Dear Brothers and Sisters,
‘The love of the Lord is everlasting / upon those who hold him in fear; / his justice reaches out to children’s children / when they keep his covenant in truth, / when they keep his will in their mind’ (Ps 103: 17-18). So goes a Psalm.
Today, the Holy Father will close the Holy Door of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and the Jubilee Year of Mercy will conclude – on this Solemnity of Christ the King.
It has been a time of divine grace and human generosity. Unexpected touches of God. So many personal initiatives, in prayer and practice, seen and unseen. There is hardly a parish or community or group within our diocese which has not marked this Year in some way. What must this look like on a world scale? And when has mercy, divine and human, ever seemed so timely as now?
It is of faith that God’s love is everlasting, steadfast, enduring. His mercy will continue to flow. And ours should too, beyond the Jubilee. Pope Francis has been clear on this. He has asked us to embody the impetus of this Year in long-term projects, in continued efforts. It’s this call I want to echo here.
The Church has a three-fold mission in the world:
- to proclaim the word of God,
- to celebrate the Sacraments,
- to exercise the ministry of charity.
Through faith and baptism, we all belong to the Church. We are all her members. We are all, in different ways, co-responsible for her mission. This means we are called to be transmitters of God’s revealed truth and to share in the Church’s rich sacramental worship. And the grace of Word and Sacrament is then to ‘explode’, as it were, in our lives, to kindle our better selves. It is meant to overflow in dedication to the total welfare, temporal and spiritual, of those with whom we share the world. ‘So then, says St Paul, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, and especially to those who are of the household of faith’ (Gal 6:10).
The ‘ministry of charity’ entails the practice of the works of mercy. According to the famous judgement scene in Matthew ch.25 – ‘I was hungry and you gave me food’ – the presence of the works of mercy in our lives opens salvation to us; their absence, our eternal loss. They prove that our faith and prayer are real, and not just self-regarding or lip-service. ‘My children, says St John, our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active; only by this can we be certain that we are children of the truth and be able to quieten our conscience in [God’s] presence (1 Jn 3:18-19).
So I want to echo Pope Francis’ call. Let’s perpetuate the initiatives of this Year! This is best done locally. May I ask, therefore, each parish and community in the diocese to look at what is possible. ‘Possible’ is a key word. So is ‘imagination’. It may be simply a matter of continuing what has already begun. At the Cathedral, for example, a cooked meal has been prepared for the homeless each month. It has been well patronised. The aim is to go on with this. Again, an initiative may relate to members of the parish, especially the more marginal, or it may reach out into the wider community and involve linking up with other positive social projects. It may look to another part of the world, by way of a Catholic charity or a direct connection. Whatever we do, it is good to do it as Catholic Christians, that is, as expressions of our faith and sacramental life. ‘The love of Christ – the Eucharist – urges us on.’ Simply ‘to pray for the living and the dead’ is a work of mercy: the last listed, but not the least.
One final thought: Pope Francis, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Jean Vanier and many others have identified loneliness as a particular grief of our time. Many suffer a poverty of relationships: of good, steadying, energising relationships. The Church, by nature, ‘does community’, and often, thank God, does it well. Our togetherness in Christ is a great resource in itself. Perhaps, more than anything else, we need to find ways to share this richness: to invite, to gather people, to offer hospitality, to make friends, to propose prayer. This can be transformative for all concerned and make mercy very real indeed.
Dear brothers and sisters, this Year’s doors of mercy have now closed, but not God’s heart nor ours. ‘Let your mercy, O Lord, be always upon us as we place all our hope in you’ (Te Deum). As we draw again and again on God’s forgiveness of our sins, let us ourselves be a sacrament of mercy and reconciliation to others.
Devotedly in Christ,
Hugh Gilbert OSB,
Bishop of Aberdeen