Cardinal Vincent Nichols leads us in a meditation on Advent as the Season of Mercy. On Tuesday Pope Francis will pass through the Holy Door in St Peter’s Basilica and in doing so herald the beginning of an extraordinary time of grace in our lives. On the following Sunday, December 13, our own pilgrimage will begin and we shall set off together to learn more of the Father’s great mercy. Our motto for this extraordinary time of grace is: ‘Be Merciful like the Father.’
The season of Advent itself is a season of mercy. A time when we are invited to look forward to the Second Coming of Christ and remember, his first coming, the birth of the Saviour.
He is saying that in Jesus of Nazareth mercy became visible and living in our midst and in him mercy finds the perfect expression. However, none of the writers of the New Testament describe Jesus’ face. We are invited then to contemplate the face of Jesus not with our physical eyes, but with eyes of faith. For by the grace of the Spirit we receive the sight of faith, an insight, into the tender and merciful face of Christ.
St Paul prayed; ‘I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.’ (Ephesians 1:18-19).
Through a grace of revelation then, by the gift of the Holy Spirit we receive God’s blessing such that we grasp more fully, the depth, length, height and width of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
It is significant that the the Jubilee Year of Mercy begins in Rome on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Pope chose this date to begin the holy year because of its rich meaning and significance.
Firstly, the feast celebrates how God did not abandon us to the throes of evil or darkness when we turned away from him. Rather, turning his gaze to Mary, holy and immaculate in love (Ephesians 1:4) he chose her to be the Mother of the Redeemer. As Pope Francis says of this moment, ‘When faced with the gravity of sin, God responded with the fullness of mercy.’ (MV 3).
The Incarnation, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, is the fullness of mercy, revealed in the fullness of time. As St Paul says, ‘But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law that we might receive the full rights of sons.’ (Galatians 4:4-5). ‘No one’ Pope Francis says, ‘has penetrated the profound mystery of the Incarnation like Mary. Her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh.’ (MV 24).
Secondly, it marks the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of Vatican II, the Second Ecumenical Council. Vatican II marked a new phase in the church’s history, a true breath of the Holy Spirit encouraging us to speak about God in a new and accessible way. There was a new sense of our vocation to be a living sign of the Father’s love and mercy in the world. We are called, in a special way, to keep the spirit and the teaching of Vatican II, alive and fresh in our minds and hearts.
The Holy Year then is a special and extraordinary time of grace and blessing and we are all being invited to make a pilgrimage into the merciful heart of the Father.
Some may make a pilgrimage to Rome itself or to the Holy Door established in the cathedral or shrine in their diocese. What is important is that each of us makes a spiritual pilgrimage to contemplate the face of Christ, the face of mercy and discover for ourselves, in a new and exciting way, the mercy and forgiveness of God. For it is in receiving God’s mercy that we hold out mercy to others; it is in being forgiven that we forgive and it is the Holy Spirit who pours God’s love into our hears so that we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ (Galatians 4:6).
The blessing this holy year holds out is that through God’s grace we become steeped in God’s mercy, filled with a sense of God’s goodness and kindness, and in turn become living and authentic witnesses of God’s goodness, tenderness and love.
By God’s grace, this Advent we reach out to others as joy and mercy-filled evangelists. Don’t be afraid to share what Christmas means to you.
Advent – A Season of Mercy
Advent is a season of grace and blessing inviting us to examine our lives, repent of our sins and receive the mercy and forgiveness of God. Advent is a time in which we long for the Second Coming of Christ, rejoice in his first coming and give praise and thanks for his coming into our lives. The revelation of God’s mercy is not an abstract idea or remote notion but a concrete reality fully revealed in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, God made man, born in poverty in a stable in Bethlehem and fulfilled in his coming again.
‘Let us see, O Lord, your Mercy, and give us your saving help.’ (Gospel Acclamation for first Sunday of Advent)
The Sacrament of Mercy
Advent is a penitential season, a time for repentance and conversion, an opportunity to reflect, examine our conscience and seek out the mercy and forgiveness of Christ. In the Sacrament of Mercy we encounter God as the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The Father rushes out to meet us; He embraces us, holds us dear and rejoices in our return. This Advent take heart, do not be afraid, seek out his mercy and forgiveness. God is close to the humble and broken hearted; He heals our wounds and restores to us the joy of salvation.
Jesus – The face of Mercy
When considering the great legacy of the Jubilee Year 2000, Saint Pope John II said: ‘But if we ask what is the great legacy it leaves, I would not hesitate to describe it as the contemplation of the face of Christ.’ Pope Francis builds on this legacy by proclaiming that the face of Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy. The scriptures teach us that whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (John 14:9). St Bernard of Clairvaux said, ‘we look upon the Father in the Son and the Son in the Father.’ We behold, the baby in the crib, the man on the cross, the risen Lord, the face of Christ, the face of the Father’s mercy.
Mary watches over us during the Year of Mercy for she is the Mother of Mercy. She learnt to treasure and ponder in her heart the riches of God’s mercy. As the Mother of God, through her Immaculate Conception Mary experienced God’s mercy in an exceptional way – like no other. She is a masterpiece of mercy and lives to intercede for us asking that the blessing and mercy of the Father be poured out into our hearts. Mary is our sign of hope, our Mother, our Advocate, our Helper and our Intercessor.
Merciful like the Father
The motto for the Year of Mercy is: ‘Merciful Like the Father’ (Luke 6:36). To be merciful like the Father is to embrace a way of life and to learn to hear God’s voice (Luke 6:27). It is by hearing God speak to us in silence and prayer that we learn to contemplate God’s mercy and learn to live as authentic witnesses of his love. This means being kind when tempted to be harsh; always seeing the good and best in others and choosing to be forgiving instead of giving in to resentment. We cannot do this in our own strength but need the grace of God and the blessing of the sacraments of the Church. Let us be led to the truth as the three kings were led by the star. Let us choose to follow as they chose to follow.