apostolic Letter Pope Francis issued last Sunday to mark the close of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Entitled Misericordia et Misera (Mercy with Misery), this letter highlights the “the mystery of God’s love when it touches the sinner”. It is a beautiful text which explores Divine mercy as revealed and extended in every time and place by Jesus Christ—and which manifests itself first and foremost in forgiveness.
The point of Misericordia et Misera, as we might easily guess, is that the Church’s ministry of mercy—and any growth in mercy that the faithful have experienced during the Jubilee—must not be forgotten with the closing of the Jubilee. Rather the Church and all her members must continue to extend and practice mercy with ever-greater consistency and strength:
Now, at the conclusion of this Jubilee, it is time to look to the future and to understand how best to continue, with joy, fidelity and enthusiasm, experiencing the richness of God’s mercy. Our communities can remain alive and active in the work of the new evangelization in the measure that the “pastoral conversion” to which we are called will be shaped daily by the renewing force of mercy. 
“Let us not limit its action,” Francis writes; “let us not sadden the Spirit, who constantly points out new paths to take in bringing to everyone the Gospel of salvation” (5).
Misericordia et Misera is very manageable in length. Printed from CatholicCulture.org, it fills nine pages of text, divided into the usual numbered sections. I would list the themes of these untitled sections as follows:
- Mercy as revealed in Christ
- Forgiveness as the most visible sign of the Father’s love
- The joy which follows the reception of mercy.
- Thankfulness for a renewed appreciation of mercy during the Jubilee
- The ongoing celebration of mercy
- The importance of hearing the Word of God
- The need to make Scripture better known and loved
- The great mercy of the Sacrament of Penance
- The ongoing role of the Missionaries of Mercy (special confessors)
- Careful preparation by priests for the ministry of confession
- The need for this sacrament to regain a central place in the Christian life
- The extension of the faculties for confession and absolution granted for the Jubilee
- Consolation as a fruit of mercy
- Marriage and family as a privileged locus of mercy
- Mercy’s role in the preparation for death
- Mercy and the path of charity
- The concrete commitment to mercy, as exemplified in the Jubilee’s Fridays of mercy
- The creativity of mercy in response to so many needs
- Recognition of new paths for mercy in response to new challenges
- Promotion of a culture of mercy, to transform every aspect of life
- Why “the time of mercy” is now
- The inspiration and counsel of Mary, Mother of Mercy
Although Pope Francis does not further clarify how mercy is to be applied in the complex situations created by invalid marriages, as discussed in Amoris Laetitia, in this apostolic letter he emphasizes that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the key to helping persons in difficult situations:
We confessors have experienced many conversions that took place before our very eyes. We feel responsible, then, for actions and words that can touch the heart of penitents and enable them to discover the closeness of the Father who forgives. Let us not lose such occasions by acting in a way that can contradict the experience of mercy that the penitent seeks. Rather, let us help light up the space of personal conscience with God’s infinite love (cf. 1 Jn 3:20). 
I encourage a prayerful reading of Misericordia et Misera. It makes excellent spiritual reading to help us grow in that mercy through which the Father reaches out again and again to embrace those who so deeply need the liberating power of His perfect love.
Pope Francis has given us a deep and fruitful reflection on mercy along with several concrete suggestions for actualizing greater mercy in the life of the Church. Perhaps something the pope wrote in section 16, on mercy as the path of charity, best captures the main point of the letter:
The desire for closeness to Christ requires us to draw near to our brothers and sisters, for nothing is more pleasing to the Father than a true sign of mercy. By its very nature, mercy becomes visible and tangible in specific acts. Once mercy has been truly experienced, it is impossible to turn back. It grows constantly and it changes our lives.
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