Dear Friends in Christ,
Welcome to the Bishop’s Blog for this week!
The liturgical opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Diocese of Lancaster, postponed from Tuesday because of the adverse weather (‘Storm Desmond’), took place last Sunday evening when I officially opened the Holy Door of Mercy in St. Peter’s Cathedral, Lancaster and processed through it, followed by the clergy and a good number of the lay faithful.
In some very profound way I was actually throwing open the doors of God’s mercy! The idea of a jubilee holy door goes back to the twelfth century in Rome, and has a deeply symbolic significance, and suggests passing from one place to another, leaving the past behind and entering into a wholly new place.
Pope Francis intends the year has just started, and which ends next year on the feast of Christ the King, to be a true and far-reaching spiritual experience for every member of the Church, when we become ever more aware of just how much we are surrounded by God’s infinite mercy.
As human beings, ever conscious of our sins and shortcomings, we need to be convinced that the Lord sees further than these failings characteristic of us mortals and which can weigh us down. We find this difficult to grasp – because we are not God!
As we processed through Jubilee door we sang the litany of saints, appealing for God’s mercy through the intercession of those ‘friends of God’ who now form part of the Church Triumphant.
The final part of the rite was the sprinkling of the congregation with holy water, which was an obvious reminder of our Baptism, when we became members of Christ’s body, the Church, and were graced with God’s mercy. The words of the apostle Peter to those newly-baptised come to mind as I write this: “…..Once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy” (1Pet. 2:10).
The ceremony of water was intended to recall the ‘spiritual door’ of baptism when, through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, we passed over the threshold into the light of God’s loving mercy. Pope Francis, as the successor of Peter, now summons us in this Jubilee Year of Mercy to be aware of the grandeur and the warmth of God’s attitude to us, and to the whole of humanity.
The Year of Mercy then is a time of grace and opportunity, so let us play our part. I pray that all in the diocese of Lancaster and far beyond may come to discover afresh in the Church the truth of the ancient Patriarch Jacob’s words on awakening from his dream: “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it!” (Gen. 28:16).
Here is my homily for the evening:
‘A Jubilee door is meant to be a door of hope, a threshold of entry through which we come into the place where God awaits us, where mercy is to be found, and where we are assured of a word of forgiveness and not of rebuke.
Today, in Catholic cathedrals in every part of the world, a Jubilee door will be opened by the bishop, a powerful symbol or sign that we have the opportunity to begin again, to make a fresh start whatever our situation, to allow ourselves to feel the warmth and tenderness of God’s loving mercy.
In St. Peter’s Basilica earlier this week Pope Francis opened the jubilee door, and here in the Diocese of Lancaster we are in union and in communion with him, as we open our own Jubilee door. The Church therefore invites us to pass over the threshold of this door and symbolically join countless other Catholics all over the world in a year-long personal and spiritual pilgrimage.
The Year of Mercy, just started, is a God-given opportunity to rediscover the wonder of God’s mercy. It may be described, as I say, as a kind of pilgrimage along the road marked out by Christ, on which we walk in his company, let him speak to us and lead us.
Pope Francis is a pains to stress that the Church is above all a place of mercy. She is the Good Samaritan who brings the balm of healing to wounded and stricken humanity. By saying this, the Holy Father is not implying that the teaching and laws of the Church are unimportant, they do of course have their proper and rightful place. He quotes St. Thomas Aquinas as follows: “It belongs to God to show mercy, and his almighty power is particularly manifested by this”. We human beings have limited resources of mercy; it is not so with God, his mercy is infinite and eternal.
To walk through the Jubilee door is to be welcomed and embraced by the Father’s mercy, and we in turn commit ourselves to be merciful towards others. The thought of a Jubilee Year can perhaps frighten us a little. We ask, does God expect more of us? Today’s gospel offers some useful guidelines for the Year of Mercy.
Having listened to John the Baptist’s fiery preaching the people asked John what they should be doing in view of the nearness of God’s Kingdom. His response appears rather ordinary, on the surface at least: those who have two coats should share with the person who has none, food is to be shared with those who are hungry.
He told tax collectors to demand only what is their due, while his advice to soldiers was not to throw their weight around and be content with their lot. In a word, God is to be found in the daily routine of Christian living, in being courteous to others and respecting their dignity. We are to show mercy because we ourselves have been given mercy.
The Holy Father by calling a Year of Mercy wants the whole Church to have a real and profound experience of God’s abiding mercy. We have known the gentle touch of that mercy through the call of Christ into his Church. Let us grow in its awareness in the year ahead and extend it to others. In the wonderful words of the Book of Lamentations: “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness” (Lam. 3:21-23).’
Until Christmas Day – may God bless you all,
+Michael G Campbell OSA
Bishop of Lancaster