Here is the text of the translation of the audience at which Pope Francis explains why he has declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy. All Catholics should pray that this year of mercy is, as the Holy Father intends and hopes, very fruitful for the Church and for the world. And maybe it can help us to remember that this year of mercy can be fruitful for all of us, not only by reminding us to be merciful, but also by teaching us that we are in need of mercy. We should pray that it is a year of conversion for all sinners, great ones and more commonplace ones.
When we think of the year of mercy, and of the pope’s deliberate effort to emphasize that the Church is here to offer God’s mercy, we might think first of really big time sinners who might be led to seek forgiveness and re-enter the fold. It is always moving to think of these things. Alessandro Manzoni’s great novel, The Betrothed, has a wonderful account of the conversion, late in life, of a hardened sinner, a criminal in the grand style who suddenly realizes that he must put a stop to all of it and throw himself on God’s mercy, and make amends for his sins. Let’s by all means pray for such conversions, such efforts to seek out God’s mercy.
But in asking for the spectacular, let’s not forget that the ordinary sinner needs mercy, too. Most people have not committed themselves to a life of really terrible sin. But everybody sins, and many, many people–especially people who have gotten on into middle age–have the experience of sins that just seem unbeatable by human means. They may even seem unbeatable by superhuman means: we go to confession over and over again, but these sins keep getting the better of us. They may be small, but it is a constant source of grief that we continue to fall prey to them.
This year of mercy holds out hope for such people as well. If you have led the life of a hardened sinner, turn to God for mercy. If you have some terrible sin in your past, turn to God for mercy. And if you are just beat down by your weaknesses and stuck in a rut of small-time, repetitive sin, turn to God for mercy. He wants to extend his mercy to us all, which is what the pope wants us to remember.