Later this month, on Nov. 20, Pope Francis will bring an end to the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy by closing the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica. The Solemnity of Christ the King, which concludes the church’s liturgical year, will also see the closing of holy doors at St. Joseph Cathedral, and at cathedrals, shrines and other churches. The holy year will be history. Or will it? That’s up to each one of us to decide.
Pope Francis said repeatedly during the jubilee that mercy is not reserved solely for God the Father to lavish on his children through his Son Jesus. Mercy is at the heart of the Gospel message and is the foundation of the church’s life. We must make it ours. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,” Jesus teaches in the Beatitudes of Matthew’s Gospel (5:7). The corollary to that should be obvious: If through our lives and witness as Christians we don’t show mercy, we may not receive it when we need it to be shown to us.
Many commentators occasionally take Pope Francis to task for his seeming spontaneity, his off-the-cuff remarks to reporters and announcements that catch many by surprise. When the Holy Father proclaimed the year of mercy on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2015, one could sense that it wasn’t the start of something new for him or his papacy or for the church, for that matter; rather, it was an important and prayerfully considered next step, and one in keeping with the thinking of his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and especially St. John Paul II.
Referencing John Paul’s 1980 encyclical letter Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), Pope Francis said that a new urgency for the “proclamation and witness to mercy in the contemporary world” had spurred him, just as a renewed urgency regarding evangelization has been guiding the church in recent years. The two, in fact, go hand in hand. Quoting Saint John Paul II, Francis has written: “The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy – the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and of the Redeemer – and when she brings people close to the source of the Savior’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser.”
John Paul’s words are a call to action: Profess, proclaim, bring people close to mercy, he says to us. So, too, are Pope Francis’ words: “Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help.”
Physical holy doors may indeed be closing on Nov. 20 to end this jubilee year, but what is important is that the doors of our hearts have been opened, permanently and widely, to seek forgiveness and then to give, to seek mercy and then dispense it.