Year of Mercy
Pope Francis has declared 2016 to be a Holy Year of Mercy, a particular time of reflecting on and living out mercy, running from 8 December 2015 to 20 November 2016.
The Catholic Church traditionally celebrates a Holy Year every 25 years - a special time of forgiveness and reconciliation, drawing on the ancient Jewish tradition of celebrating a Jubilee year of rest and forgiveness every 50 years.
The Holy Year of Mercy is an “extraordinary” year in addition to the regular 25 year cycle. The Pope has emphasised the importance of mercy as the primary response of the Church to our hurt and broken world, as well as the importance of the Church receiving mercy.
In declaring this “extraordinary” Holy Year, Pope Francis is calling on all people, and in particular those identifying with the Church, to reflect on, receive and respond to others with mercy.
Mercy is a universal virtue esteemed by many religions. The Year of Mercy is also a time for the Catholic Church to unite with others around common values and increase understanding and respectful engagement with people of different religions.
"If people are hurt, what does Jesus do? Scold them because they are hurt?
No, he comes and he carries them on his shoulders. And this is called mercy."
Pope Francis, Homily, March 2015.
In Western culture mercy is generally thought of as having pity and withholding a just punishment. In the Catholic tradition however, mercy is understood as something more like compassion than pity. Mercy is the opposite of indifference.
The word word “mercy” comes from the Latin “misericordia” – a combination of heart (“cor”) and suffering or need (“misori”). This word can be translated as “having a heart for those who are suffering”. Mercy, then is being moved to respond to another’s suffering. This, Pope Francis emphasises, is the real heart of God, and the central mission of the Church.
In this Holy Year, the Pope is passionately encouraging the Church to come back to its central mission of reflecting the heart of God - responding to others with a message of acceptance and compassion.
This expression of mercy is the core work of Catholic social service agencies, who everyday assist those in need and offer solidarity to the vulnerable. These works of mercy are not just about what we do as social service agencies, but how we do it. Our agencies respond to every client with respect as we believe in the dignity and value of every person.
The message of mercy, of acceptance and grace for all people, is communicated through Catholic social service agencies’ emphasis on serving anyone, regardless of religious, cultural or social background.
Catholic teaching upholds seven physical and seven spiritual “works of mercy” drawn from Jesus’ teaching. These works of mercy, which include feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger and attending to the sick, aim to redress all forms of poverty, whether economic, relational or spiritual. The services provided by Catholic social service agencies are continual expressions of such “works of mercy”, recognising and responding to the needs of vulnerable people and communities across Australia.
This Holy Year of Mercy is an opportunity to celebrate the work of Catholic social service agencies and reflect more deeply on our services as expressions of mercy.
For Catholic social services, the Year of Mercy is a time to celebrate and reflect both as local agencies and as those belonging to a broader network.
Joining with the wider celebrations of the charitable works of the Church throughout Lent, CSSA is inviting members to plan a particular event or activity in the week of 7-11 March to reflect on mercy. Please get in contact with CSSA if you would like ideas on how to celebrate the Year of Mercy. Email Ingrid.Hatfield@CSSA.org.au or phone (02) 62851366.
There are opportunities also for agencies to connect with the plans and resources of local Dioceses. A list of each Diocese’ planned activities is available on the website of the National Office for Evangelisation. (http://www.evangeliseaustralia.com/year-of-mercy/year-of-mercy.html)
As part of wider celebrations of the Year of Mercy, the Pope has invited all those serving in the charitable works of the Church to plan a particular day of reflection during the season of Lent. This is an opportunity for staff and volunteers of Catholic social service agencies to celebrate and reflect more deeply on their work as expressions of mercy.
CSSA is calling on agencies to plan a particular event or activity to facilitate this reflection during the week of 7-11 March. Ideas and resources to facilitate reflection are provided below, these can be easily adapted to ensure relevance for those participating.
The week of 7-11 March will be a particular time to foster celebration of Catholic identity and enhance our sense of connection and relationship to the wider expression of the ministry of the Catholic Church. It is also an opportunity to consider the essence of mercy and what it means in everyday human life, particularly as we serve those experiencing disadvantage and exclusion from society.
Please let CSSA know how you will be celebrating the Year of Mercy throughout the week of 7-11 March so we can share your ideas, photos and stories with the wider network.
Ideas and resources: reflecting on mercy
Here are some ideas for reflecting on mercy individually or with staff groups. Download a printable version.
What is Mercy anyway?
- During a staff gathering spend time hearing from each person what mercy means to them and how they put it into practice in their work. Collect some of the key themes and definitions that emerge. Is there somewhere you can share these across the agency. Put them on a notice board or in the weekly email update.
- Create a “Mercy is….” Wall. Invite staff and others to put quotes and thoughts about mercy on sticky notes. Stick the notes together on a wall near where people congregate during their everyday activities to spark conversations.
- What images speak of mercy? Create a space where staff can bring in images or objects that remind them of mercy and what it means to them.
Reflecting on mercy
- One definition for mercy that is relevant for your work is “mercy is being moved to respond to another’s suffering”. Spend time in a staff gathering to discuss this definition.
- Do people agree with this definition?
- What are some of the things that prevent us from showing mercy in our lives and in our work?
- What do we need to be able to move in mercy?
- Where do we need mercy in our own lives?
- The gospel stories give us illustrations of mercy in action. For some people the story that reflects mercy for them is the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25) or the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11). Spend time in a staff gathering sharing the stories that show mercy.Use the CSSA prayer of mercy for social services in staff meetings and at other occasions. Encourage staff to have it handy as a reminder.
- What is happening in the story that reflects mercy?
- What is the impact on the characters?
- What is the impact on me?
- Use the CSSA prayer of mercy for social services in staff meetings and at other occasions. Encourage staff to have it handy as a reminder.
Connecting with others around the theme of mercy
- What are your local Diocese and other Catholic social service agencies in your area doing to mark the Year of Mercy?
- In partnership with others celebrate a mass – see Liturgical resources from Cor Unum in the resource list above.
- Share what you are doing and the insights from these activities. Write an article for your local Catholic media. Share on social media. Let CSSA know and we’ll include it in our promotion of the Year of Mercy and what it means for the work of social services.
- Official Year of Mercy website: http://www.im.va/content/gdm/en.html
- Declaration of the Holy Year of Mercy (Bull of Indiction): https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco_bolla_20150411_misericordiae-vultus.html
- National Office for Evangelisation (coordinating response in Australia, lists Diocesan activities/resources): http://www.evangeliseaustralia.com/year-of-mercy/year-of-mercy.html
- prayer (Papal and Catholic social services)
- Liturgical resources Cor Unum material for animation http://www.corunumjubilaeum.va/content/dam/corunumexpo/pdf-giubileo/ENG%20F%20Giubileo%202016%20ritiro%20op%20servizio%20carita%CC%80.pdf
- Hymn http://www.im.va/content/gdm/en/giubileo/inno.html
- Images for reflection: parables of mercy (Archdiocese of Melbourne) http://www.cam.org.au/Portals/52/Year%20of%20Mercy/Parables%20of%20Mercy%20resource_reservationform.pdf
- Xt3 Lenten app from Google Play or iTunes
- reflection Bp Tomlinson meaning of mercy http://mediablog.catholic.org.au/seeing-mercy-as-an-action-word/
- article, Our Sunday Visitor, For Pope Francis, Why Mercy and Why Now? Our Sunday Visitor