It is right and just to celebrate significant anniversaries in your life. When a married couple reaches 25, 50, 60 or more years together, it’s definitely time to get the champagne glasses out. It’s time to get the family and friends together and have a bash. It’s time to look back and, even if there have been difficult times in the years gone by, it’s right to savour the overriding sense of gratitude and achievement that the years have brought.
That’s true of a parish, too. We are in the middle of our Golden Jubilee Year! No matter what difficulties and problems there have been, to celebrate the Golden Jubilee is a source of “jubilation” and gratitude. Gratitude to Almighty God, first, but also gratitude for all the people, lay and clergy, who have borne the heat of the day in making the parish what it is.
Jubilees started in the bible. Every seventh year was declared a sabbatical jubilee. Then the Lord also decreed that there should be a greater jubilee year every seven-times-seven-years, i.e. every fifty years. In jubilee years, it was prescribed that slaves would be freed, that prisoners would be released, that debts would be forgiven and that people should return to their families and land if they had been separated from them by misfortune.
The greatest jubilee year, though, was yet to come. It was the “year of favour” of which Jesus spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth: “God has sent me to preach the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind … to proclaim a Year of the Lord’s favour.” What Jesus was really talking about was not a calendar year, but the fact that all time now found its fulfilment and liberation in His person, in His incarnation, because in Him eternity itself entered time. His death and resurrection freed us all from the slavery and prison of sin, restored us to the family of God, remitted the debt of our sins and returned us to the true promised land, the Kingdom of Heaven.
So, our parish’s golden jubilee year, which we will mark in a special way next Sunday, the Solemnity of Saint Albert, isn’t just a secular remembrance. It finds its true meaning in celebrating Christ’s work among us. It places these fifty years of grace firmly within the saving work of the Lord. It thereby invites us to deepen our commitment to Him in faith, in hope and in love. There is no doubt that, during this jubilee year, the Lord will pour out upon us, if we ask and want it, a renewed abundance of His love and grace.
In line with this, I want to suggest a few practical things for you to consider during this parish jubilee year. They are things which reflect the biblical meaning of the jubilee.
The first is to make a general confession of your sins at some point between now and 9 April 2018. The jubilee is about God’s liberating power bringing joy to our lives. The greatest joy we can experience is the joy of freedom from sin, which is just another way of saying the joy of being filled with the sanctifying grace and love of God. I suggest you consider doing your general confession during Advent or Lent, since these are penitential seasons. I will provide you before Advent with some material on how to make a general confession in case you don’t know. The point of it is to help cleanse your memory as well as your conscience, to free you from nagging doubts about past sins. This will then help you to look forward with greater hope and a deep sense of security in the power and love of God.
The second suggestion is to forgive someone against whom you may still harbour a grudge or resentment. Forgiving someone does not mean you need to feel all warm and wonderful about them. Forgiveness is a spiritual act, a decision of the will; it does not have to involve emotion or feelings, good or bad. Forgiving someone does not require either that you tell them straight away. To forgive someone as you stand before God is already a powerful act of freeing that person from your anger or rejection. Perhaps in time, it will be possible to express your forgiveness directly to the person. But remember: harbouring a grudge or resentment does not just imprison the other in your negative attitude; it also imprisons you in it. To forgive another frees you as much as it frees the other.
A third suggestion is to ask forgiveness from someone you know you have hurt. Again, in doing so, you are making it possible for both of you to be freed from the negative connection between you. Perhaps the other won’t respond, or won’t respond immediately, but your willingness to repair the relationship introduces a new dynamic, one which might eventually reach a breakthrough in reconciliation. You can always ask the Lord to move the other’s heart.
A fourth suggestion is to try and take a reasonable chunk of time, be it a day or a few days or more if you can, and dedicate it to God. It could be a day of recollection or a retreat. When you take time out like this, the Lord will not be outdone in generosity. He will reward you greatly. The very fact that it is difficult and awkward to arrange such a thing in practical terms is part of the effort of love you show Him. I read recently a remark of St. Alphonsus Liguori, I think, who said that every Christian should spend a half hour per day in quiet prayer and, if he or she is a very busy Christian, he or she should then spend an hour a day in prayer!
A fifth suggestion is to make an extraordinary gesture in almsgiving, where your right hand does not know what your left is doing. To give of your means, even for once more than you might normally do, is not only an act of charity, it does not only purify sin, but is a recognition on your part that there is nothing you have that you have not received. It is an act of gratitude. It is a way of recognizing that you are a steward of what you have because God has given the riches of the earth to all of humanity. Social justice and the distribution of wealth was one of the major themes of the biblical jubilee but it was understood as a sharing between equals under the providential generosity of God.
The true Christian and spiritual joy of our parish jubilee will be greatly enhanced to the degree that we each try to undertake some of these suggestions (which are not exhaustive). As you know, with your help, I have managed to make the church building a little warmer and more pleasing to the eye. Let us use the jubilee to make our hearts warmer, individually and as a community, and so find that we are more pleasing in the eyes of God. Let that be our jubilation!