'Misericordia et misera' and where we go from here

Pope Francis closed the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica on Nov. 20, effectively ending the Jubilee Year of Mercy, but he made it clear in no uncertain terms that even though the calendar says the year is over, mercy never ends.

In fact, to underscore his point, Pope Francis released an apostolic letter, Misericordia et misera (“Mercy with misery”), at the year’s conclusion “to point out the path that we are called to follow in the future.”

The headline-grabbing portion of this letter comes from Pope Francis’ declaration that he is extending to all priests the ability to absolve the sin of abortion (priests in the United States already have this ability). But there is much more to this rich text.

“In this Holy Year, the Church listened attentively and experienced intensely the presence and closeness of the Father, who with the Holy Spirit has enabled her to see with greater clarity the gift and mandate of Jesus Christ regarding forgiveness,” Pope Francis wrote. “It has truly been like a new visitation of the Lord among us. We have felt his life-giving breath poured out upon the Church and, once again, his words have pointed out our mission: “Receive the Holy Spirit: if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23).

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As we end the jubilee, Pope Francis said it was “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,” he wrote. “Let us not limit its action; let us not sadden the Spirit, who constantly points out new paths to take in bringing to everyone the Gospel of salvation.”

The Holy Father encourages the celebration of mercy within the context of the liturgy. He encourages frequent participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, especially during the annual Lenten 24 Hours for the Lord, and a greater devotion to Scripture — even encouraging parishes to spend one weekend a year promoting the word. He also encourages continued performance of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, with particular attention to the poor and those at the peripheries of life. But perhaps most importantly, Pope Francis reminds us that mercy begins at home in family life.

“The grace of the Sacrament of Marriage not only strengthens the family to be a privileged place for practicing mercy, but also commits the Christian community and all its pastoral activity to uphold the great positive value of the family,” he writes.

As we go forth from the Year of Mercy, may each of us remember to choose mercy whenever we can in our daily lives and, as such, extend it to the world.