Discerning During the Holy Year of Mercy
"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."—(Lk 6:36)
This past year the Church celebrated the Year of Consecrated Life throughout the world. I think that this year provided Glenmary, as well as other religious communities, an opportunity to share with the Church the joy associated with being members of such groups. It was also a fitting time to promote vocations in more vigorous ways, as the Church was lifting up this way of life as one of great value that needs to be promoted and celebrated. As this Year of Consecrated Life comes to a close, it does not mean that the promotion or discernment of religious life comes to an end. Rather, the discernment continues as we reflect on the meaning of this new Church year, an Extraordinary Jubilee to be called a Holy Year of Mercy.
When Pope Francis announced his plans for the Holy Year of Mercy, he specifically mentioned that he desired it to be an opportunity for the Church "to bring the Gospel of mercy to each person." This bringing of the Gospel of mercy is the mission for the Church, which means it is the responsibility of all of us who are the Church. Hopefully, during this holy year, we will experience the mercy of our Father through "the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope" and will make it our mission to share that mercy with others.
I think that on an individual level, especially for those discerning a call to religious life, this holy year permits us to recognize "Jesus Christ as the face of the Father's mercy," in the pope's words. Too often the men who are discerning their call tell me "I am not holy enough" or "I do not pray enough" or "I've made mistakes in my past." I believe that all Glenmary priests and brothers could have used one or more of those same excuses during their discernments. The difference is that after their recognition of God's loving mercy, they could forgive themselves and follow their call to become Glenmarians in order to share that same mercy with others. This coming year, discerners can reflect on how we have experienced God's loving mercy, can begin to forgive themselves, and can continue discerning their call.
I believe that this holy year is essential for all of us, because we are all sinners and we all need God's healing mercy. But in a particular way, this year is especially for those who have not felt God's mercy through their experiences of Church. One recommendation that Pope Francis has made, to help us experience God's mercy, is to participate in the tradition of making a pilgrimage. What is a pilgrimage? It is a religious journey, symbolic of our own life journeys. Making a pilgrimage means sacrifice, dedication, prayer, reflection and preparation.
Making a pilgrimage this year will open you to feeling God's mercy. It will be, as Pope Francis said, an "impetus to conversion" which leads us to "find the strength to embrace God's mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us." For some, this idea may suggest a trip to the Holy Door in Rome. Since many of us are not able to travel to Rome, the pope specifically stated that each can make this pilgrimage "according to his own ability."
If you are not able to make a pilgrimage to Rome, hopefully you are able to make a pilgrimage to the designated site within your own diocese. The pope has requested that every diocese open a Holy Door of Mercy, one which symbolizes Christ. "The Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope."
An additional way for a religious-vocation discerner to experience mercy would be to make a pilgrimage to Mission Land, USA. Throughout the year, Glenmary will host mission trips for men who are discerning their call to religious life. If you are one of these men, a Glenmary pilgrimage during this year would help you to discern if you are being called by allowing you to participate in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that take place in our mission areas. It would give you the opportunity to worship with the people of God who are living in the peripheries. And it would allow you to be a witness of God's loving mercy to the people you meet.
In the words of the pope, "God is always ready to forgive, and he never tires of forgiving in ways that are continually new and surprising." Are you able to accept that forgiveness and to forgive yourself for the times that you did not pray enough or made mistakes or acted in an unholy way? God is waiting and ready to welcome you with this gift of mercy at any time. Are you being called to be a witness of mercy to the people in Mission Land, USA?