Jesus Christ # 1
Our Founder used to preach true conversion following the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Jubilees of the Church, especially the present one, have the same objective.
The word Jubilee is derived from the Hebrew "Hayyobel" which means the ram's horn. In fact the year of the Jubilee was inaugurated by sounding a ram's horn, which began on the Day of Atonement, the tenth day of the seventh month, Ethanim (September-October). The Jubilee occurred every fifty years ... slaves were to be set free and people were able to redeem their sold lands. So these chosen years were an economic and social renewal, and an acknowledgement of God as the Lord of Israel. Because of their hard social implications, Biblical scholars disagree whether the full meaning of a Jubilee was really in put into practice or not. But this institution stands as an example of God's concern for equality among his people and keeping possession of the ancient tribal lands.
When ancient scholars were translating the Septuagint, that is the Greek version of the original Hebrew text, they used the word "afesis" for Jubilee which means: "release from captivity, liberation, deliverance - cancellation of a debt or of an obligation." In the New Testament, "afesis" involves not a passing over of sins as in the old Covenant but their removal from the mind of God (Hebrews 10:18, 10:3). So, in this way, the Greek Bible gives a theological explanation of the Jubilee: a release from captivity and a liberation.
Greek scholars of the New Testament discern that in the Gospel of Luke, Our Lord Jesus Christ spoke in Jubilee terms when he spoke of himself and his mission: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (Luke 18-19). In the underlined words, the original Greek words is "afesin" that is the same word used by the Septuagint for the Hebrew word "yobel", which in English language is translated as Jubilee.
A Spiritual Renewal
The Church's Jubilee begins when the Pope opens a door in St Peter. This has a theological foundation. In this regard, the door is a symbol of Christ who proclaimed: "I am the gate. Any who enters through me will be safe: he will go freely in and out and be sure of finding pasture" (Jn10:19). The Christian faith is a confession of Jesus Christ as Saviour and a determination to follow in his footsteps.
The Church's Jubilee draws its inspiration from the Jubilee of the Old Testament. It is a renewal of one's moral life and true conversion, while following the teaching of Jesus Christ. There is also a grant of indulgence to those who visit a Church acknowledged by the Bishop, while praying, giving alms to the poor and making sacrifice.
But while the indulgences fascinated medieval minds, today they seem to be out dated. This is partly because modern man has lost the sense of sin, its pardon through the Church and is not preoccupied with eschatological realities of death, heaven, hell and the intermediate state of purgatory.
Human beings are sinners before God. In fact we are born with original sin. This is pardoned by Holy Baptism while all other sins are forgiven by the sacrament of Confession administered by the Church. So when man repents of his sins, he is justified before God but he has to atone for them in Purgatory. And the Jubilee, besides generating spiritual renewal, also grants indulgences, which are a pardoning of the time we should spend in Purgatory to atone for our sins.
As Members of the Society of Christian Doctrine, we can understand the Jubilee more deeply. The Founder preached for all his life a Christian renewal and in this regard he was radical. He used to preach the virtue of forgiving our enemies, the exercise of humility, frequent recourse to the sacrament of Reconciliation and meditation on eschatology.
Fr George Preca's awareness of eschatology helps us to understand the Jubilee. He spoke with sincerity and awareness about God's justice, about the possibility of hell for hardened sinners and also of purgatory as a place or state of purification, of atoning for our sins. His sermons helped many people to change their life, forgiving others while making recourse to the sacrament of Holy Confession. His conference and sermons were an invitation to good Christians to deepen their spirituality, and to sinners they were an invitation to conversion.
The Pope has dedicated three years as a preparation for the Jubilee, each one assigned to a Person of the Trinity. 1997 was the year of Jesus Christ, 1998 the year of the Holy Spirit and 1999 the year of the Father. This reminds me of the Sancta Trinitas at the end of the Assignment which we pray everyday. The Founder's spirituality was Christocentric, but in his writing he mentions also the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is worth noting that in his personal room he kept a picture of the Holy Trinity.
The aim of the Jubilee is to make the people of the whole world encounter Christ, even if they do not believe in him as being the Son of God. Our Founder can help us to grow in awareness of the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives. The birth of Jesus at Bethlehem is not an event that can be consigned to the past. The whole of human history, in fact, stands in reference to him: our own time and the future of the world are illumined by his presence. He is the "Living One (Rev 1:18), 'who is, who was and who is to come".
Fr Preca did much to make people spiritually aware of Jesus Christ. In Chapter 92 of The Sanctuary of Christ's Spirit, we find a portrait of Jesus Christ as if Fr Preca had personally met him during his life on earth. He wrote with such love and fascination about God's Son, that we cannot but deduce that he spent a lot of time meditating the Gospels and praying to him fervently. Thus we can speak of a deep spiritual encounter of Fr Preca with Jesus Christ.
His person-to-person relationship with Christ is also revealed by his strong attachment to the words of St John's Gospel: "The word became flesh". In the beginning of the Society, he wanted all the people to wear this badge as a testimony of Christ's incarnation. His introduction of the Christmas procession stemmed from an intense for the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He wanted the Members to make a procession of baby Jesus in the various premises of the Society every 25th day of every month to be a reminder of Christmas Day.
A similar reminder, but on a much greater scale, is being brought to us by the Church in this Jubilee Years of God's life-giving grace, his Son having come into the word and remaining among us in the Eucharist.
Angelo Xuereb sdc
Qala - Gozo
Preca Calling - Issue 46 (March 2000)