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Why a Jubilee?

Fr. Alexander Castillo
The Catholic Voice
February 29, 2016

In our first article (Voice, Jan. 18) we talked a about the origin of the jubilees of the Church. But, why are these jubilees important? Why celebrate them? How can they help us?

To answer these questions it is necessary to return to that time, in the Book of Leviticus (Ch. 25), when the Lord God calls on Israel to celebrate jubilees, and He Himself explains how to celebrate these holidays. Jubilees, in a sense, put things in order — our relationship with God, with our brothers and sisters and with creation. And doing that certainly brings joy, happiness, peace and serenity to our existence. Jubilees in the Old Testament, as promulgated under the law of Moses, included resting the land, freeing slaves, forgiving debts, stopping abuses and restoring justice. We do not know for certain how faithfully these precepts were fulfilled, but Leviticus' text makes it clear that God's people should set their goals to the highest, the most sublime and not be mediocre. The proclamation of the jubilee year strongly encourages us to embrace a faith in which we confess not only with our lips, but live it in every moment of our life.

We also find in the New Testament one proclamation calling for a Jubilee, but certainly a different one. Jesus Christ, at the very beginning of his public ministry, went to the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21), and was handed a scroll from the prophet Isaiah. When Jesus said he had been sent "to proclaim the year of the Lord" and that "today the Scripture has been fulfilled," what did those who heard Him understand? Perhaps they understood that they would finally achieve those ideals set forth in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

But something much deeper was actually announced here. Jesus spoke of something bigger. Because of His presence in our midst, His preaching and especially with the mystery of His death and resurrection, He brought into fullness the hopes and prophecies of the Old Testament, making final the reconciliation of man with God, liberation from the slavery of sin and true brotherhood among all men.

Christ, the Lord of history, is the source of our jubilee years; we are filled with joy, hope and strength to live in freedom and exhilaration of the Son of God.

"The old Jubilee led slaves from oppression, and brought them back to their families and their land. In Christ, we have all been freed from everything that oppressed us: sin (John 8: 34-36; Rom. 6:18; 1 Peter 2:16), death (Rom. 8: 2; Heb 2:15) and evil (Luke 11:20). He has made us return to our true family, the family of God (Luke 15:11-24), and our true home: Heaven (Heb. 11:14-16). (Scott Hahn, editor Doubleday Catholic Bible Dictionary, p 429. original in 2009.)

Clearly, the spiritual dimension of joy that fills our hearts during a time of jubilee has very concrete consequences. With the grace that comes from Christ, His Word and His presence among us through the Sacraments, we are able to put things back in order: our relationship with God, with brothers, our role in the Church, and our responsibility as stewards of the world placed in our hands by the Creator. So during Jubilees we are encouraged to embrace conversion, penance, prayer, pilgrimages, indulgences, initiatives of solidarity with the needy, ecumenism, promotion of social justice; knowing that as Christ helps us put things back in order, we are filled with true joy.

"The period of the Jubilee introduces us to the vigorous language which the divine pedagogy of salvation uses to lead man to conversion and penance. These are the beginning and the path of man's healing, and the necessary condition for him to recover what he could never attain by his own strength: God's friendship and grace, the supernatural life which alone can bring fulfilment to the deepest aspirations of the human heart." (Pope St. John Paul II, Incarnationis mysterium (Mystery of the incarnation). Bull of the Convocation of the Jubilee of the Year 2000, n. 2.)

View original publication on The Catholic Voice Website.


Rev. Alexander Castillo is episcopal secretary to Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, master of the liturgical ceremonies of the bishop and Academic Dean of the School of Pastoral Ministries of the Diocese of Oakland. He is also a member of the Committee for the Jubilee celebration of Mercy in the Diocese of Oakland.