A SPECIAL (NEW) SPRINGTIME OF MERCY: THE CHURCH, THE FAMILY AND THE WORLD IN PERSPECTIVE

A PAPER PRESENTED DURING THE LAITY WEEK FOR THE LAY FAITHFUL OF HOLY CROSS PARISH GWARINPA ON FRIDAY 18TH MARCH, 2016

TOPIC: A SPECIAL (NEW) SPRINGTIME OF  MERCY: THE CHURCH, THE FAMILY AND THE WORLD IN PERSPECTIVE

By

Rev. Fr. Christopher Nnubia

(08032901250/www.revfrchristophernnubia.org/This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

 

1.0     Introduction

My appreciation goes to the Laity Council of Holy Cross Parish Gwarinpa for inviting me as your Guest Speaker. I decided to replace "New" with "Special" on the topic given to me because the word "New" appears to portray this springtime of mercy as an innovative by the Holy Father, Pope Francis. No, it is not because "mercy is the very foundation of the Church's life."(MV 10). Since 1300, the Church has celebrated 27 jubilees with the current one as 28. Out of them, six including this going one, are extraordinary.

Love is the greatest message and gift which Jesus Christ left us with, yet this gift is the most abused and misconceived in our society today, thereby leading to all kinds of vices such as killing,  murder, strife, hatred, kidnapping, quarrelling, fighting, child labour,  ethnicism, poverty, starvation, gender inequality, harsh treatment of widows, orphans without love and hope, abuse (physical and verbal), sex trafficking, terrorism, war and grief, husband and wife fighting each other etc. With all these vices, the society has been experiencing disorderliness  beginning from the family. St. Augustine once said that a disordered person makes a disordered family and a disordered family makes a disordered society. This disordered society, beginning from the disordered person/family, constantly needs God's mercy.

It is based on this constant need for God's mercy that the Holy Father, Pope Francis declared this year as an Extraordinary Jubilee  Year of Mercy. Pope Francis says: "We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it…." (Misericodiae Vultus, MV 2)

The Holy Father further says: "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. For this reason I have proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercyas a special time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective." (MV 3).

This paper is aimed at discussing the springtime of mercy from the perspective of the family, the Church and the World. Since the composition of the family makes up the composition of the Church and the composition of the Church together with other non-Church members make up the composition of the world, this discussion will be narrowed down to the family which will have a link to the Church. Why? Because the family is the domestic Church. Whatever is expected of the family at this springtime of mercy is applicable to the  Church and the world. Notwithstanding, we shall try to describe the following words: mercy, family, Church and world. A point to begin with is the meaning of the jubilee year.

2. 0    The Meaning of the Jubilee Year

The concept of the 'Jubilee' is a special year of remission of sins and universal pardon. A Jubilee or Holy Year is a year of forgiveness of sins and also the punishment due to sin. It is a year of reconciliation between enemies, of conversion and receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, "...and consequently of solidarity, hope, justice, commitment to serve God with joy and in peace with our brothers and sisters."("What is a Holy Year?", Vatican, 17 February, 1997). In the Book of Leviticus, a Jubilee year is mentioned to occur every fiftieth year, in which slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest, (Leviticus 25: 1-4, 8-10). In the Church, the tradition dates to 1300, when Pope Boniface VIII convoked a holy year. Jubilees generally involve pilgrimage to holy places.

There are two kinds of Jubilee Year, Ordinary Jubilee and Extraordinary Jubilee. i. The Ordinary jubilee Year is generally being celebrated every 25 or 50 years. The last Ordinary Jubilee was celebrated in 2000 (known as the "Great Jubilee") under the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II. ii. The Extraordinary Jubilee Year depends on the need which calls for its celebration. Pope Francis on 11thApril, 2015 in his papal Bull of Indiction Misericodiae Vultus (the face of mercy), declared this year as the Extraordinary Jubilee Year: 8 December, 2015-20 November 2016. Thus we are celebrating the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy this year and not the Ordinary Jubilee Year.

Therefore, this  is a Holy Year of an extraordinary moment of grace and spiritual renewal. The Year of Mercy is an invitation—an invitation to love, kindness, and unbounded generosity. "Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy." (MV 10). Pope Francis is offering you the opportunity to encounter the incredible mercy of God. Encountering mercy means encountering God. It can transform your life, your relationships, your work, and your ability to embrace and experience all of life.

