Traditionally, Advent marks the beginning of the Catholic Liturgical Year, and Pope Francis has declared an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy for 2016. Starting on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8, Catholics are called to embrace Christ's mercy throughout their lives.
The tradition of celebrating a jubilee can be traced back to customs described in the Book of Leviticus and practiced by the Jewish people after the Exodus. Each jubilee was marked by the forgiveness of debts, material and spiritual, and it served as a means to unite the people under God.
In "Misericordiae Vultus," the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis describes what a jubilee will offer to the faithful: "We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it ... At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father's action in our lives."
The Medieval Catholic Church re-established the tradition to be held every 25 years or during years of great significance. This year's jubilee honors the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (Vatican II), and it is dedicated to spreading the message of Christ's mercy to all people.
Pope Francis explains, "With the Council, the Church entered a new phase of her history. The Council Fathers strongly perceived, as a true breath of the Holy Spirit, a need to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way. The walls which for too long had made the Church a kind of fortress were torn down and the time had come to proclaim the Gospel in a new way. It was a new phase of the same evangelization that had existed from the beginning."
To aid the individual Christian who seeks Christ's mercy, the pope has appointed individual Missionaries of Mercy to help bring God's love to those who are most in need of forgiveness. Additionally, sites will be open throughout the world to serve pilgrims who seek mercy and a renewal of their faith.
Through mercy, we are called back to Christ's love. We are given a new path and leave behind our sins. As Pope Francis points out, "It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters. Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope."
So let us prepare ourselves for this year of mercy. We should reflect on Christ's message of healing and forgiveness. We should seek forgiveness for our sins and be willing to forgive those who have sinned against us. We should go out and spread love through charitable acts.
We are called this year to embrace mercy in all aspects of our lives. Now is the time to start anew and begin a life of love.
Jeffrey Peters, a graduate student at Catholic University, attends St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in Manchester. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.