Mass for the Closing of the Holy Doors, 12/13 November 2016
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
was somewhat stupid a few days ago. I said “yes” to being interviewed on local radio just after the result of the American Presidential Election was announced. Quick soundbites were the name of the game. The interviewer wanted me to say in fifteen seconds how the bitter divisions of the campaign could be healed!
I am not sure what my answer was, but what I wanted to say is that, when we put one another in opposite camps, as politicians, as neighbours, as members of a family, we need to meet with one another and listen to one another, speaking honestly and, at the same time, listening with humility and with an open heart. As we have become more individualistic, we have turned in on ourselves. We are cut off from one another, and we become fearful and uncertain especially in regard to people and cultures different from our own. We want to fence them in or fence them out! I think that we are seeking a security that does not exist or, at least, not in buildings or in institutions or in things never changing.
When Jesus speaks of the destruction of the Temple in today’s Gospel, the people around him are incredulous. At that time, the temple was the largest religious building in the world, and its scale and splendour must have made it seem invulnerable Yet, by the year 70 AD, it had been flattened. Jesus also speaks of wars and earthquakes, of plagues and of famines, upheavals that take place in every age.
The Church gives us these readings towards the end of the liturgical year not to alarm or frighten us, but to remind us of what is permanent and what is temporary. Ultimately, our security is in our faith, not in great buildings or in political structures or even in loyalty to friends and family, but in the abiding love of God who will ensure that “not hair of your head will be lost”.
So, what do we do? If our faith is alive, we should live life to the full unlike the Christians in Thessalonica whom St. Paul tells off for being lazy. They may have seen no point in working because of their belief in the imminent return of Jesus. Or perhaps they had become too dependent on the charity of fellow Christians who looked after the poor in the community. Paul orders them, in the name of Jesus, to get back to work. So, we, too, should live each moment to the full.
What motivates us and binds us together is our faith in Jesus and, in this month of November and as we celebrate Remembrance Sunday, it is our faith in the risen Lord that binds us, the living and the dead, in the eternal love and life of God.
During the past Jubilee Year we have celebrated that life and that love through the lens of mercy. We have been called to be merciful like the Father and to see in Jesus the face of God’s mercy, a mercy without limit reflected in Jesus’ words as he was crucified: “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing.”
For me, personally, it has been a special year, experiencing God’s mercy more intimately each time I have been to confession, receiving the grace of forgiveness and the blessings of the Church in so many ways. As priest and confessor, I have experienced God’s mercy countless times in the Year of Mercy, hearing confessions during the Lent Penitential Services, during the 24 hours for the Lord and when large and small groups have come to the Holy Door at the Cathedral. It has been a time when so many of us have celebrated the Sacrament of Penance, of Confession.
Many people have spoken to me of the impact of this Year of Mercy in their lives. Only yesterday someone was telling me how, during the Jubilee of God’s Mercy, the sense of guilt they have carried for years, even though they had confessed their sins, had been lifted from their shoulders.
I have experienced the practice of mercy in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and the enthusiasm of groups like the St. Vincent de Paul Society reaching out to those in need. Special Years come and go, but this Jubilee Year of Mercy has touched so many of us so deeply.
A potent symbol of the Year of Mercy has been the Holy Doors representing Christ who is the door into the mercy of the Father. I would like to thank the clergy and the communities at the Cathedral in Northampton and at St. Joseph’s in Gerrards Cross for the welcome you have given to pilgrims coming to the Holy Door of Mercy.
This weekend, a week before Pope Francis closes the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica to mark the end of the Holy Year, we close the Holy Doors in our Diocese - last night at Gerrards Cross, and today in the Cathedral. We do so with joyful praise and thanksgiving for the graces of this Holy Year. And we do so knowing that, while the Holy Doors are shut, the mercy of God continues to flow from the side of Christ on the cross, from the Mass and from the sacraments. As we heard in the reading from the Prophet Malachi, “For you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will shine out with healing in its rays.” Amen.
Bishop of Northampton