OPENING A NEW PATHWAY TO SALVATION
REFLECTING ON GOD’S MERCY
A Talk delivered by Rev. Fr. JohnBosco Ezeonwumelu during the Parishes’ pilgrimage to the Door of Mercy on Saturday, 9th July, 2016.
We are gathered together today, from our different parishes to respond to the invitation of the Holy Mother, the Church, to reap the full fruit of the everlasting and ever abundant Mercy of God that we celebrate in this year. May God look upon the sacrifices we make in this Jubilee Year and especially upon the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and show us his mercy. May none of us gathered here today leave without gaining the mercy of God through Christ our Lord. Amen.
According to Pope Francis, during his homily at the official opening of the Door of Mercy in Vatican, “To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them. This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy.”
Our focus here is to discover how we can make best use of this opportunity that God has granted us through the Church and how we can help God to reach out to others who have no opportunity of embracing this great favour of God. Do I really mean that we can help God? Yes, we can; God needs our help, and we must help him. It is an obligation that we must fulfill especially in this Year of Mercy. Let us first look at the significance of this Year of Mercy for us, and the place of the Door of Mercy in it, and then, what we stand to gain from it.
THE JUBILEE YEAR OF MERCY
As we already noted above, this is a period in which the Church invites us to embrace the Mercy of God and help in making same available to others. In fact, it seems that the emphasis of this celebration lies more on that second part, which is, making the mercy available to others. But, what is the content of this mercy?
The theme for the celebration of this Jubilee, “Merciful like the Father” already tells us that we are talking about the Divine Mercy. This Divine Mercy is the celebration of the merciful love of God and the desire to let that love and mercy flow through one’s heart towards those in need of it. It is an unmerited love. St. Paul noted that God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). In Lam 3:22-23, we see that beautiful declaration that this love never ceases and it is ever faithful. That is that wonderful song we take this way:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
Your mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning, new every morning;
Great is your faithfulness, O Lord;
Great is your faithfulness.
This Mercy of God is right there beside you and within you. It is always available to us. Yet, it is possible that it can be very far away from us despite being very close to us. Let us consider story of the prayers of the Pharisee and the publican in Luke 18:9-14 in this light.
9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income. 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner! 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Yes! Indeed, we all need the mercy of God. But the problem is that not many of us understand our need of that mercy. A journalist once asked Pope Francis to describe himself in one sentence. He replied, “I am a sinner in need of God’s grace.” Are you scandalized with that response? Hmmmm! Holy Father, a sinner? Well, he went ahead to say in another place that, “We are all sinners. But may the Lord not let us be hypocrites. Hypocrites don’t know the meaning of forgiveness, joy and love of God.”
That, exactly, is the difference between the Pharisee and the publican that we read about. Both came before the throne of Mercy, just as we have gathered, but one came to tell God why he deserves to be regarded as a saint. Of course, we all know that saints are already in heaven and so, have no need of Mercy. So, this Pharisee had no need of mercy, and therefore, lost it. On the other hand, the publican understood that he has derailed, and asked for mercy, and got it. Matt 7:7 says, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door would be opened up for you.
It is important to understand what constitutes the actual difference between the prayers of the Pharisee and the publican very well. We should not be tempted to think that the Pharisee was not a pious man. From his testimony about his life, he was keeping all the laws of Moses, and so, he is considered a righteous man. Like him, we must strive to be righteous.
However, his problem was with self exaltation. Remember what Jesus said about this in Matt 6:1-18. By that, he already had his reward from the glorification of the people, and so, he had no need of God. One begins to wonder why he came before the throne of Mercy in the first place.
On the other hand, the publican came with a humble heart before God. He showed his unworthiness before God and so attracted God’s pity. There are four important attitudes of this publican we too need to embrace, and which the Church has been teaching us:
????????He stood afar off – He realised that he is a sinner and is not worthy to behold the presence of God. This is the first point of the Sacrament of Penance – Realisation of your state as a sinner.