3.0  Description of Mercy, Church, Family and World

a. Mercy in the context of this Extraordinary Jubilee Year

Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness. (MV 2). Mercy is the force that reawaken us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope. (MV10).

b. Church

The word 'Church' here simply means an assembly of the people of God. The Church in question refers to Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is the  church founded by Jesus Christ, that its bishops are the successors of Christ's apostles, and that the Pope is the successor to Saint Peter.

The Catholic Church is the mystical body of Christ which flow from the side of Christ as he hung on the cross. The Scripture puts it thus, "one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out", John 19:34. Water stands for baptism which is necessary for salvation and which incorporates a person into the Body of Christ.

The Catholic Church is the universal sacrament of salvation which means she is the sign and instrument both of the reconciliation and communion of all of humanity with God and the unity of the entire human race, CCCC152. Her mission is to proclaim and establish the Kingdom of God begun by Jesus Christ among all peoples, CCCC 150. Just as Eve came from the side of Adam to be his helpmate so the Church came from the side of Christ to be Christ's helpmate by proclaiming and establishing the Kingdom of God, begun by her head and founder, Jesus Christ. The Church is the Bride of Christ because the Lord himself called himself her “Spouse” (Mark 2:19). The Lord has loved the Church and has joined her to himself in an everlasting covenant. He has given himself up for her in order to purify her with his blood and “sanctify her” (Ephesians 5:26), making her the fruitful mother of all the children of God. While the term “body” expresses the unity of the “head” with the members, the term “bride” emphasizes the distinction of the two in their personal relationship, CCCC 158.

The Church is one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic. The Catholic Church is grouped into three, namely, the Pilgrim Church, the Suffering Church and the Triumphant Church. The Compendium explains further: ... Some are pilgrims on the earth; others, having passed from this life, are undergoing purification and are helped also by our prayers. Others already enjoy the glory of God and intercede for us. All of these together form in Christ one family, the Church, to the praise and glory of the Trinity, CCCC195.

In the Catholic Church, we have the Universal Church in which the Pope is the supreme Pastor with supreme and full power over it and the Particular Churches and their groupings particularly diocese in which the diocesan Bishop is the Chief Shepherd with all the ordinary, proper and immediate power for the exercise of his pastoral office. The Church as the People of God or Christ's Faithful is made up of the Clergy, the Religious and the laity.

The Holy Father says that this Jubilee will be celebrated both in Rome and in the Particular Churches as a visible sign of the Church's universal communion. (MV 3). It is time for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more. It is the time for the Church to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters in the world.

 

c. Family

Family is a social unit of two or more persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption and having a shared commitment to the mutual relationship. Family can be nuclear, immediate and extended family. A "Nuclear" family includes only the husband, the wife, and the children.  Members of the immediate family includes spouses, parents, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Members of the extended family may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, and siblings-in-law.

d. World simply refers to the earth and all the people and the things in it.

4.0  The Family and the Springtime of Mercy

Here we shall be discussing on how the family can encounter God's mercy during this Extraordinary Jubilee Year. Why? Although it is the springtime of mercy, this mercy is granted to us by God through our personal efforts. Before we proceed, let us have a brief overview of the family and its responsibilities then some noticeable problems which this extraordinary jubilee year is calling us to address so as to receive God's mercy.  

The Christian family is called the domestic church because the family manifests and lives  out the communal and familial nature of the Church as the family of God. Each family member, in accord with their own role, exercises the baptismal priesthood and contributes toward making the family a community of grace and of prayer, a school of human and Christian virtue and the place where the faith is first proclaimed to children.(CCCC 350).

Pope Francis describes 'the family as the wellspring of all fraternity, and as such it is the foundation and the first pathway to peace, since, by its vocation, it is meant to spread its love to the world around it. (2014 World Day of Peace Message, 1). The family is “the primary place of education,” said Pope Francis. The Holy Father stressed the importance of family in educating the next generation, forming vocations, and creating a community of love and life.

