Fr. Ron Rolheiser, omi


December 27, 1999

What do you say at the turn of a millennium? What do you say to propose a toast at Jesus' 2,000th birthday party?

The temptation of course is to let an event of this magnitude – and Jesus' 2000th birthday, the event by which we date time on this planet, surely is an event of such magnitude – seduce you into a bit of grandiosity, where you feel called upon to propose the religious agenda for the next 100 years.

Too grandiose altogether, my Gaelic friends would say. Yet it's even less forgivable to not address the event at all. Imagine ignoring the turn of a millennium and acting as if all was simply business as usual? Let the world have its hype and its parties; let's you and I talk about proposed changes in the liturgy!

To my mind, the proper balance is struck by Pope John Paul in his pastoral letter on the millennium, Incarnationis Mysterium, where he shows what can lie between grandiosity, secular hype and apocalyptic nonsense on one side and insensitivity, pseudo-sophistication and post-Christian bias on the other.

What the pope proposes in this letter is that, while there is no magic in numbers and there is theology of numbers, some occasions are unique in their symbolism and afford us unique opportunities for grace. The turn of a millennium is such an occasion, a Kairos.

Incarnationis Mysterium invites us to turn the year 2000 into a jubilee year. What is a jubilee year? According to a biblical custom, based on Leviticus 25, there is to be, every 50 years or so, a year of jubilee, a year in which slaves are given their freedom and all land reverts to its previous owners. The pope is inviting us to make 2000 that kind of year.

But how to do this? How do we set slaves free and return land to its proper ownership?

The perfect can be the enemy of the good. If we try to do too much, we may end up doing nothing. There is no perfect way of living this out; still there are many things we can do, both communally and individually, to help set slaves free and return land to its proper ownership. What are these?

Jubilee is ultimately about forgiving debts, trying to set free those who are under restraint, ending dominance and practising restorative justice. The means for this are always the same. To do this, each of us must try to reconcile with our enemies, live a simpler life, acknowledge the holy, respect the integrity of creation, admit our past mistakes and how these have hurt others, and acknowledge in gratitude the life and grace that have been given us.

In line with this, Incarnationis Mysterium then suggests that next year, as faith communities, we might do one, or several, of these things:

  • Have a dinner to which we invite the poor and homeless in our area.
  • Have a special reconciliation service with another denomination, religion or some ideological group with whom we have had a less than cordial history.
  • Give some of our material goods directly to the poor in our area.
  • Commit ourselves to a simpler lifestyle, in a tangible way.
  • Organize a pilgrimage or go on a pilgrimage to a holy place.
  • Do at least one concrete ecological project that manifests our concern for the integrity of creation.
  • Have a public healing service to confess some aspect of our "dark past" as a community; analogous to the pope's acknowledgement of the Church's arrogance in treating Galileo.
  • Hold a special remembrance service for particular "martyrs" in our own recent faith history.

Beyond the communal, there is the private. We need, each of us, to do some individual things in each of these areas. Again, this will be, most times, not a question of literally setting slaves free and restoring land to its rightful owner, but of a circumcision-of-the-heart. We can, for instance, celebrate jubilee by:

  • Forgiving a long-standing grudge.
  • Celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation more frequently and honestly.
  • Writing off a debt that someone owes us.
  • Giving away some of our own money directly to the poor.
  • Adopting a poor person into our life.
  • Taking a homeless person to dinner.
  • Simplifying our lifestyle.
  • Going on a pilgrimage or making within our own home a place for pilgrimage and worship.
  • Attending a prayer service in another church.
  • Recognizing, in gratitude, those who have suffered to give us both faith and maturity.

The turn of the millennium is a privileged opportunity for grace. Is this statement a divine counsel or a worn clich‚? That depends . . . upon each of us!