The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 27, 2000 Issue
Summoned to Serve

Time for us to get over the hurts

During the Jubilee Year we are called to forgive and let land lie fallow

By Peter Feuerherd

Summoned to Serve

Still stewing because your brother-in-law borrowed that snowblower last year and hasn't returned it? Let go of it, and you'll honoring a religious tradition dating to the ancient Hebrews and endorsed by Pope John Paul, says Maria Harris, Ph.D., a national religious education consultant and expert on the practice of jubilee.

Harris, a visiting professor at New York University, is the author of Proclaim Jubilee (Westminster John Knox) and Jubilee Time (Bantam Books).

At Jubilee, the ancient Hebrews set aside time to allow the land to lie fallow and forgive all debts, Harris said. In ancient Israel, the jubilee was held every 50 years and was a time of fasting and repentance followed by a festival.

Pope John Paul has urged Catholics to follow that tradition this year. He has urged reconciliation and asked that the crushing debt burden on developing countries be relieved in line with a tradition cited in Lv 25:8-12.

The concept of jubilee also is part of the fourth chapter of Luke, which includes the account of Jesus preaching in his hometown synagogue. In that chapter, Jesus proclaims that he has been sent to bring glad tidings to the poor and free captives from bondage.

Harris summed up the concept of jubilee in four f's and one j: fallowness, forgiveness, freedom, justice and festival.

For modern U.S. Christians, the spiritual benefits of jubilee are readily apparent, she said. While most don't live on the land, they still are called to let the land lie fallow, which, in a spiritual sense, means to stop and take a Sabbath.

In a culture that honors activity, letting the spirit lie fallow allows a Christian to move towards forgiveness, she said.

Moving towards forgiveness involves both personal decisions - such as letting go of that snowblower - and larger international concerns.

Poorer countries frequently are saddled with debt, and because of it are unable to progress. Pope John Paul has repeatedly asked international agencies to relieve the debt burden of developing countries, she said.

On the homefront, U.S. dioceses can work to balance resources among richer and poorer parishes.

The concept of forgiveness of debts is hard and practical, she added.

Spiritual debts also need to be considered. She cited a Detroit parish where priests asked parishioners to forgive anything they might have done to estrange them from the faith. Parishioners then asked their priests to forgive the times they weren't supportive.

In the Diocese of Saginaw, Mich., Bp. Kenneth Untener urged parishioners and priests to reflect on how the local church should forgive its spiritual and financial debts. That reflection should take place before every parish meeting, he said.

A similar mixture of personal and social concerns permeates the jubilee concept of freedom.

Scripture's call to proclaim liberty is engraved on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, famous for its crack.

It's quintessentially American. It's there on the Liberty Bell. Even though we are flawed and cracked ourselves, we have to work for liberty, Harris said.

On a personal level that can mean reflection on What is keeping me bound? a question that can address addictions and weaknesses.

On a social level, it can suggest that Catholics focus on liberating people from the social imprisonment of illiteracy by tutoring children and adults who need help.

The concept of jubilee justice means "finding out what belongs to whom and giving it back." For modern U.S. Catholics, fulfilling this jubilee command means recognizing the gifts that many middle-class people possess, Harris said.

Americans who have the skills to obtain decent jobs can focus on sharing their resources, perhaps by training others who lack education and training, she said.

While the ancient Hebrews modeled their jubilee on a 50-year-cycle, this year's millennium celebration recognizes a 1,000-year cycle in the Christian world, making its impact felt even more.

-- Next: Christianity's cultural gift

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