Given at the opening of the Door of Mercy at Westminster Cathedral during Vespers and Benediction on Sunday 13 December.
Today is Gaudete Sunday. The words of St Paul used during our Vespers express so well the joy we experience at the coming of the Lord: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice....The Lord is at hand.’
Today this joy of anticipation is enriched by the opening of our Door of Mercy and the beginning of the Year of Mercy, called for by Pope Francis.
The reading from his Papal Bull, which we have just heard, spells out so clearly the intention and richness of this Jubilee Year. It is a year in which we are ‘to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father's action in our lives.’ As Pope Francis tells us, this means gazing directly at Jesus, for, as he says, ‘Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy’. Then he adds: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God.’
I ask you all, please do take home this evening's leaflet and read these lovely words of our Holy Father, again and again.
The Door of Mercy, which we have just opened, is a wonderful symbol of the mercy of God, always open to us, always inviting us, always drawing us into the deepest embrace of mercy and forgiveness. I hope and pray that we will enter through this Door many times in the months to come, pondering deeply the immensity of God's desire that we never turn away from Him in fear or dread because of what we have done or failed to do. I hope that every time we enter through this Door we will sense again the peace that only God can give. I also hope that when we enter we will bring someone with us who may have moved away from the practice of their faith and yet may well be ready, with our encouragement and gentleness, to make this simple journey home. This Year offers us unique opportunities to reach out and invite others to join us on this quest for love, a quest that lies deep in the heart of every person. The Door of Love and Mercy is wide open. Do not let this moment go by unused!
Please listen to some further words of the Holy Father, spoken as he opened the Door of Mercy in St Peter's Basilica:
‘To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them. This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy. How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy (cf. Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 12, 24)! But that is the truth. We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgement will always be in the light of his mercy. In passing through the Holy Door, then, 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).
Here in our Cathedral, thanks to the hard work of many, this Holy Door leads to a beautiful 'Merciful Way', a simple pilgrimage of prayer opening up some of the main aspects of the mercy of God and its fruit in our lives.
On this Merciful Way we start with wonder of the Father of all mercies, our Heavenly Father who never takes his eyes from us, such is his love. Then we come to ponder the face of Jesus, and then the power of the Holy Spirit, working especially in the grace of our baptism. As we open our hearts more humbly and generously to this saving reality then the flow of divine mercy arises within us. We become its expression in our world today. We experience more strongly the desire to play our part in shaping the world as God wants it to be and in giving encouragement to each other on our pilgrimage to the Father. To do this is to practice the Corporal and Spiritual works of Mercy and it is these that come next in our Merciful Way here in the Cathedral.
Then, fittingly, we arrive at the place of the Sacrament of Mercy, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, confession. This is the place, above all others, where we meet the mercy of our loving Father and place our lives in his hands. Through His Son, present in every confession, we leave the confessional freed from the burden of our sin, standing tall and ready to start afresh. What a wonderful gift!
Our short, symbolic pilgrimage then leads us to the Lady Chapel, to our Blessed Mother to whom we go both in our joy and always in our needs. She is always with us, guiding us gently but firmly into the arms of her Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
This Merciful Way, laid out for us here, marks the steps of a pilgrimage we can make at any time and in any place: in the arena of our hearts, within our family circle, with friends and colleagues, making something truly unique of this Holy Year. There is a booklet to act as your companion on this journey.
Walk this Way so that you may find the riches of the Father's mercy. Walk this way so that your life, in its turn, may become a merciful way of life. Here we learn to turn away from bitterness, resentment, anger or envy because the One who is offended by every sin does not bear such bitterness towards us sinners, but lets go of such thoughts and always has ready for us the merciful forgiveness of our failings, even before we come to acknowledge and confess them. Come to him that he may free us from all fear and fill us with his joy!
Lord God, we thank you for this year of grace and mercy. Help us to use it well. Help us to be missionaries of mercy that our world may know your mercy for in your mercy lies our only true hope.