What a wonderful gathering of about 550 people who celebrated, worshipped and shared a meal together as one body on pilgrimage, honouring Pope Francis’ request for the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Pope Francis says:
I have chosen the date of 8 December because of its rich meaning in the recent history of the Church. In fact, I will open the Holy Door on the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council...We recall the words of Saint John XXIII when opening the Council, he indicated the path to follow: "Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity...the Catholic Church, as she holds high the torch of Catholic truth at this Ecumenical Council, wants to show herself a loving mother to all: patient, kind, moved by compassion and goodness towards her separated children". (Misericordiae Vultus, no. 4)
It is hard to fathom that this is only the 29th Holy Year in the church since the tradition started more than 700 years ago.
During Advent, I have been receiving Face of Mercy messages each day from the Canberra-Goulburn Diocese. On Tuesday 8th December the following formed the message:
The angel came to Mary and said, "Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. (Luke 1:28 - 31)
Could we ever fathom the wonder of this tentative exchange between God and a simple human being? To think that everything we have come to know and experience about Jesus Christ might never have been, had this young woman chosen to decline the invitation. The Holy Spirit is a respectful guest. If Mary had not agreed, it would not have happened.
Just think about this: the invitation to have Jesus Christ born in her is not for Mary alone. The whole point of your baptism was to immerse you in the fact that God wishes to take up residence in you. Of course, Mary's experience of that is unique to her: she alone is the Mother of God. However, in her experience, we see what we are also invited to conceive: the life of the Holy Spirit in us.
That God in his mercy wishes to reach down into your very being, take up residence in you and so transform you into a son or daughter of God, is the wonder we contemplate and celebrate during this Year of Mercy; particularly so during this Advent season.
I hope you find this to be a profound reflection, because the invitation in the Jubilee Year is to each of us from the Holy Spirit, and we can either accept this or say “no, not me Lord.” Bishop Bill in his homily spoke of the Church of Australia being one of the first places in our world to open its doors of mercy, for this is the way our sun and days unfold across the globe. Given we are the first to do so, along with New Zealand and some of our local Pacific island nations, Bishop Bill concluded that it would be wonderful if Australia was the first country to bring about mercy as a national way of being – to the poor, asylum seekers and refugees, those in prison, those with mental illnesses, those who are sick, the indigenous people, those from different faith traditions, our environment. ... Imagine if mercy was at the core of our being as individuals and as a nation. What if this Great South Land of the Holy Spirit dared to be that shining light for the rest of our planet? It is a call for us to rediscover the need to be forgiving and generous.
Sr Louise Gannon rsj has produced and listed some wonderful resources that are available on our website. There is a Year of Mercy pamphlet and 150 Acts of Mercy Passport that were also given out on Sunday. Please explore some of our plans for the Year of Mercy. Most importantly of course will be your own contemplation, and action, to be merciful as God is merciful. Pope Francis talks about an equal share of actions of contemplation and works of mercy. Already at work, the conversation is shifting to this dialogue around mercy.
One very exciting initiative will be the presence in our diocese of our own Missionary of Mercy who will be commissioned by Pope Francis in Rome on Ash Wednesday. The plan is for him to travel the diocese in a motor home and to reside at some of our churches which are without a resident priest. While in these locations, he will be present to the whole community, as the face, heart and ears of God’s mercy. Fr Richard Shortall sj will be this Missionary of Mercy (MoM) for our diocese, and will spend time in each place to be available to all people who seek mercy, a listening ear and forgiveness. One of the seminarians responded and called this the ‘Gypsy Van’. I just love the images that are emerging.
In short, the mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality through which he reveals his love as that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a ‘visceral’ love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy.
(Misericordiae Vultus, no. 6)
Bishop Bill spoke the following words once he had knocked on the door of the Cathedral with his staff:
Let us cross this threshold filled with gratitude for the gift of God’s abundant and merciful love.
Let us cross this threshold confident that the strength of the risen Lord supports us on our pilgrim way, and the power of the Holy Spirit will enable us to contemplate the face of mercy.
This is the Lord’s gate: let us enter through it and obtain mercy and forgiveness.
I hope you have begun to mark this Year of Mercy in your own parishes. And so in this second last week before Christmas, I finish with the Prayer of Mercy:
God of Mercy, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.
Be kind to yourself and others as you prepare for Christmas and our holiday season.
Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries