“Live God’s Mercy so that the Church is Credible!”

POST BY RPollitt

Pope Francis opens the Holy Door at Bangui Cathedral, L'Osservatore Romano
Pope Francis opens the Holy Door at Bangui Cathedral, L'Osservatore Romano

The Catholic Church throughout the world formally begins the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy today, 8 December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Pope Francis invites the whole Church to refashion itself as a place not of judgment or condemnation but of pardon and merciful love. “Perhaps we have long since forgotten how to show and live the way of mercy,” Pope Francis wrote in the document Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy) in which he announced the Jubilee Year. He said that the Church’s “very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.”

Jewish tradition inspired the Catholic Church to start celebrating the Jubilee or Holy Year. Pope Boniface VIII started the Catholic tradition in the year 1300. A Holy Year is a time of general forgiveness, open to all. It is a special invitation to approach God and others.

The Church, during Holy Years, seeks to emphasise one of her more profound characteristics, to make it visible for all to understand. This characteristic is mercy and the inexhaustible capacity to welcome and forgive all men and women in need of pardon whether alive or dead.

The Church is called to follow the example of Jesus who explains in many passages of the Gospel that he comes in search of sinners, of the lost sheep, to heal the sick, to free prisoners. In this way he reveals the authentic face of God, his and our Father: “rich in mercy”. On these special occasions the Church makes it easier for the faithful to do penance and experience reconciliation. She teaches us to do penance and to make amends for sin with works of mercy and love for God and neighbour.

“The temptation ... to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step... The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more,” Pope Francis wrote.

The Lord waits to enter the door

A number of symbols will accompany the Jubilee Year to help us, God’s people, express the great truth of our faith and lead us into a more profound relationship with Jesus Christ.

The first symbolic rite of the Jubilee of Mercy is the opening of the Holy Door. During his trip to Africa, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door in the Cathedral of Bangui, in the Central African Republic. It was a powerful gesture to show that the Jubilee of Mercy is open in all parts of the world. But the Pope will also open the better-known Holy Door in St Peter’s Basilica today. Normally, it is opened just once every 25 years. In fact, a brick wall is built to cover it until it is torn down for the next Jubilee.

The Holy Door symbolises the extraordinary way that Catholics can open themselves up to their faith. For pilgrims, the highlight of their journey is walking through the Holy Door. On Sunday, 13 December, for the first time in the history of the Jubilee Years, there will be Holy Doors opened in all the Cathedrals of the world. Local bishops have been empowered for the occasion to offer the Papal Blessing to all who take part in this occasion.

On 18 November 2015, during his weekly General Audience in St Peter’s Square, Pope Francis spoke specifically about the door. He referred to the recent Synod of Bishops on the Family “which gave all families and all the Church a strong impetus to meet at the threshold of this open door. The Church was encouraged to open her doors, to go forth with the Lord towards his sons and daughters who walk together, at times uncertain, at times lost, in these difficult times. Christian families, in particular, have been encouraged to open the door to the Lord who waits to enter, bringing his blessing. But the Lord never forces the door; he asks permission to enter through ours, although his doors are always open. There are still places in the world where doors are not locked, but there are also many where reinforced doors have become normal.”

He went on to say that we must not accept the idea of doors that are locked. He urged cities, families, and society to open doors that are locked. He urged the Church to unlock doors that have been locked saying “An inhospitable Church, like a family closed in on itself, mortifies the Gospel and makes the world arid. No more reinforced doors in the Church!”

Announcing the Good News of God’s mercy

Pope Francis said that many people no longer trust and therefore do not “knock on the door of our Christian heart, at the doors of our Churches. ... We have lost their trust; please, we must not let this happen. The door says many things about the house, and also the Church”. The Holy Father went on to say that the Church “is the door to the house of the Lord but she is not the proprietor of the house of the Lord”.

In South Africa a number of religious congregations will be offering three-day “Missions of Mercy” to parish communities in the Jubilee Year. This is at the request of Pope Francis himself. These special missionaries of mercy will announce the Good News of God’s mercy in sermons, in rituals, in celebrating the Eucharist and most especially in hearing confessions.

The Jesuit Institute South Africa welcomes this Jubilee Year. We, with all God’s people in South Africa, hope that the next 365 days will be a true experience of God’s merciful love. We urge all God’s people to enter through the doors of mercy. If you have not been to the Sacrament of Reconciliation for a long time, take hold of this opportunity to open yourself up to God’s mercy. Think of ways that you can merciful reach out to those around you – especially those you have not shown mercy towards.

We urge ministers and parishes to find ways of helping people experience God’s mercy. Let this be your constant theme. You can:

  • Reach out to those who have left the Church, ask for forgiveness for the exclusion or hurt you or your parish community may have caused.
  • Seek ways of welcoming those who feel left out or on the margins of the Church for whatever reason.
  • Find ways of being missionary, visit the sick and housebound, open soup kitchens, give of your time and talent to others who need your assistance generously, seek out those who have strayed and invite them back to the Lord’s merciful embrace.
  • Pope Francis has pleaded with us to close the gap between the rich and the poor. How can our parish communities use resources to help those less fortunate in new, creative ways that will symbolise God’s merciful love?
  • Let us make our parishes real sanctuaries for all who seek sanctuary, no matter who they are.

Let us not miss this wonderful opportunity to proclaim what is at the heart of the Gospel: the merciful love of God for each and every person no matter who they are, what they have done or failed to do! Our outreach and embrace towards others is a sign of the outreach and embrace of God towards us. Let us seek mercy where we know we need it and then offer God’s merciful love, generously and without reserve, to others.

Russell Pollitt SJ, Director of the Jesuit Institute of South Africa