I suspect that Pope Francis’ decision to declare a Jubilee Year of Mercy may turn out to be the most radical action of his papacy.
We had a Jubilee Year at the Millennium, which was also a great opportunity, but turned out to be a disappointment. The reason for that was that the Church at the time was too tied into rigidity. There was no sense of generosity, or of mercy, among those in charge both in the Vatican and at national level. The Irish bishops had no courage, and were completely submissive to the Vatican directions. Many people at the time called for a great symbolic act of reconciliation and forgiveness, built around the celebration of General Absolution. But the authorities held firm, and absolutely refused to allow it. Looking back now it is hard to work out why that gesture wasn’t made, why people in power were so hung on laws and rules.
But I am full of hope that this time it will be different. By the very fact that he is calling it a Year of Mercy, Francis is already setting the tone. A year that has mercy, reconciliation and welcome at its core will be a wonderful time in our Church.
But we cannot expect Francis to do it all for us. This time our bishops will have to take the initiative, set aside the rigidity, and open the doors of welcome to all people. Priests too will need to be courageous. They will need to stop looking over their shoulder wondering what the bishop will think, and let the love and mercy of God flow freely.
I am really hopeful it will happen, and that next year will turn out to be a year to remember in our Church, a year of grace for all of us.