At 10:00 pm on the night of 29 December, Vatican time, Pope Francis tweeted a specific message: “Mercy will always be greater than any sin (MV)” indicating that it is a line from Misericordiae Vultus, the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. The phrase is Latin for ‘in search of Mercy,’ and a statement presented as a Bull of Indiction indicates that it is of significance in light of the context as well as the content; and in this case it refers to the announcement that the Church is to be celebrating a jubilee year of Mercy, which began on the 8th of December, on a feast day known formally as The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, believed by Roman Catholics to have been preserved from any sin (any separation from God) from the moment of her conception by Saint Anne and Joachim, her parents, and throughout her entire life.
The full line that was derived from the Misericordae Vultus reads as follows:
“Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.”
The passage that goes before it reads:
“After the sin of Adam and Eve, God did not wish to leave humanity alone in the throes of evil. And so he turned his gaze to Mary, holy and immaculate in love … choosing her to be the Mother of man’s Redeemer. When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy.”
With a seal affixed, the full breadth of this announcement in Misericordae Vultis bears the inscription: Francis, Bishop of Rome, servant of the servants of God to all who read this letter, Grace, Mercy, and Peace.
The context of the announcement at this time and place is also quite relevant as well, as is clear from the text itself:
“It is the favorable time to heal wounds, a time not to be weary of meeting all those who are waiting to see and to touch with their hands the signs of the closeness of God, a time to offer everyone the way of forgiveness and reconciliation.”
What the Holy Father sees in his many excursions throughout the world during the two years of his pontificate, in so many far-away places, yet experienced simultaneously through instant communications worldwide through the modern tools of information technology, on everything from cable television by satellite to mobile phones and laptops in a digital universe that can seem very near to reality and narrow the distance among the peoples of the world.
The Pontiff writes:
“So many people, including young people, are returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation; through this experience they are rediscovering a path back to the Lord, living a moment of intense prayer and finding meaning in their lives.”
Pope Francis seems to suggest that the catharsis of the immortal Soul, through the examination of one’s conscience in honest reflection from an open mind and a faithful and loving heart, can mitigate against the most insidious temptation of all: the will to deceive oneself, imagining that there can be no mortal effect if a person acts dishonorably so long as no one in the ‘external’ world is made aware of it.
The willingness to act ‘conscientiously’ (to engage one’s conscience and avoid self-deception) through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, when brought forward to the center of one’s life, will have a stunning effect, Pope Francis seems to suggest, to:
“enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands,” and even, perhaps just as meaningful: “For every penitent, it will be a source of true interior peace.”
It seems to be the intention of Pope Francis to bring closer attention to this kind of healing, for all those who care to consider this option with “an open mind” and “a faithful heart.”
“I will never tire of insisting that confessors be authentic signs of the Father’s mercy. We do not become good confessors automatically. We become good confessors when, above all, we allow ourselves to be penitents in search of his mercy. Let us never forget that to be confessors means to participate in the very mission of Jesus to be a concrete sign of the constancy of divine love that pardons and saves.”
Pope Francis is the author of “Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus,” which was published initially when he was in Argentina, and published in a consecutive edition in September of 2015.
A fellow Jesuit, Rev. Patrick Samway describes the text:
“This collection of 48 conferences of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., written before his election as Pope and most ably translated by Joseph V. Owens, S.J., allow his readers to know him close up and personal. His topics—ranging from Jesus in dialogue, to the courage of the cross, to reading the Apocalypse, to the solitude of prayer, to the mystery of talking to God—show the breadth of a spiritually deeply rooted in Sacred Scripture.
Many of the essays conclude with an invitation to his readers to pray and reflect on his observations and insights, much in the spirit of what Saint Ignatius of Loyola does in the Spiritual Exercises.”
Chapter Two, article 491 of the Cathechism of the Catholic Church (available online from the Conference of Catholic Bishops) explains a bit of history about the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary as follows:
“Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God,134 was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: (411)
‘The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.’
Additional information about the Blessed Mother and her place in cultures around the world can be found in the December 2015 issue of National Geographic magazine’s cover article “How the Virgin Mary Became the World’s Most Powerful Woman” by Maureen Orth, the interationally-recognized journalist and author, wife of the late author and journalist Tim Russert, and mother of well-known journalist Luke Russert.
Also of interest, is the new film “Mary of Nazareth,” available from Ignatius Press (not to be confused by a film of the same name that was produced in 2012, featuring Christian Bale as Jesus, that has been praised for its earnest screenplay but encounters a challenge through its casting, which has been thought by some to have been distracting).