Mass in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, celebrating the conclusion of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Over the past year thousands of people have visited Cathedrals and other designated churches around Ireland to pass through the Holy Doors of Mercy. Today, on the last day of this Jubilee Year I thank God for all the graces we have received during the Year of Mercy and for the millions of people throughout the world who have felt drawn back to God during this sacred time. Across Ireland, in parishes, schools, religious communities and places of pilgrimage, hundreds of special gatherings and events have taken place to mark the Jubilee Year and to emphasise its key message – that the name of God is mercy; that God’s mercy is available to all, and we are, in turn, called to be merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful.
As Pope Francis prayed at the closing of the finally Jubilee Year today in Rome, I pray that the graces of this special year will continue to work in the Church and that people will feel more and more welcome in their Church. The door to God’s mercy never closes. There is always a second chance to turn back, to say sorry, to ask forgiveness and to make amends.As Pope Francis puts it:
“God never tires of casting open the doors of his heart and of repeating that he loves us and wants to share his love with us … From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly. It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people draw from it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends” (Misericordiae Vultus n25).
Again and again this past year Pope Francis has reminded us that mercy is ‘the very foundation of the Church’s life’. All of the Church’s pastoral activity derives from the tenderness and merciful love of God. Nothing in our preaching or in our witness to the world can be lacking in mercy, because we are members of the Church of Jesus Christ and Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy.
The world cries out for mercy – one has only to look at the news any evening to see people caught in the trap of poverty, violence, war, greed, exploitation, hate or indifference to their suffering. Here in Ireland, too many families and individuals struggle to cope with economic pressures, tensions in relationships, addictions and domestic violence. There is such a need for the message of mercy to reach them, but how can it, unless we, the followers of Jesus reflect the gentle loving and merciful gaze of his face wherever we go?
Earlier this year, in the canonisation of Mother Teresa, the Church offered us a modern day ‘model of holiness’ or ‘icon of mercy’ – someone we can look to as an example and an encouragement for ourselves to ‘do mercy’, to ‘be mercy’, especially for those who are most rejected or forgotten in our world.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta was inspired to ‘do something beautiful for God’. ‘I do it for Him’, she often said. In fact she once made a vow never to refuse God anything that God wanted of her. She simply wanted to be ‘like a little pencil in God’s hands’ and allow God to ‘write mercy’ into the world through her. She was able to ‘see the face of Jesus’ in those to whom she brought God’s love and mercy – in the poorest of the poor, those with AIDS, those with terrible disfigurements and disease, those abandoned and dying on the streets from malnutrition. She once said, “When I wash the face of lepers, I am washing the face of Jesus himself”.
Doing the work of Mercy like that is not a one way process. In giving mercy, we also receive mercy. We have often heard good and saintly people who care for the marginalised tell us – ‘they change me’; or, ‘they do more for me than I can ever do for them’. Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the merciful’, for they shall have mercy shown them’.
When we respond the pain and suffering in another person’s life, it opens up to us our own need for mercy. When we are forgiving of another person’s mistakes or sins or faults, it makes us more aware of our own weaknesses and frailties.
The Year of Mercy is ending, but God continues to invite us to open ourselves up to the need for God’s love and mercy in our own lives. Every one of us falls short and is in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. Many people carry the burden of past sins and faults and do not notice the open arms of a Jesus which are stretched out and beckoning them home. It takes courage to say sorry and extend a hand of friendship when we have been hurt deeply ourselves or when we know that something we said, or did, or didn’t do, caused great harm in another person’s life. But how long are we going to go on allowing our sins or faults to fester without saying, like the Prodigal Son ‘enough’ – I will go back to my Father and say ‘I am sorry’? As Advent, approaches the invitation to come back to God and start afresh will continue to resound – the door of mercy remains open. I hope and pray that many people will find strength from the Jubilee Year to come to Confession this Christmas and begin the journey of healing and reconciliation.
Pope Francis puts it this way:
“We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it… Mercy is the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”
I encourage you, as I did at the beginning of the Jubilee a Year, to say often and everywhere the ‘Jesus prayer‘, which is, ‘Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner’. If we recite the prayer over and over again then every moment of every day, every thought, word and action in our lives can be touched by God’s mercy. Our homes, parishes and communities might begin to become more an ‘oasis of mercy’ for ourselves and others. And when this happens, we know that the Jubilee Year has made a difference.
Archbishop Eamon Martin is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland
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