Pope Francis has declared an extraordinary jubilee — a Holy Year of Mercy — to begin Dec. 8, the day we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mother.
The special observance will highlight the Catholic Church’s “mission to be a witness of mercy,” said Pope Francis during a reconciliation service in St. Peter’s Basilica March 13.
“No one can be excluded from God’s mercy,” he said during the service, which marked the second anniversary of his pontificate, Catholic News Service reported. “I frequently have thought about how the church can make more evident its mission to be a witness of mercy.”
And so he declared this year of mercy.
Mercy is central to our faith, but we don’t always tap its gifts. The sacrament of reconciliation is available year round.
And during Lent, the penitential season that precedes new life at Easter, it’s even easier to receive the sacrament since most parishes offer a Lenten reconciliation service.
The sacrament was available at last weekend’s Catholic Men’s Conference, held at St. Michael Church.
About 20 priests offered the sacrament during the conference to the nearly 800 men who attended.
Sal Della Bella, the director of evangelization for the Archdiocese of Louisville, said the opportunity for reconciliation was available for about two hours during the annual conference and that there were lines at times.
The number of men who receive the sacrament is “interesting to me, every year,” Della Bella noted. “The priests say to me how moved they are.”
He noted that men who attend the conference often say they haven’t received the sacrament “in a while.” The presentations they hear at the conference — often men sharing something very personal about their own struggles in life — move them to examine their own lives, he said.
“When you’re doing that soul searching, you take advantage” of the opportunity for reconciliation, he added.
Father Charles D. Walker, the new full-time chaplain for the Catholic Campus Ministry at the University of Louisville, wrote about reconciliation in his blog, “Walker’s Wanderings,” last month. (You can find his blog at chuck-walker.blogspot.com.)
Father Walker has a knack for presenting theological concepts in laymen’s terms. He compares reconciliation to going to a car wash or taking a hot shower.
“A nice hot shower feels great! When I’m at the lake, and I’ve been weed eating, mowing, or anything else sweaty, the shower is a blessing,” he wrote. “Not only does it cleanse your body but it does something for your attitude and mood, too.
“In the same way, forgiveness is more than just a way to get rid of a grudge or a sin. Forgiveness lightens us and refreshes us,” he wrote.
Father Walker also noted that he encountered a young boy at a reconciliation service a few months ago.
“He was definitely the youngest one in church that evening. In fact, in comparison to the rest of us, he looked out of place. I thought that mom had dragged him there because it was Advent or that she thought he really ‘needed to go to confession.’ No. She told me that her son loved going to the sacrament of reconciliation because it made him feel clean!”
Lent is a time to experience the mercy God offers to us and to emulate the mercy modeled for us by Pope Francis. It begins with an examination of conscience and ends with a fresh start — as clean and new as the daffodils springing from our dormant flower beds.
In a St. Patrick’s Day homily, Pope Francis told his listeners, “If people are wounded, what does Jesus do? Does he reprimand them because they are wounded? No, he carries them on his shoulder. And this is called mercy.”