“Praise the Lord, for he is good; for his mercy endures forever.” This line from Psalm 136 is a strong and beautiful reminder of the essential message that God wishes to communicate to all human beings, those created in his own image and likeness. It is the message of mercy. One might say that the heart of God is a heart of mercy. In fact, that is why the Father sent the Son into the world – to show us his mercy.

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has declared that most of 2016 will be a Jubilee Year of Mercy for the whole Church. This year will begin on Dec. 8, 2015 and conclude on Nov. 20, 2016. This will be an extraordinary time for the Church throughout the world and here locally to reflect on the gift of God’s mercy, celebrate that mercy, and show forth his mercy to all around us.

There will be a lot of information given about this Year of Mercy and how we will celebrate it here in the Archdiocese of Portland. Some events are already planned and a planning committee is working with our own staff at the pastoral center to help us celebrate this extraordinary time of God’s grace in our local Church in western Oregon. I would like to reflect upon a few themes for this year that may help guide us in its celebration.

The first is the meaning of mercy itself. The glossary to the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines mercy in this way: “The loving kindness, compassion, or forbearance shown to one who offends (e.g., the mercy of God to us sinners).” God’s mercy is abundant, even infinite. There is no limit to God’s mercy. He did not spare his own beloved Son to bring us the precious gift of his mercy.

This understanding of God’s mercy, therefore, calls for and even demands a response on our part. It is the response of conversion and a seeking of God’s mercy. One can sometimes get the impression that there has been a distortion in the true understanding of God’s mercy. Some seem to think that God’s mercy means that anything goes as far as human life and behavior is concerned. God’s mercy does not condone, excuse or overlook our sinful behavior.

This is evident in the beautiful story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:2-11). The mercy of Jesus is shown in that the Lord does not condemn the woman, but forgives her. “Neither do I condemn you.” But the Lord goes on to admonish the woman not to continue in her sin. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” Jesus did not say, “Go, and do as you please.”

The Good News that Jesus has proclaimed to the world is that, by the mercy of God, he has paid the price for our sins, has reconciled us to the Father, has destroyed sin and death, defeated the devil, and opened for us the way to eternal life. Now that is good news! But we must turn to the lord, seek conversion, and ask for this precious gift of mercy. God’s love and mercy should move us in this way.

Pope Francis recalls this theme in his letter to the Church proclaiming the Year of Mercy: “This is the opportune moment to change our lives! This is the time to allow our hearts to be touched…Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe.”

There is no limit to God’s mercy toward us sinners. No sin is too large for his mercy. No multiplication of sins is too big for his forgiveness. We may get tired of asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness, but God never tires of extending his compassion, mercy and forgiveness. How great is our God! His mercy endures forever!

During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I wish to make a special appeal for all Catholics to return to a deeper, more frequent and more fervent celebration of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. This is the sacrament of God’s mercy in a powerful way. Please return to confession! How many of us have taken comfort and solace in those powerful words, “I absolve you from your sins” and “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace!”

Finally, having celebrated and experienced God’s infinite mercy toward us, especially in the wondrous Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, we must show and extend that mercy toward others. We must learn to forgive others. Our Holy Father has often said that the most important words that need to be uttered in families are “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.” We are called to be ambassadors of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

We also show this mercy toward others by practicing the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. Remember those? During this Jubilee Year we will together strive to practice these works of mercy with greater intensity and devotion. We must show the merciful face of Jesus toward those who are suffering and in need. We must help others experience God’s mercy and know that they are loved.

My sincere hope is that our celebration of this Jubilee Year of Mercy will have a lasting effect on our local Church. Let us work together to make sure this year is not just a “flash in the pan”, but a year that will reorient us as a Church into this new millennium of Christianity. Let us be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful. His mercy endures forever!