|The Jubilee Year of Mercy will begin on Tuesday, Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Sisters of Mercy were founded by Catherine McAuley to offer God's mercy to others. During the Year of Mercy, the Sisters of Mercy will celebrate the 150th anniversary of their arrival in Nashville. Sister Maris Stella Mogan, RSM, prays with other members of her community in the chapel at the Mercy Convent in Nashville. Photo by Andy Telli
On Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis will open the Holy Door of the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican and lead the Church into the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
He will call the faithful in the coming months onto a path toward conversion. “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith,” Pope Francis wrote in “Misericordiae Vultus,” the document that proclaims the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. “We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it.”
“Conversion begins with a realization of God’s love and mercy,” said Sister Suzanne Stalm, a Sister of Mercy for 50 years whose order was founded in 1831 to extend God’s mercy to others. “It begins the awareness, and then really the more deeply we are aware of God’s mercy the only response is to be mercy.”
Pope Francis made a similar point in “Miscericordiae Vultus.” “Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are,” he wrote. “In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us.”
Catherine McAuley opened the first House of Mercy to serve the poor, the uneducated and the homeless. As the order has grown over nearly two centuries spreading around the globe, the Sisters of Mercy have continued to follow Catherine McAuley’s lead by reaching out in mercy to those in need.
“As Sisters of Mercy rooted in the spirituality of Catherine McAuley, we embrace prayer and service,” said Sister Suzanne, coordinator of the retreat ministry at the Mercy Convent in Nashville. “We recognize God’s mercy in our daily lives, and respond by offering ourselves to be a merciful presence to others.”
That merciful presence is still exhibited in the Diocese of Nashville in education, parish ministry, counseling, spiritual direction, hospital and homebound visitations, prison ministry, homeless ministry, hospice ministry and retreat ministry.
“Mercy is God’s work. How can people receive mercy if there are not people out there to extend mercy?” Sister Suzanne said.
The call to be merciful extends beyond the clergy and religious. Especially during this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis is asking everyone to show mercy to those in need. He is urging people to practice the works of mercy, including the spiritual – to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to admonish sinners, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive offenses willingly, to comfort the afflicted, and to pray for the living and the dead – and the corporal – to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, to visit the sick, to visit the imprisoned, and to bury the dead.
“I have asked the Church in this Jubilee Year to rediscover the richness encompassed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy,” the pope has written. “The experience of mercy, indeed, becomes visible in the witness of concrete signs as Jesus himself taught us.”
“We as Sisters of Mercy believe that mercy can be and needs to be extended to every person. Every person is deserving of mercy,” Sister Suzanne said. “We extend it and … they are free to accept it or not accept it.”
“God never tires of reaching out to us,” Pope Francis wrote. “He is always ready to listen, as I am too, along with my brother bishops and priests. All one needs to do is to accept the invitation to conversion and submit oneself to justice during this special time of mercy offered by the Church.”
During the Jubilee Year, Pope Francis is encouraging the faithful to seek forgiveness and God’s mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“Let us place the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the center once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands,” the pope wrote. “For every penitent, it will be a source of true interior peace.”
Just as the pope will open a Holy Door of Mercy at St. Peter’s, he has called on every local church to do the same on Sunday, Dec. 13, the Third Sunday of Advent. Bishop David Choby of Nashville will open a Holy Door of Mercy at both the Cathedral of the Incarnation and at St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows Church in downtown Nashville, which was the diocese’s second cathedral.
Also during the Year of Mercy people will be able to obtain an indulgence, which is “a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. One way to obtain an indulgence is to make a brief pilgrimage to a Holy Door, receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and participate in the celebration of Mass with a reflection on mercy. Those seeking an indulgence must also make the profession of faith and pray for the pope and his intentions.
While the Church celebrates the Year of Mercy, which concludes on Nov. 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the Sisters of Mercy will also celebrate the 150th anniversary of their arrival in Nashville on Oct. 31, 1866.
“Wasn’t that nice of Pope Francis to do that for the sisters in Nashville,” Sister Suzanne said with a smile.
For the Sisters of Mercy, she said, the Year of Mercy is a continual call. “Every day is a day of mercy, every moment is a moment of mercy,” Sister Suzanne said.
Pope Francis wishes the same for everyone.
“I present, therefore, this Extraordinary Jubilee Year dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy which the Father constantly extends to all of us,” he wrote. “In this Jubilee Year, let us allow God to surprise us. He never tires of casting open the doors of his heart and of repeating that he loves us and wants to share his love with us. The Church feels the urgent need to proclaim God’s mercy. Her life is authentic and credible only when she becomes a convincing herald of mercy. She knows that her primary task, especially at a moment full of great hopes and signs of contradiction, is to introduce everyone to the great mystery of God’s mercy by contemplating the face of Christ. The Church is called above all to be a credible witness to mercy, professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Choby to open Holy Doors of Mercy
To celebrate the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Bishop David Choby will open a Holy Door at both the Cathedral of the Incarnation and St. Mary of the Seven Sorrows Church on Sunday, Dec. 13.
Pope Francis will begin the Year of Mercy by opening the Holy Door at the Basilica of St. Peter on Tuesday, Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. On Dec. 13, the Third Sunday of Advent, the Holy Door at the Cathedral of Rome, the Basilica of St. John Lateran will be opened, and Pope Francis has decreed that on the same Sunday, in every local church, a Door of Mercy will be opened for the duration of the Holy Year.
Bishop Choby will open the Holy Door at the Cathedral at the 11 a.m. Mass.
According to Pope Francis’ instruction, a Holy Door of Mercy can be opened at other holy sites in the diocese at the discretion of the local bishop. St. Mary’s, the diocese’s second cathedral when it was built in 1847, will be the site of a second Door of Mercy, which will be opened at the 9 a.m. Mass on Dec. 13.
The Rite of the Opening of the Door of Mercy will begin much as the liturgy on Palm Sunday, said Deacon Jim McKenzie of the Cathedral. The congregation will gather outside the sanctuary where there will be prayers and a gospel reading. From there, the bishop will lead a procession to the door. The bishop, with the Book of the Gospels held aloft, will then invoke the opening of the door that leads to God’s merciful heart made accessible through the open side of Christ on the cross. The congregation will follow the bishop through the open door and into the church.
According to the Rite, the opening of the Door of Mercy reflects:
• The mystery of God, rich in mercy and compassion, manifested and brought about in Christ, the Father’s face of mercy, continually at work through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
• The recognition of Christ as the sole door through which we enter salvation and the one way that leads to the Father.
• The Church’s ongoing pilgrimage toward “Jesus Christ (who) is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
A Holy Door has been used since the 15th century as a ritual expression of conversion. Pilgrims and penitents pass through it as a gesture of leaving the past behind and crossing the threshold from sin to grace, from slavery to freedom, and from darkness to light.