[Austen Ivereigh] With five pushes at the heavy Holy Door of St Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis yesterday inaugurated a year-long drive to rediscover God’s mercy as the Church’s primary offer to humanity, which is key to his strategy for making the Church more outgoing and missionary.
“How much wrong we do to God and His grace when we affirm that sins are punished by his judgement before putting first that they are forgiven by his mercy,” he told a congregation of 70,0000 in a chilly St Peter’s Square in his homily at the Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. He said the feast served as a reminder of the grandeur of God’s love in allowing Mary to “avert the original sin present in every man and woman who comes into this world.”
As well as the Feast and the start of the Jubilee, yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council as well as the 1,000th day of the Francis papacy which aims to bring to fruition and complete the Council, both in the area of governance and collegiality and by a more socially engaged and missionary attitude.
The first pope to be ordained to the priesthood after the council said yesterday that Vatican II should be remembered not just for its documents but for its “spirit” of a “Samaritan Church” as Blessed Paul VI had described it. Francis said the Council had called the Church to “a journey of encountering people where they live: in their cities and homes, in their workplaces”, adding: “After these decades, we again take up this missionary drive with the same power and enthusiasm.”
At the end of the Mass, he made his way to the Holy Door, where he embraced a frail Pope emeritus Benedict and asked God to grant “a year of grace, a favorable time to love you and our brothers and sisters in the joy of the Gospel.”
The Pope pushed open the Holy Door, and went through, followed by Benedict XVI, clasping a cane. Later, at the Angelus, Francis invited the crowd to greet the pope emeritus.
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception “has a specific message to communicate to us: it reminds us that in our lives, everything is a gift, everything is mercy”, he said at the Angelus, adding: “You cannot conceive of a true Christian who is not merciful, just as you cannot conceive of God without His mercy.” Mercy, he said, “is the key-word of the Gospel.” For that reason, “we should not be afraid: we should allow ourselves to be embraced by the mercy of God, who waits for us and forgives everything.”
A link was made last night between the Year of Mercy and the COP21 meeting on climate change in Paris, when a sponsored light show projected stunning images of the natural world onto the façade and cupola of St Peter’s.
This morning, at his General Audience, Francis reflected on the need of mercy in the contemporary world. “Especially in our times, in which forgiveness is a rare guest in the areas of human life, the call to mercy becomes more urgent”, he said, adding that the renewal of the Church’s structures were designed to give new life to its mission, but without mercy the changes would be empty. “If we should forget, even for just a moment, that mercy is what God likes the most, all our efforts would be in vain, as we would become slaves to our institutions and our structures, no matter how reformed they may be”.
At the root of the denial of mercy, he said, was always self-love, “which results in the pursuit of self-interest and the accumulation of honours, riches or worldliness. There are so many manifestations of self-love, “that make mercy foreign to the world” that often we are not even able to recognise them as limitations and sins. “We must recognise that we are sinners,” he concluded, “so as to strengthen our certainty of divine mercy”.
***See the reflection by Jesuit journals, ‘A merciful Church for a wounded world’, here. Pope Francis texts yesterday and tomorrow follow.
Homily, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception / Inauguration of the Jubilee of Mercy, December 8, 2015
In a few moments I will have the joy of opening the Holy Door of Mercy. We carry out this act, so simple yet so highly symbolic, in the light of the word of God which we have just heard. That word highlights the primacy of grace. Again and again these readings make us think of the words by which the angel Gabriel told an astonished young girl of the mystery which was about to enfold her: “Hail, full of grace” (Lk 1:28).
The Virgin Mary was called to rejoice above all because of what the Lord accomplished in her. God’s grace enfolded her and made her worthy of becoming the Mother of Christ. When Gabriel entered her home, even the most profound and impenetrable of mysteries became for her a cause for joy, faith and abandonment to the message revealed to her. The fullness of grace can transform the human heart and enable it to do something so great as to change the course of human history.
The feast of the Immaculate Conception expresses the grandeur of God’s love. Not only does he forgive sin, but in Mary he even averts the original sin present in every man and woman who comes into this world. This is the love of God which precedes, anticipates and saves. The beginning of the history of sin in the Garden of Eden yields to a plan of saving love. The words of Genesis reflect our own daily experience: we are constantly tempted to disobedience, a disobedience expressed in wanting to go about our lives without regard for God’s will. This is the enmity which keeps striking at people’s lives, setting them in opposition to God’s plan. Yet the history of sin can only be understood in the light of God’s love and forgiveness. Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures. But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy. The word of God which we have just heard leaves no doubt about this. The Immaculate Virgin stands before us as a privileged witness of this promise and its fulfilment.
This Extraordinary Holy Year is itself a gift of grace. To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them. This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy. How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy (cf. Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 12, 24)! But that is the truth. We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgement will always be in the light of his mercy. In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love. Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved. Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things.