????????He would not even lift his eyes to heaven – This means that he was ashamed of his sin. He does not take pride in his sin or begin to give excuses that he committed them due to human nature.
????????He beat his breast – This is what the Church teaches in the perfect contrition. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Contrition is a heartfelt sorrow for our sins because by these sins, we offend so good a God, together with a firm purpose of amendment” (CCC 1451). So, perfect contrition is sorrow for sin arising purely from the love of God (CCC 1452).
????????He asked for mercy – This is what we do when we attend to the Sacrament of Penance, that is Confession.
So like the publican, we have come to the Door of Mercy to knock and ask God for mercy. Like him, may we all receive the mercy we seek through Christ our Lord. Amen.
THE DOOR OF MERCY
It is important to note that the door is an important sign of the celebration of any Jubilee Year. The Pope normally opens the Holy Door to indicate the opening of any Jubilee Year. The reason we have it done also in our local Churches is to allow the people to have a pragmatic feeling of the celebration. Thanks be to God for such a wisdom granted to his Church.
At the Holy Mass before the opening of the door in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis said that the opening of the door is meant to symbolically illustrate the idea that the Church’s faithful are offered an “extraordinary path” toward salvation during the time of jubilee. He said that mercy must be placed before judgment, though “God’s judgment will always be in the light of his mercy.”
He noted further that “In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love.” He then advised all of us saying, “Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved. Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things.”
OTHER SIGNS OF PILGRIMAGE
Two other signs of any Jubilee Year celebration are pilgrimage and indulgence. We have now all come here on a pilgrimage to the door of Mercy. So, I guess there is no need explaining that again.
As for indulgence, the Catholic Encyclopedia says that it is from the Latin word, Indulgentia,which means to be kind or tender. It later came to mean forgiveness of debt or tax. Our Catechism Booklet defines it as “A remission granted by the Church of the temporal punishment which often remain, due to sin after its guilt has been forgiven (cf. CCC 1471).
Indulgence can either be partial or plenary. It is partial indulgence when it removes only part of the temporal punishment due for sins while it is plenary when it removes all of it.
For this Jubilee Year of Mercy, a *plenary indulgence* is granted to the faithful who fulfill all of the usual requirements during the Holy Year of Mercy. These requirements include:
????????Making a brief pilgrimage to the Holy Door of Mercy
????????Go for the Sacrament of Reconciliation
????????Attend the Holy Mass and receive the Holy Communion with a reflection on mercy.
????????Say the prayer for the Jubilee of Mercy
????????Accompany these celebrations with the profession of faith and with prayer for the Pope’s intentions and for the Church.
Can’t you see that we are indeed privileged to be here because all these criteria would be fulfilled at this gathering. Please do not deny yourself the opportunity to enjoy this indulgence.
As for the sick, who are not able to make this pilgrimage to the Door of Mercy, they can offer their sickness and suffering in union with the Passion of the Lord, receive Holy Communion sacramentally or make a spiritual Communion.
As for those who have died, we can obtain this indulgence for them by offering Masses for them.
As we noted at the beginning, the second part of the intention for this celebration cannot be neglected if it has to be complete. We, who are beneficiaries of this great mercy must extend the hands of mercy to others. The Church has always taught us the summary of what is required of us to fulfill this. We have already noted one of them above, that is praying for the dead. Well, traditionally, those requirements are divided into two parts – The Corporal Works of Mercy and the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
*The Corporal Works of Mercy are as follows:*
To feed the hungry;
To give drink to the thirsty;
To clothe the naked;
To harbour the harbourless;
To visit the sick;
To ransom the captive;
To bury the dead.
*The spiritual works of mercy are:*
To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.
Through these acts of Mercy, we help Jesus to reach out to the faces of those who are in need of him. If we fail to join in this campaign, we shall be denying Jesus the opportunity to reach to his vulnerable children. Are you going to join those who deny him that opportunity?
Today, I make a pledge ✋???? to stand with Jesus in his mission of Mercy to the world by doing my best to be an agent of mercy. What of you?