The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy concluded on November 20, 2016. I am certainly not qualified to give unsolicited advice, but if you wish to compare notes, or are seeking, what follows was my experience. This is longish.
The Han Solo theme is a reflection on what my older self could tell my younger self, or any young people looking for advice from someone who’s been on the journey a bit longer. Though I have to admit I’ve been more a Kylo than Rey or Finn in my life. I had opportunities to break away from the path I was on at a younger age, as Finn did, but missed them. Fortunately God’s mercy is never-ending.
Why did I participate? What was this Extraordinary Jubilee Year anyway?
I was very excited when Pope Francis announced the Extraordinary Jubilee last spring, as I had not participated, to my regret, in the Great Jubilee of 2000. There have only been 27 such years. Briefly, a Jubilee is a special year of prayer that a focuses on the forgiveness of sins and the associated punishment.
I have always been interested in “Last Things”, and for a Catholic, this inevitably involves the subject of Purgatory. Essentially, even though Jesus has redeemed us, Catholics believe that a final purification of the person will occur after death before one is admitted into Heaven and sees God face to face. The degree of purification is believed to correspond to how faithful you have been in following the path the Lord has set out for us. It involves some degree of suffering, and it is taught that you can do nothing to reduce this experience after you die. However, it is accepted that you can mitigate your purification by certain actions taken in this life. A Jubilee Year provides an extra special opportunity of obtaining this mitigation, which is called an “indulgence.” By satisfying the conditions laid out, which involve pilgrimage to a Holy Door, prayer, confession, communion, and works of mercy, one can potentially obtain a partial or full remission of the punishment associated with your confessed sins.
I have sinned much, and accordingly I found this opportunity to be most welcome. I recognize that there is a fair amount of skepticism around this topic, even for Catholics, but, to be blunt, what did I have to lose?
I did not wait for the Jubilee Year to officially begin, and began going to Confession regularly before it started (Never put off what God’s grace might allow you to do today). For me this was a hard step, as I had not been to confession in 20 years. However, God provided a special delivery of grace last July, and this gave me the courage to go back. This involved a pretty detailed examination of conscience, and given the quantity of things I wanted to talk about, I forgot to mention a few things on my first trip. I went back the next day, same priest, to finish it properly.
This also involved avoidance of serious sin. For example, I took care to arrange my schedule to I could go to Mass every Sunday and the other Holy Days of Obligation, and to take Communion on each occasion when I was reasonably confident I was in a state of grace. I also began to spend more time in prayer, and make an effort to pray the Rosary from time to time.
Fortunately for me, I live near a Cathedral that had Holy Door, and was able to participate in the diocese’s procession and ceremony when the Jubilee Year began in November of 2015.
What I learned: Main Points
- We must be Christocentric in our faith. “No one sees the Father but through Me” as the Lord says. I think my early formation in faith suffered because I spent too much time thinking and pondering God the Father without developing a firm, more intimate friendship with his Son. The members of the Trinity are equal, and Our Lady, the angels and the Communion of Saints are important, but for me the establishment of bond with the Lord was a necessary foundation. In my first hour in Heaven, I would like nothing better than to rest my head on the Lord, like St. John at the Last Supper, and listen to the Metronome of the Universe that beats beneath His breast.
- Follow The Rules. They work and are there for your benefit.
While Baptism is the first Sacrament, Confession is the key that unlocks nearly everything else. Can you imagine going through a marriage without ever saying your sorry or apologizing to your spouse for anything? Nobody’s marriage would last. But many of us rarely if ever go to Confession while still taking Communion regularly. Judas took Communion directly from the Lord’s hand, but he had not repented his treachery. It did him no good. It gets easier the more you do it, and I go every 3-5 weeks now. I am now receiving showers of grace from making good Communions that I was not getting before
- If you work or live in an urban area that has a nearby Catholic Church, going to an extra Mass or two during the work week is a great “low hanging fruit” to obtain. I am lucky enough that my schedule has a regular lunch break, and can walk to a Cathedral in 10 minutes. Weekday masses are shorter, no more than 30 minutes I have found. You can give praise to God, obtain more grace for yourself (or ask God to donate it to someone else), and thus can better serve others. I have become acquainted with the General Roman Calendar, and am working to collect all the Feast Days, a la Pokémon Go. I find that the more I go to Mass, the more I appreciate and enjoy it.