Today, as we pass through the Holy Door, we also want to remember another door, which fifty years ago the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council opened to the world. This anniversary cannot be remembered only for the legacy of the Council’s documents, which testify to a great advance in faith. Before all else, the Council was an encounter. A genuine encounter between the Church and the men and women of our time. An encounter marked by the power of the Spirit, who impelled the Church to emerge from the shoals which for years had kept her self-enclosed so as to set out once again, with enthusiasm, on her missionary journey. It was the resumption of a journey of encountering people where they live: in their cities and homes, in their workplaces. Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel. After these decades, we again take up this missionary drive with the same power and enthusiasm. The Jubilee challenges us to this openness, and demands that we not neglect the spirit which emerged from Vatican II, the spirit of the Samaritan, as Blessed Paul VI expressed it at the conclusion of the Council. May our passing through the Holy Door today commit us to making our own the mercy of the Good Samaritan.
Summary of December 8 Angelus Address (Summary: Vatican Radio)
Following the Mass for the Immaculate Conception, and the solemn inauguration of the Jubilee of Mercy with opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis led the crowds in the recitation of the midday prayer to the Blessed Virgin, the Angelus.
Two things are necessary to fully celebrate the day’s feast, the Pope said: first, “to fully welcome God and His merciful grace into our life; second, to become in our own times ‘workers of mercy’ through an evangelical journey.” In imitation of Mary, he said, “we are called to be ‘bearers of Christ’ and witnesses of His love,” especially towards those who are most in need.
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Pope said, “has a specific message to communicate to us: it reminds us that in our lives, everything is a gift, everything is mercy.” Mary helps us to rediscover “divine mercy as the distinctive mark of the Christian . . . You cannot conceive of a true Christian who is not merciful, just as you cannot conceive of God without His mercy.” Mercy, he said, “is the key-word of the Gospel.” For that reason, “we should not be afraid: we should allow ourselves to be embraced by the mercy of God, who waits for us and forgives everything.”
Following the Angelus, Pope Francis called on the crowd to greet Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, who was present for the Liturgy and who was one of the first pilgrims to pass through the Holy Door.
Pope Francis at General Audience, December 9, 2015 (Summary: VIS)
Pope Francis dedicated today’s general audience, the first of the Holy Year, to explaining why he convoked a Jubilee of Mercy. “The Church needs this extraordinary moment”, he explained. “In our time of profound change, the Church is called upon to offer her special contribution, making visible the signs of God’s presence and closeness. And the Jubilee is a propitious time for all, as contemplating Divine Mercy, that exceeds all human limits and shines onto the darkness of sin, we can be surer and more effective witnesses”.
“Celebrating a Jubilee of Mercy means restoring the specifics of Christian faith to the centre of our personal life and of our communities. … This Holy Year is offered to us so that we are able to experience in our life the sweet and gentle touch of God’s forgiveness, His presence next to us and His closeness, especially in our moments of greatest need. … This Jubilee is therefore a special moment for the Church to learn to choose solely ‘what God likes the most’. … Forgiving His children, having mercy on them, so that they can in turn forgive their brethren, to shine like beacons of God’s mercy in the world. … The Jubilee will be a propitious moment for the Church if we learn to choose what God likes the most, without giving in to the temptation to think that there is something else more important or that takes priority. Nothing is more important than choosing what God likes most, His mercy”.
“The necessary work of renewing institutions and structures of the Church is also a way that can lead us to a more lively and life-giving experience of God’s mercy that alone can ensure that the Church is that city on the mount that cannot remain hidden. If we should forget, even for just a moment, that mercy is what God likes the most, all our efforts would be in vain, as we would become slaves to our institutions and our structures, no matter how reformed they may be”.
The Pope emphasised that the Church’s aim during this Holy Year is to “strongly feel the joy of being found by Jesus, Who like the Good Shepherd has come in search of us as we were lost. … In this way we strengthen in ourselves our certainty that mercy can truly contribute to building a more human world. Especially in these times of ours, in which forgiveness is a rare guest in the circles of human life, the call for mercy becomes more urgent, and this is true in all places: in society, in institutions, at work and in the family”.
Before concluding, he commented that while there appear to be many other needs more urgent than that of mercy, at the root of the negation of mercy there is always self-love, “which results in the pursuit of self-interest and the accumulation of honours, riches or worldliness. There are so many manifestations of self-love, “that make mercy foreign to the world” that often we are not even able to recognise them as limitations and sins. He concluded, “we must recognise that we are sinners, so as to strengthen our certainty of divine mercy”.
Pope Francis’ Words to English speaking visitors at audience (Source: Vatican Radio)
With the opening of the Holy Door yesterday in Saint Peter’s, we inaugurated the Jubilee of Mercy. This extraordinary Holy Year reminds us that, amid profound changes in our world, the Church is called to bear convincing witness to God’s mercy, which alone can triumph over human sin and bring true freedom. God’s mercy, made present in our midst by the incarnation of his Son, is the very heart of the Gospel. This Year of Grace reminds us that mercy is what “pleases God most”, and that it has to find clear expression in our lives and in the Church’s structures. In today’s world, mercy and forgiveness often appear overwhelmed by self-interest, hedonism and venality, while in the Christian life they can be stifled by hypocrisy and worldliness. Forgetfulness of God’s mercy blinds us even to seeing sin for what it is. That is why this Holy Year of Mercy is so important. Let us ask the Lord to make us ever more aware of his mercy at work in our lives and ever more effective in testifying to its transforming power in our world.