The Jubilee of Mercy begins tomorrow, December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, because that feast of Mary’s innocence takes us back to the very beginning and reminds us that when we rebelled against God at the dawn of human history God did not wish to leave us in our sins.
The Pope will inaugurate the Jubilee by opening the Holy Door at St. John Lateran on the 3rd Sunday of Advent and subsequently the Holy Doors of all the major basilicas in Rome. On December 13, I will open Holy Doors at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen and at the Basilica of the Assumption, and doors of other churches around the Archdiocese will also be opened. The Pope wants to open doors for us too, the doors of mercy. He wants us to walk through the doors and to rediscover in the Church that God is mercy itself, that God is close to us, loving and compassionate, and that mercy unlocks for you and me the joy of forgiveness and the joy of being the Lord’s disciples.
If we want to understand and receive God’s mercy, let us turn to Scripture. The Jubilee is a moment for us to withdraw into our room to pray to see how our hearts are aching and how the Lord has tried to heal us. When we open our hearts to the Lord’s mercy, we are ready to walk through a holy door!
In the Gospels, we see the God of mercy fully revealed in Jesus. In fact, that’s the one thought we should have whenever we hear or read the Gospels: Jesus reveals the fullness of God’s love, the God who is love. He makes the God of love visible, tangible, and audible – by proclaiming the Good News, by responding with love to those who approach him, by performing signs especially for the poor, the sick, and the marginalized. Jesus called forth unlikely followers, like Matthew the tax collector, whom he chose by looking upon him with merciful love.
What’s more, Jesus shows us that the God of mercy never gives up on us. Think of all the parables about the lost coin, the lost sheep, the lost son…and think of how God’s joy over a repentant sinner is revealed in the woman who finds her coin, the shepherd his sheep, the father his son.
Clearly, the Pope wants the Church to be and to be seen as an instrument, a vessel, a steward, a trustee of God’s merciful love in a world where mercy seems to be in short supply. Think of persecuted Christians in the Middle East; think of how polarized we are as a nation; how harsh is our rhetoric; how a person’s foibles are forever enshrined in the social media.
But let us also admit that the Church is often not perceived as merciful, this despite the words of St. John Paul II, who wrote a whole letter on the richness & beauty of God’s mercy.
Pope John Paul II observed the lack of mercy in contemporary culture and Pope Francis, like his predecessor, affirms that it is exactly this lack of mercy that should impel the Church to proclaim God’s love and mercy in Jesus Christ all the more credibly and all the more insistently.
Pope Francis reminds us that God’s mercy is the substance of what the Church teaches, preaches, and celebrates. And the Pope uses wonderful images to get this across – he famously described the Church as a field hospital where the wounds of human existence are to be tended; he decries a style of church ministry that condemns and excludes and asks those who minister in the Lord’s name to open our hearts in love. He says that where there are Christians everyone should find “an oasis of mercy.” And he teaches us that to receive mercy we must be ready to show mercy.
At the heart of any holy year is the forgiveness of sins. We aren’t able to become just on our own. All of us are entangled in sin and smitten to one degree or another by the romance of sin. We cannot justify ourselves by observing the law but rather by faith in Christ which unlocks the floodgates of redeeming mercy. That mercy in turn changes us, transforms our hearts, so that we in turn begin to love as we have been loved and to forgive as we have been forgiven.
The source of this mercy is Christ but the portal through which it is accessed is the Church. The Pope asks us all to accompany one another in our journey through life. How many people have questions, fears, doubts – and just as Jesus became one of us and walked with us on this earth, so too he asks us to walk with each other, to listen with compassion, to refrain from being judgmental, to break down barriers. Yet when we are accompanied by others or in turn we accompany them, we are not just affirming those with whom we journey. We are bearing witness to a mercy that transforms and justifies, a mercy that can bring about in our lives and in our hearts real change, real conversion, a true likeness to the One who loves us so.
So let us prepare to enter this Holy Year, realizing that the way to open the holy door of God’s mercy is not with the push of a hand or an arm but rather with the openness of a heart that is humble and contrite. May we receive mercy so that we can show mercy. May we who have received mercy ourselves show it to those around us!