Today, we “close” the Door of Mercy.
In Rome, the Jubilee of Mercy comes to an end next Sunday, when the Holy Father closes the great central door of St Peter’s basilica. In the local churches (dioceses), it concludes this Sunday.
First of all, surely, we want to say ‘Thank You’. Thank you, first, to the Holy Father for this initiative: he has been the vigilant door-keeper, unwearying in reminding us of how God’s mysterious mercy fills the earth. Then, Thank You to God for graces received. These are like the stars in the sky or the grains of sand by the sea: they cannot be measured. They are largely unobserved. But from the human viewpoint, surely this Year ‘caught on’. It has touched hearts and stimulated all kinds of inner shifts and conversions and outward activities. In our diocese, practically every parish has done something new and special. Generosity has been released.
I was cheered when someone said to me recently: ‘whenever I go to Confession around here, the priests are always so kind.’ And when a young man was asked if he was meaning to stay in Aberdeen. ‘Yes’, he said. ‘Why?’ ‘Because of the community.’ He meant the Catholic community in this city. That’s a tribute! My cup would overflow if letters came to me from the homeless and troubled, saying, ‘The members of your Church have helped me so much.’ Perhaps one day! Perhaps that’s already in some folks’ hearts.
So, thanks be to God for all this.
Then again, we have asked for God’s mercy. We’ve called it down on us, poor sinners, and on the struggling world. Kyrie eleison! We are Christ’s Body in the world and have been fulfilling our priestly ministry of prayer, practising that spiritual work of mercy ‘to pray for the living and the dead’. And we will go on doing this. This is why I’m delighted at the initiative of Perpetual Adoration in this Cathedral. Thanks to all of you who are making this possible!
We are living in uncertain times. The human tectonic plates are shifting. It’s scary. How can we sail this turbulent sea? Perhaps we were given this Year of Mercy precisely now to help us answer that question. Precisely so we can realise that God’s mercy is our anchor. This mercy that endures forever and is always greater than evil and sin.
Take today’s Gospel. It is full of chaos. There are:
- false Messiahs, saying ‘I am he’;
- wars and revolutions;
- environmental upheavals, earthquakes, ‘signs from heaven’ and their human consequences: disease and hunger;
- the persecution of believers, divided families.
The language is biblical, but the reality’s around us.
The chaos is there. But the chaos – or our contemporary version of it – is not the Gospel’s point. The point is that Christ foreknows the chaos, foresees it. He is greater than it. He is the Lord and shows us how be greater than it, rise above it, overcome it.
‘Take care not to be deceived’, don’t be gullible.
‘Do not be frightened’.
‘Do not search frantically for answers: I myself will give you wisdom and words.’
‘This will be your opportunity to give witness.’
‘You will be protected. Your endurance – patience – will win you your lives, will keep you safe for the life to come.’
Christ is saying: root yourselves in the merciful love of the Father – this mercy that keeps on loving even when we are unlovely, this mercy that always sets a limit to evil and says, ‘so far and no further’; this mercy that enfolds the dead as well, even the lives cut short by violence. The Gospel is saying: never forget God’s gracious providence, rememeber the victory of the Lamb that was slain over all the beasts of history, remember the Spirit and the blood that are always flowing into our lives through the Sacraments from the pierced side of Christ.
‘For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays’, and you can be, singly and together, a sacrament of mercy in the world.
So, as St Paul says, we can go on ‘quietly working’, doing our daily duty, doing the works of mercy, inwardly resting in the certainty of God’s forgiveness.
The door is closed; a particular pastoral initiative comes to an end. But the mercy of the Lord is everlasting. Day after day, the Eucharistic Lord is lifted up: ‘Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.’ Mercy first and last.
‘May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.’
(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 13 November 2016)