With the Mercy of the Good Shepherd

Author: Pope Francis

With the Mercy of the Good Shepherd

Pope Francis

Pope Francis opens the Holy Door of St Peter's Basilica on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

The Jubilee began with a sign of affection between Pope Francis and Pope Benedict in the atrium of St Peter's Basilica. Following the Eucharistic celebration inaugurating the Holy Year, on Tuesday, 8 December [2015], Francis presided at the Rite of opening the Holy Door — which in essence was established by Alexander VI for the Jubilee of 1500 — however this year it was simplified and recited in Italian instead of Latin. After recting a few phrases, Francis climbed the few steps to the door and before opening it, he stoped to pray for a few moements. Benedict XVI followed him, along with the cardinals, bishops, as well as other religious representatives and lay people. The Mass, celebrated exactly 50 years after the close of Vatican II, began with readings from four conciliar consititutions and two passages from the decree on ecumenism and the decree on religious freedom. The Sistine Chapel Choir provided the music, along with the Mater Ecclesiae Choir and that of the Pontifical Institute for Sacred Music. Among those concelebrating were Cardinal Dean Sodano, Cardinal Secretary of State Parolin, as well as Archbishop Fisichella, Archbishop Ruiz Arenas, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst, of the Congregation for the New Evangelization, charged with organizing the Jubilee. The following is the English text of the Holy Father's homily which he delivered in Italian.

In a few moments I will have the joy of opening the Holy Door of Mercy.  We carry out this act — as I did in Bangui — so simple yet so highly symbolic, in the light of the word of God which we have just heard.  That word highlights the primacy of grace.  Again and again these readings make us think of the words by which the angel Gabriel told an astonished young girl of the mystery which was about to enfold her: “Hail, full of grace” (Lk 1:28).

The Virgin Mary was called to rejoice above all because of what the Lord accomplished in her.  God’s grace enfolded her and made her worthy of becoming the Mother of Christ.  When Gabriel entered her home, even the most profound and impenetrable of mysteries became for her a cause for joy, a cause for faith, a cause for abandonment to the message revealed to her.  The fullness of grace can transform the human heart and enable it to do something so great as to change the course of human history.

The feast of the Immaculate Conception expresses the grandeur of God’s love.  Not only does he forgive sin, but in Mary he even averts the original sin present in every man and woman who comes into this world.  This is the love of God which precedes, anticipates and saves.  The beginning of the history of sin in the Garden of Eden yields to a plan of saving love.  The words of Genesis reflect our own daily experience: we are constantly tempted to disobedience, a disobedience expressed in wanting to go about our lives without regard for God’s will.  This is the enmity which keeps striking at people’s lives, setting them in opposition to God’s plan.   Yet the history of sin can only be understood in the light of God’s love and forgiveness.  Sin can only be understood in this light.  Were sin the only thing that mattered, we would be the most desperate of creatures.  But the promised triumph of Christ’s love enfolds everything in the Father’s mercy.  The word of God which we have just heard leaves no doubt about this.  The Immaculate Virgin stands before us as a privileged witness of this promise and its fulfilment.

This Extraordinary Year is itself a gift of grace.  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.  It is he who seeks us!  It is he who comes to encounter us!  This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy.  How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy (cf. Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 12, 24)!  But that is the truth.  We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgment will always be in the light of his mercy.  In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love, of tenderness.  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.

Today, here in Rome and in all the dioceses of the world, as we pass through the Holy Door, we also want to remember another door, which fifty years ago the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council opened to the world.  This anniversary cannot be remembered only for the legacy of the Council’s documents, which testify to a great advance in faith.  Before all else, the Council was an encounter.  A genuine encounter between the Church and the men and women of our time.  An encounter marked by the power of the Spirit, who impelled the Church to emerge from the shoals which for years had kept her self-enclosed so as to set out once again, with enthusiasm, on her missionary journey.  It was the resumption of a journey of encountering people where they live: in their cities and homes, in their workplaces.  Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel, and the mercy and forgiveness of God.  After these decades, we again take up this missionary drive with the same power and enthusiasm.  The Jubilee challenges us to this openness, and demands that we not neglect the spirit which emerged from Vatican II, the spirit of the Samaritan, as Blessed Paul VI expressed it at the conclusion of the Council.  May our passing through the Holy Door today commit us to making our own the mercy of the Good Samaritan.

L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
11 December 2015, page 6

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