 

 

He stated in his address:

The family remains always the cell of society, and the primary place of education. It is the community of love and of life in which every person learns to relate to others and with the world. And, thanks to the bases acquired in the family, he is able to project himself in society, to frequent positively other formative environments, such as the school, the parish… Thus, in this integration between the bases assimilated in the family and “outside” experiences, we learn to find our way in the world.

The Holy Father also noted that “all vocations take their first steps in the family, and bear its mark for the whole of life,” according to ZENIT.

“It is important to reaffirm that education in the family constitutes a priority choice,” Pope Francis reportedly stated, adding that for Christian parents “the educational mission finds its specific source in the Sacrament of Matrimony, for whom the task of raising children constitutes a true and proper ministry in the Church.”(Kimberly Scharfenberger. Pope Francis Reaffirms Family’s Integral Role in Education http://www.cardinalnewmansociety.org, November 10, 2014). Having known some of the responsibilities of a family, let us proceed with some noticeable trends having in our families today.

We are in an age where people do not know how to be a family anymore much less what it means to be a “Catholic family.”  Pope Francis said "the family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), 24th November 2013, no.66.). Husband and wife are roommates in a house and no longer soul-mates in a home. Children are more on streets instead of being at home.

 We are in an age where married life is complex, the concept of 'family' and the 'family living' are redefined and misconceived. We are in an age where some youths are scared of going into marriage because of their family and societal experiences of marriage and family.

No family commitment any longer in some families. Pope Francis once said that "today so many people are afraid of making definitive decisions. One boy said to his bishop: “I want to become a priest, but only for ten years”. He was afraid of a definitive choice. But that is a general fear that comes from our culture. To make life decisions seems impossible. Today everything changes so quickly, nothing lasts long. And this mentality leads many who are preparing for marriage to say: “we are together as long as the love lasts”, and then, All the best and see you later... and so ends the marriage." (Pope Francis, Address to Engaged Couples Preparing for Marriage, 14th February, 2014.)

With the above challenges in which some of our families are facing, there is need to constantly seek God's mercy in this springtime of mercy. We cannot seek the face of God, if we continue to live as above in our families. Thus, stopping these attitudes is paramount to attracting God's mercy.

Ways to Encounter Mercy at this Springtime of Mercy by the Family

1. The Practice of Pilgrimage

One of the major ways to encounter God's mercy during this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is the practice of pilgrimage. The Holy Father says that "the practice of pilgrimage has a special place in the Holy Year, because it represents the journey each of us makes in this life. Life itself is a pilgrimage, and the human being is a viator , a pilgrim travelling along the road, making his way to the desired destination." (MV 14). It is expected that each family is to make a pilgrimage  to reach the Holy Door in Rome or any other place in the world. It is certain that not all families can go to Rome or other places outside Nigeria or even outside the archdiocese. Thus there is still places of the practice of pilgrimage for such families. Here in the archdiocese, each family is to make a pilgrimage to reach the Holy Door of Mercy in any of the following places where the Holy Door of Mercy was opened: Our Lady Queen of Nigeria, Pro-Cathedral Garki, Christ the King Parish Kubwa, Sacred Heart Parish Gwagwalada, Ss. Peter and Paul Parish Parish Nyanya, St. Martin's Parish Lugbe or Holy Family Parish Life Camp. The Holy Father shows how to perform such a pilgrimage as said below:

During this Extraordinary Jubilee Year, the Holy Door becomes a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.(MV3). Just a pilgrimage to enter any of these Holy Doors of Mercy and you will experience the love of God.

The Holy Father remarks: we often see pilgrims journeying to shrines and places dear to popular piety.  These days, many of them are making their way to the Holy Door opened in all the cathedrals of the world and in many shrines….Be among those whom the Holy Father is talking about during this springtime of mercy.

The whole family can go on pilgrimage. The father, the mother and the children together can make a pilgrimage to enter the Holy Door in order to sanctify the family and their life with prayer. Family life is a series of pilgrimages, both small and big.

In the Year of Mercy, every Christian family can become a privileged place on this pilgrimage for experiencing the joy of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the essence of the love which can understand mistakes and mend them. How miserable we would be if God did not forgive us! Within the family we learn how to forgive, because we are certain that we are understood and supported, whatever the mistakes we make. Let us not lose confidence in the family! It is beautiful when we can always open our hearts to one another, and hide nothing. Where there is love, there is also understanding and forgiveness.

