Fourth Sunday of Advent 2015
OPENING OF THE DOOR OF MERCY AND THE EXTRAORDINARY JUBILEE OF MERCY
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Pro-Cathedral, 20th December 2015
“Over the past weeks the liturgy has focussed on our hope for the coming of Jesus Christ and the cry of John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord. John foretold that one was to come, he baptized a baptism of repentance and, as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel, he evoked in the hearts of many the question “What are we to do”.
Our preparation for the feast of Christmas must be set within the framework of the fundamental hope that Jesus will bring his kingdom to its fullness. Our style of life, our daily decisions must be those which are likely to contribute to the building of the kingdom. Amid all the hustle and bustle of our material preparations for Christmas we have to remember that Christmas is not a moment of sentimental joyfulness: it is a feast which challenges each of to ask that same question: what am I to do? How should I direct the way I live in a manner which reflects the Mystery I am called to celebrate?
In today’s Gospel we have seen how Mary sets out to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who despite her years is also expecting a child. You will remember that the Angel had told this to Mary to help her understand how God’s gratuitous love can bring to fulfilment things that appear humanly impossible. Mary goes now to her cousin and through the dialogue between these two women of faith they come to understand better God’s plan of salvation as is expressed in the scripture-filled hymn the Magnificat. But the Magnificat is not simply a hymn which praises the goodness of God throughout history: it is also a reminder to us of who God is and how God acts and how he wishes us to act.
Mary sets out in haste, we hear. This haste is a sign of the urgency which emerges with the coming of Jesu into the world. Mary’s is a journey of faith and a journey of charity and mercy as she comes to share the joy of Elisabeth. It is a missionary journey, because in her joy and love she brings Jesus to Elizabeth, and helps this elderly woman of deep faith to understand how good God has been to her.
In the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth we see faith and humanity interact. Faith-filled humanity is permeated not with self-affirmation or self-centredness or superficiality, but is realised in genuine encounter, in that spirit of gratuitousness which enables a person to find fulfilment through welcoming the joy of another. Elisabeth’s joy blossoms out in the awareness of what God had done for her. She realises that what seems humanly impossible can become possible in our lives if we leave space for God and gratefully open ourselves to what God alone can attain.
This morning we have carried out the simple gesture of opening a door. That door is quite an ordinary wooden door; it has been here in this Cathedral for almost two centuries. In what way can we call it a Holy Door? The answer is simple: the true door is Jesus Christ. The Holy Door is not folklore or a cultural tradition or some superstitious representation. If we do not realise that Jesus is the true door, then we can pass through a Holy Door as often as we like and remain unchanged or simply feeling good.
The door is Jesus Christ. He alone is the door of mercy. He is the one who shows us what mercy is and shows us how to be merciful. We can never define mercy simply in human terms. The mercy which Jesus reveals to us is of a different kind, but that does not mean that we cannot be witnesses to mercy in our lives and in our world.
There are some who do not like the word mercy. It seems to them as somehow condescending. They say that people want justice and fulfilment and to realise themselves, rather than be the recipients of someone else’s mercy.
But that is to misunderstand what mercy is. Mercy is an attribute of God. We see that right throughout the history of salvation. God is the one who knows us in the depths of our being. He knows the goodness that is in us and yet he knows the other darker dimensions of our lives, those dimensions which we hardly recognise ourselves or do not wish to recognise. God knows even our most secret sins. If we set out with the idea that our God is a harsh unforgiving God, we will remain closed in our sinfulness or with a blemished and imperfect sense of our own integrity, which will never allow us to be fully the person we can and want to be.
God does not wish us remain in such a confused and troubled state. Psalm 43 repeats a cry which is in the hearts of all of us: “why are you cast down my soul and why are you disquieted within me”. The psalmist puts into our mouth an appeal to God: “My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me where is your God?” Yet the man of faith now that God is with him and that his life will only find fulfilment when he encounters the Lord: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for you my God”. Human fulfilment comes when we know God and experience not his judgement but his forgiveness.
Listen again to the Psalmist: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy; he does not deal with us according to our sins nor repay us according to our iniquities, for as the heavens are high above the earth so great is his mercy to those who fear him”,
Our God is a God who heals and forgives and reconciles. His mercy is different to the calculated and measured and conditional mercy of our hearts. God’s mercy can change us and bring our hearts to fulfilment through us become loving and merciful people.
We receive mercy so that we can be merciful. The Year of Mercy is an occasion for us to recall God’s mercy, but also the Year of Mercy is a call to the Church to renewal though being more and more a place where people can experience mercy and forgiveness and be a sign of mercy within an often hash and litigious world.
Too many men, women and children in our day have not experienced the Church in that way. Too many of us, believers and leaders in the Church, have been all too quick to change God’s mercy into our prejudice and intolerance and our vindictive justice. We have been quick to judge. We have created a harsh God and left the troubled scrupulous and guilt-ridden. We have been so concerned with the ninety-nine of our institutions and our like-minded that we have not only forgotten the one who was lost but we have antagonised them in their feeling lost or abandoned. We have tried to institutionalise God’s mercy and many of those in our institutions have experienced them as anything but merciful.
How do we as individuals and as a Church community incarnate the mercy of Jesus Christ in society? As a Church we have to re-invent many of the aspects of our presence in Irish society. We have to free our hearts from the desire to control and never try to hide a yearning to control behind our interpretation of the teaching of Jesus. We have even distorted that great instrument of God’s forgiveness, the Sacrament of Penance, into an invasive tribunal of judgement, rather than an opportunity of a merciful encounter which liberates us. We have been more like the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son than like the merciful father. We have tried to restrict the boundless mercy of the God who awaits our return, into our categories of narrow justness.
Mercy never imprisons; mercy never entraps us within ourselves; mercy frees. Mercy frees us not to remain in our selfishness but to become men and women of encounter, men and women of encounter which allows us to rejoice in the joy of others and allow them to realise themselves.
But mercy is never cheap mercy; mercy is not superficial emotion. Mercy is neither compromise nor half-hearted repentance. Mercy frees us to journey towards true integrity in life. There is no such thing as 50% integrity. Mercy never dismisses the need to seek and live the truth and to change our lives. It is only in the context of mercy however that we can be accompanied on the path to the fullness of the truth of Jesus. Being merciful involves us changing our hearts and realising just how much we owe to the God revealed in Jesus Christ, who is full of mercy and compassion.
The Year of Mercy can be an opportunity for us to purify and renew our lives and purify and renew the Church. The door of mercy in this Cathedral opens a path for us to encounter the mercy of Jesus Christ. Hopefully many during this Jubilee Year will find time to reflect on their lives in the sacrament of reconciliation; hopefully many on that path will find encouragement from the figure of the Venerable Matt Talbot, one who overcame addiction through encountering a merciful God; hopefully many will stop at the Altar of Saint Laurence O’Toole, Patron of the Archdiocese of Dublin, friend of the poor, peacemaker, reformer and man of prayer, and pray for the Church in Dublin, for the people and priests of the diocese and especially for our young people and for me your Bishop.”