Given at the Christmas Celebrations, 16 and 17 December 2015, in Westminster Cathedral.
‘Jesus is the true face of God’s mercy.’
These are words to keep very much in mind as we prepare to welcome the birth of Jesus, on this Feast of Christmas. This evening, in a wonderful way, we are led more deeply towards the moment of this birth and all it implies. The beauty of these words and music prompt within us deep memories, instincts and intuitions which we might find hard to put into our own words. The heart indeed has reasons of which reason knows nothing.
Among those instinctive desires or pathways is one which we long for: a way of being lovingly accepted as we are, and yet enticed to be better, to give of all that is best within us. Yet we find that this pathway is difficult to follow for it is often obstructed by the tangled overgrowth of our failures and inherent weaknesses which trip us up, again and again. Over the years these obstacles pile up, like the debris in the swollen rivers of the Lake District. We often lose heart in our efforts to sort it all out and start again on a clear path.
I wonder if Joseph had that same intense feeling of failure as he led Mary from door to door, seeking shelter and warmth, ending up in a dirty stable? Was this really the best he could have done? And how could God’s message, asking him to take on these responsibilities, end up like this?
But his heart, too, must have had its reasons that his mind could not grasp. He grew to know beyond doubt that the arrival of this child, entrusted to him, had radically changed everything. Yes, the birth of every child changes everything, especially for a father. Yet this child is different: angels, shepherd, wise men, and threatening soldiers all tell us so. Our faith tells us the whole story, releasing its truth often only slowly and to attentive hearts.
‘Jesus is the true face of God’s mercy.’ This is the fullness of truth to which we are led and the truth which we proclaim and explore in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, called for by Pope Francis and just now getting under way.
In this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis asks us to fix our gaze on the person of Jesus, saying that ‘Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God.’ And there is surely no better place in which to start than in his Bethlehem stable.
God’s mercy is the shape taken by the love of God when it comes face to face with the mess we make of our lives. Love becomes mercy so that we may know a power that is able to raise us up and set us on our feet again. Love becomes mercy so that we may know forgiveness and compassion. And Jesus is the true face of that mercy.
This is why he comes not in a palace or in a motorcade, but in a stable, with donkey and ox. He sets himself above nobody. He is in reach of every person. We do not have to climb great staircases to meet him. We only have to overcome our own pride which prevents us from coming to him, empty-handed, ready to receive his healing love and forgiving mercy. We have to climb down that He may lift us up. We cannot receive his gifts if our hands are clenched in a fist or filled with the matters of our own importance.
‘Jesus is the true face of God’s mercy.’ So let us look him in the face, whether in the crib or on the cross, in the raised Sacrament during Mass or in the silence of our hearts. When we see him face to face, eye to eye, then his peace can penetrate our souls and that pathway towards a profound loving acceptance will truly open up, to our joy and delight.
A focal point of this Jubilee Year of Mercy is the Holy Door that has now been opened here in the cathedral, and in other churches throughout the diocese and around the world. Speaking of this door, Pope Francis said this: ‘In passing through the Holy Door, 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’ (8 Dec 2015).
So this year I have delight in offering you two invitations. At Christmas come to the crib. Look intently at the face of Jesus for he speaks to your innermost soul of the unwavering love and mercy of God for you. And secondly, throughout this Jubilee Year of Mercy, take many opportunities to enter through a Holy Door of Mercy, here in this cathedral if you are passing by. Then, day by day, you will grasp again the infinite mercy of the Father who longs only for our true happiness and peace and who does everything possible to entice us back into that embrace. Indeed, this Father does everything. He even sends his only eternal Son, born of Mary in the stable, destined to offer himself unto death to show us the depth of the Father’s love for us all.
Yes, Jesus is indeed the face of the God’s mercy. Come let us adore him.