While making this pilgrimage, there steps to follow: avoid judging and condemning others, forgive your brothers and sisters from the heart, be a cheerful giver. According to Pope Francis, the Lord Jesus shows us the steps of the pilgrimage to attain our goal: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Lk 6:37-38). The Lord asks us above all not to judge and not to condemn. If anyone wishes to avoid God’s judgement, he should not make himself the judge of his brother or sister. Human beings, whenever they judge, look no farther than the surface, whereas the Father looks into the very depths of the soul. How much harm words do when they are motivated by feelings of jealousy and envy! To speak ill of others puts them in a bad light, undermines their reputation and leaves them prey to the whims of gossip. To refrain from judgement and condemnation means, in a positive sense, to know how to accept the good in every person and to spare him any suffering that might be caused by our partial judgment, our presumption to know everything about him. But this is still not sufficient to express mercy. Jesus asks us also to forgive and to give. To be instruments of mercy because it was we who first received mercy from God. To be generous with others, knowing that God showers his goodness upon us with immense generosity.(MV 14).

2. Reflection on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy

 The Holy Father says that it is his burning desire that, during this jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.(MV 15). Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in his preaching so that we can know whether or not we are living as his disciples. Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead.(MV 15).

3. More Prayers, Penance and Bible reflections during the season of Lent

The Holy Father gave us some Bible passages to reflect upon during this season of Lent for God's mercy. The Bible passages are Micah 7: 18-19; Isaiah 58: 6-11

4.  Conversion of men and women who belong to  criminal organizations of any kind

Those who think that life depends on money; those who inflict violence for the sake of amassing riches soaked in blood, those who perpetrate or participate in corruption. The Holy Father says: "Corruption prevents us from looking to the future with hope, because its tyrannical greed shatters the plans of the weak and tramples upon the poorest of the poor. It is an evil that embeds itself into the actions of everyday life and spreads, causing great public scandal. Corruption is a sinful hardening of the heart that replaces God with the illusion that money is a form of power. It is a work of darkness, fed by suspicion and intrigue." (MV 19). We pray against bribery and corruption in our parishes and yet little of the effect of that is seen in our day to day living. This is the period to say capital 'NO' to corruption which the Holy Father describes as a sinful hardening of heart and which prevents us from looking to the future with hope.

5. Indulgences

 The Holy Father says that "a jubilee also entails the granting of indulgences."(MV 22). He says "to gain an indulgence is to experience the holiness of the Church, who bestows upon all the fruits of Christ’s redemption, so that God’s love and forgiveness may extend everywhere. Let us live this Jubilee intensely, begging the Father to forgive our sins and to bathe us in his merciful “indulgence.”(MV 22).

An indulgence is a means of remission of the temporal punishment due for sins. According to the Dictionary of the Liturgy, "the faithful receives this remission through the ministry of the Church, which dispenses in an authoritative manner the treasury of satisfaction earned by Christ and the Saints." (p. 266). As for the rest the faithful must have the proper dispositions and fulfil certain conditions given by the competent authority who is granting the indulgence.

There are two kinds of indulgences: plenary and partial. A plenary indulgence removes all temporal punishment.   A partial indulgence removes only a part of the temporal punishment.  Indulgences may be gained for oneself or for the poor souls said the Dictionary of the Liturgy. (p.266).

Pope Paul VI in the Apostolic Constitution on Indulgences stipulated three partial indulgences which are fitting as we celebrate the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy:

1. The first is granted to those who in their regular duties and in the enduring the trials of life say some pious invocation, even mentally.

2. The second goes to the faithful who out of charity and mercy give of themselves or their goods to help those in need.

3. The third helps to bolster self-denial when people voluntarily deprive themselves, in a spirit of penance, of things licit and pleasing to them.

According to the Dictionary of the Liturgy, Plenary indulgences can be acquired but once in a day, and three conditions are necessary besides the actual work itself, namely, Sacramental confession, the reception of Communion, and prayer for the intention of the Pope, which can be satisfied by one Our Father and Hail Mary; one may choose another prayer out of piety or devotion. For instance, the actual works attached to the indulgences for this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy are reflection on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy and Pilgrimage to reach the Holy Door in Rome or in any other place in the world.