- The above is especially important, if like me, you often find yourself too tired for meaningful prayer time at the end of the day. I made many resolutions to say the Rosary on certain days, and often failed to do it because of the tyranny of schedule, family and professional obligations, etc. I have an extra Rosary at work now, and may try to fit this in over lunch. I am lucky enough to have an office with a door.
- Prayer and Contemplation can be very effective when done in silence and darkness. Cardinal Sarah discusses this in God or Nothing. My prayer life up till recently had mostly been spoken, petitionary prayer. I have tried just before sleep, kneeling and emptying my mind, and just listening. I don’t hear anything, but according to Sarah and others, this provides the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to work in you. I often wake up in the middle of the night, and find it fruitful just to lie there and let the mind take in whatever God wants to impart. I think most of the best received stuff I have written came to me between 3 and 5 am during these interludes.
“Its true, all of it.” Han to Rey and Finn.
Newton’s Third law provides that for “every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” However, God is far more generous. For every movement we make to him, he advances much farther towards us, like the Father running to greet the returned prodigal son.
I think that the last 18 months has been the best “year” of my life. I had some significant personal, professional and health challenges, but God’s grace carried me through. I had my peaks and valleys, being subject to the “Law of Undulation” as C.S. Lewis describes in his The Screwtape Letters. However, I found myself much less bothered by things, less angry, more forgiving, and did not shoot anyone first, even bounty hunters! And writing as a man, sexual temptation will always be a key struggle, but the grace I have received provided a measure of calm and peace to my carnal nature that I thought would be impossible to experience in this life.
I also found my interest in popular culture has waned dramatically. I am much less interested in watching TV, sports, movies, and listening to talk/sports radio. I am loyal to my sports teams as much as any guy, but no longer feel the compulsion to watch the games. I have also cut down on a lot of the casual fiction reading that I often did just to fill the time (“beach reads”). I was also able to tune out a lot of the election noise and political chatter over the past Spring and Summer, but did get sucked in too much in the past few months. And yes, I will see “Rogue One”, but I don’t have to go opening night.
Instead, I find that I like to do a lot of religious reading (e.g. scriptural commentaries, spiritual reflections, etc.). I probably learned more about our faith in the last 18 months than in all the prior years. A surprising side effect is a new-found appreciation of Classical music. I do not play an instrument and have never seriously studied music, but I find that’s what my radio is set to in the car these days.
This blog was my attempt at performing “works of mercy” for the Jubilee Year. It is sad to see how many people in the West have fallen away from the faith compared to prior times, and that a smaller percentage of the younger generations are being raised in the faith. How can we communicate with people in humble way about what they are missing?
I think one way has to be stories. While the daytime soaps have faded, our imagination has been captured by cable series, Netflix, comic books, movies, music videos, novels, etc. Even our sports and politics revolve around the story structure. There is a beginning, middle and end, with a cast of characters, various crises, and a conclusion.
I have tried my hand at short fiction over the last year or so as a means to convey my own experiences and thoughts in hopefully a humble and interesting way. This blog has a small following, but as I said in my very first post, if one person is helped, then its been worth it.
The creative well dried up over the summer, and I have gotten away from fiction and done some books reviews and spiritual reflections instead. I have tried not to force it, as most of the early stuff just came to me without a lot of conscious effort. So perhaps that’s all God intended for this effort. Also, one who tries to write for the Lord will often ask himself whether its just vanity, or really for the Glory of God. I certainly ask myself that question a lot.
So, perhaps this is the last post. If you have followed along this last year or so, thanks for your time. I will pray and reflect on this, and if it is in accord with God’s will, I may continue the blog. I would like to try more fiction, but if that’s not where the Spirit leads me, this blog may shift to doing book reviews, spiritual reflections, etc.
And no matter what happens, stay true, you will have your happy ending. This thing we call “life” is the Way of the Cross. But Time itself is subject to the Lord, and He makes all things new, and will give you true life to the fullest.