“It will be a Holy Year of Mercy .. I am confident that the whole Church, which is in such need of mercy for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time. Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always. Let us never tire of asking forgiveness.”
Wth these words on 13th March 2015, Pope Francis announced the forthcoming Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which would begin on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 8th December 2015. And on that feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Father opened the Great Holy Door in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Over this past year, more than twenty million pilgrims have passed through that Holy Door, a privilege I had in May this year. And for all those unable to travel to Rome, the Pope had requested that similar Holy Doors be opened in every Diocese across the world. The number of people who have passed through these is surely impossible to calculate.
It is hard to believe that we are now only days away from the closing of the Holy Doors in the Dioceses of the world, due to take place on 13th November, before the closing of the Holy Door at St Peter’s Basilica on the feast of Christ the King, 20th November 2016, which will mark the conclusion of the Jubilee Year.
This has been a year of great mercy; the Merciful Lord has shown His compassion repeatedly and in the lives of so many souls this year. Many have been touched by His grace.
The ordinary vessel of this great mercy has been the ‘Tribunal of Mercy’ – the Confessional. The opening remarks of the Holy Father laid special emphasis on the Sacrament of Confession. Here, the penitent sinner whispers into the ear of Christ, represented by His Priest, and the miracle of mercy takes place time and time again. One of my abiding memories will be an experience in the Confessional where, after the Absolution, the Priest asked me to pray every day for the grace for one single soul to return to Confession. This struck me very deeply indeed and I have done as he asked. This truly is the Sacrament of Mercy, where the floodgates of Divine Mercy are opened wide and the grace of God floods the soul. How we should give thanks for this great Sacrament!
Throughout the Jubilee Year, the Holy Father has led us in his weekly Catechesis of Mercy – speaking to the pilgrims in Rome, his addresses have hopefully resonated with many, who have put into action the suggestions made by the Pope week after week. But he has led us not only in his words, but also – and more importantly – by his living example. He has made a point of undertaking concrete acts of mercy, visiting the sick, the imprisoned, the elderly, for example, and referring us back to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. His entire witness has been one of mercy – one we would do well to emulate in our own lives.
There have also been particular events during this Year, not least of all the World Youth Day in Krakow. There is little doubt that this event will have sown seeds of great grace in many souls who took part; these souls will now cultivate those seeds, fertilising them with prayer and sacrifice, and they will blossom and flower in due course. Who knows what sanctity they will lead to.
Pope Francis placed the Jubilee under the special and maternal patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of ‘Mother of Mercy’ – an ancient and venerable title. With Her special intercession, we may be sure that the grace of God will have the greatest possible chance of assisting us to answer the universal call to holiness, for She does now what She did in the Gospels – She stands at the foot of the Cross and points us to Her Divine Son, whispering in our hearts – ‘Do whatever He tells you’.
The Holy Father has asked us explicitly to “rediscover and render fruitful God’s mercy”; this Year has provided us with the fire, the grace and the means to do as the Pope requests; that is precisely why the Pope has taken such pains to point us in the direction of the Works of Mercy over and over again – they are the means. Now, we need only take his suggestion to heart and then make it part of our daily lives. Mercy is a gift which grows the more we give it away – and in doing so, we follow the example of the Lord and of all the Saints. Even when we have no means to undertake a Corporal Work of Mercy, we can always pray for the living and for the dead; that is a Spiritual Work of Mercy which we can undertake at any time, in any place, and regardless of our situation.
I have found this to be a Year of extraordinary grace and mercy, and I fully expect this is the experience of a great many souls across the world, for the Lord is very generous with His grace. I pray that as this Year draws to it’s close, we will never forget the message of mercy and we will continue to experience that mercy – and be vessels of it – long after this extraordinary Year is over.
The Holy Door may close, but the Merciful Heart of Jesus remains ever open, always willing to bestow His mercy and grace upon us, to touch and change us and to draw us closer to Him.