6. Dialogue with Judaism and Islam

For these religions consider mercy to be one of God's most important attributes. It is the Holy Father's wish that this Jubilee year will foster an encounter with these religions and with other noble religious traditions. The aim of the dialogue is to know and understand one another better and to eliminate every form of closed mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination, (MV23). By entering into dialogue and also be in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters around us as a family and a Church,  it will make us to know and understand one another better and to eliminate every form of closed mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination.

5.0 Appeal

Appeal by the Holy Father: 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.(MV 25). My own appeal: my dear brothers and sisters, let us try to make good use of this opportunity to reconcile with God, our parents, husband, wife, children, siblings, friends, neighbours and anybody you think you are not happy with and try to carry out the activities of this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy religiously, devotedly and with dedication and determination so as to receive God's mercy.

If the families encounter God's mercy, surely, the Church and the world will encounter God's mercy too.

6.0     Knowing your family as a true Catholic Family in this Year of Mercy

          Dr. Gregory Popcak in the writing titled " the five Marks of a Catholic Family" brings clearly what the ideal Catholic Family should be.  The Five “Marks” of a Catholic Family:

 

1.  Catholic Families Worship Together–The Eucharist is the source of our love and the sign of the intimacy to which you are called.  Therefore, as a family, you attend Sunday mass weekly (and Holy Days and at other times as we are able) and you actively participate in parish life–your spiritual home away from home.   You also recognize that as fallen persons, you struggle to be the loving community you are called to be.  Therefore, as a family, you regularly go to confession (recommended: monthly) to seek God’s healing and grace so you might better live his vision of love in your lives and homes.

2. Catholic Families Pray Together–As “domestic church” you recognize that you cannot love one another as God loves you unless you ask him, together, to teach you what this means.  Therefore, in addition to your individual prayer life, you gather together as husband and wife and also as a family for prayer each day.  In that time, you praise and thank God for his blessings, you ask him for the grace to love each other and the world better, you seek his will for your lives, and you pray for both your needs and the needs of the Family of God. You recognize in the words of Servant of God, Fr. Patrick Peyton, “the family that prays together, stays together.”

 3. Catholic Families are Called to Intimacy–Tertullian once proclaimed, “The world says, ‘Look at those Christians, see how they love one another!’”  The Christian life is first and foremost a call to intimate communion. You recognize that families are “Schools of Love.”  Therefore, as a family, you constantly challenge yourselves to seek to discover new ways to be even more open with and loving to each other as husband and wife, parents and children.  You recognize that children are to be a visible sign of the loving union between husband and wife and you work to make this a reality in your homes both in the quality of your relationships and in your openness to life.  Further, you cultivate marriage and parenting practices that make each member of the family–husband and wife, parents and children– willingly open up to one another and seek to freely give yourselves to create a deeper “community of love” and practice all the virtues that help you live life as a gift.

4.  Catholic Families Put Family First–You should recognize that– because your family relationships are the primary vehicle God uses to perfect yourselves and challenge yourselves to become everything you were created to be–family life, itself,  is the most important activity.  To protect the intimacy you are called to cultivate as the domestic church, you recognize the importance of regular family rituals  and you are intentional about creating and protecting those activities such as family dinner, family prayer and worship, a game night and/or “family day”, and regular time for one-on-one communication and relationship-building.  You hold these activities as sacred rituals of the domestic church and value them over all other activities that would seek to compete with them.

 5.  The Catholic Family is a Witness and Sign–God wants to change the world through the families.  You the laity should be part of God's plan for changing the world.  First, by striving to exhibit– in every way possible in your daily interactions as husband and wife, parents and children– the love and intimacy that every human heart longs for. You must show the world that this love is a possible dream worth striving for.   Second, you will carry this love outside the home by serving the world-at-large in a manner that is responsible and respectful of the integrity of the family unit. You do this by committing ourselves and your families to the intentional practice of all the corporal and spiritual works of mercy within the home and outside of it. 

 

 

 

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