If you close your eyes and listen carefully, you can hear the sound of doors being closed all over the world. Not in a violent way, as if they’re being slammed shut, but in a quiet, thoughtful and reverent way. The doors being closed, of course, are the holy doors of mercy that were opened in cathedrals and churches across the globe to initiate and celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
In inaugurating the Jubilee Year, Pope Francis said, “This Extraordinary Holy Year is itself a gift of grace. This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy.” And indeed that’s exactly what’s happened.
The Year of Mercy saw some very memorable and inspiring events at our Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul, and lots of the faithful passed through our holy door to symbolize their personal journey to mercy. Many of our parishes, schools and organizations took up specific works of charity to illustrate the power of mercy.
I was particularly pleased that across the Diocese, especially in Lent, there was a rediscovery of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as thousands of the faithful returned to the sacrament to experience the joy of God’s mercy and forgiveness. For some, it was a life-changing moment. I hope that this renewed emphasis on Confession will continue in the Diocese in the days to come.
The reality of God’s mercy begins, first, with an awareness that we are all the recipients of the bountiful mercy of God. Think of the rich Biblical images that Jesus used to teach that truth, for example the Good Shepherd and the Prodigal Son. And which of us, in our infirmity, doesn’t really need the forgiveness and mercy of God? The lesson is that God loves each of us in a powerful and personal way. He cares about how we’re doing. He walks with us, encourages us, heals us, and forgives us when we falter. He wants us to be happy and holy, and someday to be at his side forever in Heaven.
That was the first goal of the Jubilee Year: to increase our awareness of God’s mercy and love.
The second flowed from the first and it motivates us to be more merciful to others, a goal we accomplish with our words and works of kindness, charity and forgiveness. The Year of Mercy led us to examine our conscience: How do we speak to and about others? Do we practice forgiveness in our lives – readily seeking and granting forgiveness? Do we reach out in charity and generosity, eager to share our time, talent and treasure with those in need?
The Jubilee of Mercy saw the return of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The corporal works of mercy are, perhaps, better known: loving actions such as feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and visiting the sick. The spiritual works of mercy are not as well known, but are equally important, for example: to instruct the ignorant, to admonish sinners, and to pray for the living and dead.
During the Jubilee Year Pope Francis suggested that “care for creation” be added to the works of mercy, an innovative idea that gives us all something to think about. (If I were adding a corporal work of mercy I might suggest “to care for troubled families,” and for a spiritual work of mercy “to promote respect for human life.”)
The works of mercy clearly remind us that mercy isn’t just a vague spiritual ideal, but a virtue that can be, and should be, practiced every day. It’s a virtue that makes a difference!
In a remarkable passage, Pope Francis explained the reason for the Jubilee of Mercy. It’s because “Humanity is wounded, deeply wounded...We add further to the tragedy by considering our illness, our sins, to be incurable, things that cannot be healed or forgiven...We don’t believe that there is a chance for redemption; for a hand to raise you up; for an embrace to save you, forgive you, pick you up, flood you with infinite, patient, indulgent love, to put you back on your feet. We need mercy.”
During the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis challenged the Church and the world with his own passionate words and compelling deeds. In so doing he illustrated the need for mercy and its power to change us – to lift us up and redeem us. And is there any doubt that our cruel and violent world, our fractured nation and our challenged Church need to receive and give mercy?
Although the holy doors of the world are now being closed, the “mercy door” is always open because mercy is a primary attribute of God. “Mercy is God’s identity card,” Pope Francis said. In short, we cannot know God if we don’t have mercy. May the lessons of the Jubilee Year of Mercy live on and take hold of our lives.
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And, finally, on another note... may you and your families have a blessed and a happy Thanksgiving! I will pray for the great people of this Diocese with love and gratitude. And to celebrate the holiday in a truly Catholic way, perhaps you could begin the day by attending Holy Mass; do a little act of charity or kindness for someone; enjoy your time with family and friends; and don’t go shopping!