Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting into the Deep
November 11, 2016
The formal close of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy will take place on November 20 when Pope Francis, at the end of the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King in St. Peter’s Basilica, formally shuts and seals, until probably 2025, the Basilica’s famous Jubilee Door. The other Doors of Mercy in Cathedrals and privileged Churches throughout the world, however, are all supposed to be liturgically closed this Sunday.
During the Rite entitled The Closing Celebration of the Extraordinary Jubilee in Local Churches prepared by the Vatican for this occasion, the Bishop or his delegate will summarize the graces of the year before leading us to call on God’s mercy anew: “Dearly beloved brothers and sisters,” he will say at the beginning of the closing Mass, “we have reached the end of the Jubilee Year. It has been an extraordinary time of grace and mercy. … Let us invoke the soothing balm of his mercy acknowledging that we are sinners and forgiving one another from the bottom of our hearts.”
Next, in the prayers of the Kyrie prescribed for the occasion, we will be reminded of some of the aspects of mercy we’ve pondered throughout the year, namely God’s, the Church’s and our own mercy: “You command us to forgive one another before approaching your altar: Lord, have mercy. You invoked mercy upon sinners as you hung upon the cross: Christ, have mercy. You entrust the ministry of reconciliation to your Church, Lord, have mercy.”
And during the period of Thanksgiving after Holy Communion, the Bishop will lead the Church in expressing gratitude to God for the gift of divine mercy, saying, “Let us joyfully thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout this year of grace, he has bestowed on us every heavenly blessing in Christ. He has given us this precious time of mercy and conversion. Let us express our thanks and joy in the words of the Virgin Mary, our Mother. As we sing the Lord’s mercy extending to every generation let us ask him to pour out, like the morning dewfall, that same mercy unceasingly upon the entire world.” And then he’ll lead us in chanting Mary’s Magnificat so that our soul will exult and spirit rejoice in God our Savior “whose mercy is from age to age” and who “has remembered mercy according to the promise he made to our fathers.”
I have to admit that I’ll be sad to see the Jubilee Doors close. As a Catholic disciple, I thought having doors of mercy opened for the world is a fitting image for the Church’s mission today, and I loved how easy it was to seek plenary indulgences for myself and those who have died. As a Catholic priest, I know were many this year who crossed through those doors and continued walking through the doors of a confessional. As a Missionary of Mercy — one of the 1,142 priests given special faculties by Pope Francis to absolve the censures due to particular sins reserved to the Pope or to bishops — I loved being able to exercise the sweeping privilege and responsibility of the church’s fullest power to bind and loose. As a columnist, I’ve really enjoyed this 26-part series focusing on the various dimensions of how we’re called to receive and communicate mercy.
Even though the Year regrettably couldn’t last forever, however, I am grateful to have had the doors of mercy opened wide throughout this 349-day Jubilee and to experience it in all of these ways.
The good news is that, even though the Jubilee will officially conclude when Pope Francis closes the Jubilee Door, God’s everlasting mercy will endure. In some respects, every year we’re still breathing is a year of mercy, during which we’re called to celebrate, recognize our need for, receive and share this great gift. St. John Paul II and Pope Francis have both called our time a “kairos of mercy,” and that “acceptable time” does not expire when the chronos hits November 21.
The reason for which Pope Francis called this Jubilee Year, moreover, likewise remains.
“Many question in their hearts, why a Jubilee of Mercy today?,” Pope Francis asked the night before publishing his letter “The Face of Mercy” that charted the path for this Jubilee Year. “Simply because the Church, in this time of great historical change, is called to offer more evident signs of God’s presence and closeness,” he replied. “This is a time for the Church to rediscover the meaning of the mission entrusted to her by the Lord on the day of Easter: to be a sign and an instrument of the Father’s mercy.”
He added that he was convening the Year also in order “to welcome the numerous signs of the tenderness that God offers to the whole world and, above all, to those who suffer, who are alone and abandoned, without hope of being pardoned or feeling the Father’s love; to experience strongly within ourselves the joy of having been found by Jesus, the Good Shepherd who has come in search of us because we were lost; to receive the warmth of his love when he bears us upon his shoulders and brings us back to the Father’s house; [and] to be touched by the Lord Jesus and to be transformed by his mercy, so that we may become witnesses to mercy.”
The ultimate reason for the Jubilee, he concluded, is “because this is the time for mercy, … the favorable time to heal wounds, a time not to be weary of meeting all those who are waiting to see and to touch with their hands the signs of the closeness of God, a time to offer everyone the way of forgiveness and reconciliation.”
These stated reasons for the Jubilee of Mercy are perhaps the best way for us, on a personal and ecclesial level, to evaluate it as it comes to an end. Have we perceived better God’s tender closeness and experienced the joy and warmth of merciful love? Have we been touched by that mercy in such a way to become convinced that our mission in life is to be a witness and instrument of that divine give? Have we been transformed to such an extent that we have almost been compelled to draw closer to those in greater need of God’s merciful love?
There’s a common spiritual aphorism that God never closes a door without opening another (see Acts 16:6-12; 2 Cor 12:12-14). In this case, as the Doors of Mercy that led so many into our Churches close throughout the world this Sunday and at St. Peter’s on Christ the King, the intention is not that we be locked inside our sacred edifices. Rather, transformed by the graces of this year to be “merciful like the Father,” we are called to become living portals, taking God’s mercy more effectively, tenderly and joyfully out to those in need and drawing them into the heart of this inexhaustible mystery.