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Aside from a little Latin lesson, Misericordiae Vultus (literally means “mercy looks“) is a beautiful image of the searching quality of mercy as seen in the person of Jesus Christ, and it is the term Pope Francis has used to announce this year as “the Year of Mercy.”

The time of great pardon begins. It is the Jubilee of Mercy.

Will 2016 be that “Year of Jubilee” – where debts are forgiven, lands are returned, and peace reigns in the place where justice is established by forgiveness?  Let it be!

It doesn’t take a Catholic to appreciate the wording in which all Christ-followers can find harmony, but here is the opening to what is known as the Papal Charter:

Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him. The Father, “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4), after having revealed his name to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6), has never ceased to show, in various ways throughout history, his divine nature. In the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), when everything had been arranged according to his plan of salvation, he sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way. Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God.

We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. 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.

Recently someone asked me to explain the different between “mercy” and “grace.” It wasn’t an exercise in theological-speak, but an invitation to consider these grand notions – since even the Pope uses these two words in the same breath when he invites us to “rediscover the transforming power of the grace of mercy.

The Knowledge of the Holy

Without getting into too much detail, I have found wise thinkers like A. W. Tozer put it as simply as possible (he wrote a fine little book titled “The Knowledge of the Holy“):

In God mercy and grace are one; but as they reach us they are seen as two, related but not identical.

As mercy is God’s goodness confronting human misery and guilt, so grace is His goodness directed toward human debt and demerit. It is by His grace that God imputes merit where none previously existed and declares no debt to be where one had been before.

Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines Him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving. It is a self-existent principle inherent in the divine nature and appears to us as a self-caused propensity to pity the wretched, spare the guilty, welcome the outcast, and bring into favor those who were before under just disapprobation. Its use to us sinful men is to save us and to make us sit together in heavenly places to demonstrate to the ages the exceeding riches of God’s kindness to us in Christ Jesus.

Though this year may have started on the poisonous fumes of last year’s terror, may I invite you to this new year search for the enigma of your worth found in the One who looks for you through the lens of mercy. And may you know this year as your year of jubilee!

When you find Him, you will discover He has been searching for you by His mercy.  Therefore, grace to you in our Lord Jesus Christ.