"It’s about leaving behind – that’s the meaning of the door, the Holy Door outside the Blessed Sacrament in this cathedral – it’s about leaving behind our junk. Our garbage. Whatever impedes us from accepting God’s mercy." -Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron
The following homily was given by Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron on Sunday, December 13, 2015, the third Sunday of Advent, at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Preceding the Mass, Archbishop Vigneron opened the Holy Door of Mercy at the Cathedral, beginning the yearlong Jubilee Year of Mercy instituted by Pope Francis.
I am so grateful that all of you have come here to the Cathedral today so that we might begin this jubilee year together. What a great blessing it has been that we can all, first time, pass through the Holy Door of Mercy. I thank God for this wonderful day. So thank you so very, very much for the opportunity for all of us to pray together.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has chosen to call us to this Year of Mercy, this jubilee year, particularly to commemorate the closing of the second Vatican Council. This is the fiftieth year since that day, when blessed Paul VI ended the council on the feast of our Lady’s Immaculate Conception. Certainly, it’s an important event – but what’s the sense of the Jubilee of Mercy to commemorate it? Well, the aim of the council, St. John XXIII told us, was to relaunch the Church on her mission of being the sacrament, the instrument, of God’s mercy. And so today, we do more than remember that event. We recapitulate it. We take it up. And the whole Church – the Church in Rome through our Holy Father the Pope, the bishop of Rome, the Church in every corner of the world, and especially here in southeast Michigan, in the archdiocese – we are using, we are receiving the graces of this jubilee year as a way to advance ourselves in the new evangelization. [We] let the spirit give us energy and light through the Jubilee Year of Mercy, so that we can continue on our path of sharing Christ with others.
Mercy. You heard in the pope’s words, read by the deacon at the door of the Cathedral – a reminder that God himself said to Moses on Mount Sinai that His name is Mercy. This is one of the names God has given himself. Because God from all eternity is love, the love of the Father and the Son in the Spirit. But after the first rebellion, the originating sin of our parents Adam and Eve, God promised that his love would come into the world as compassion for us sinners. Mercy is, we might say, the face. Mercy is the presence of God’s infinite and eternal love, when he comes into the world to love us sinners. And so his mercy – his compassion for us, in the best we have made of things – is his action to rescue us from the mess that we have made.
And so mercy is, we might say, the very DNA of salvation history. It’s kind of like, if I can mix my metaphors, like the nuclear reactor. It’s the engine that makes all of grace powerful. It’s what lives in the heart of Jesus himself. Mercy is love for us sinners. It’s the meaning of the old covenant. And it’s the meaning of the new in Christ Jesus. And so you’ve heard, in the first and second readings of today’s liturgy, this call for all of us to rejoice. How can we not be joyful that, unmerited as it is by us sinners, God has shown us His mercy? Graciously. Gratuitously. We can’t pay for it. We can’t earn it. He doesn’t force it upon us – he waits for us to open our hearts, and he pours his mercy out in abundance. And so, the prophet says in the first reading, shout for joy, o daughter Zion, sing joyfully, o Israel. Be glad and exalt with all your heart, Jerusalem. That’s us, the new Jerusalem, today, here in the Cathedral church, exalting in this gift of mercy. It’s what Saint Paul spoke about to the Philippians – rejoice in the Lord always.
So what’s up with the door? What’s that about? It’s a very simple gesture. We’re used to it all the time. Without doors, there’d just be walls. But the door is the way that one can leave and enter. A very simple action. And, for centuries, the popes have reminded us that this simple, everyday action can – if we are reflective – be a sacramental, a sign of something very profound. That it’s about leaving. It’s about exiting. It’s about leaving behind – that’s the meaning of the door, the Holy Door outside the Blessed Sacrament in this cathedral – it’s about leaving behind our junk. Our garbage. Whatever impedes us from accepting God’s mercy. Perhaps it’s a lie, the lie that the devil tells us – that it’s hopeless, that it really can’t get any better. “You’re really a loser. No, don’t bother.” Perhaps it’s the lie of believing we need to hang on to our hurt, a grudge. There are many things that keep us from entering the door of mercy. The jubilee, the pope reminds us, is a time to put all of that behind. To keep going to Him. Forward. There’s no other way to go. It’s about entering. It’s about coming through. It’s about receiving what’s on the other side of the door.
Here in this Cathedral, especially I’m glad that what’s exactly on the other side of our door of mercy is the Blessed Sacrament, the great sign of the infinite mercy of God, because it’s the sign of the self-offering of Jesus and the acceptance of that self-offering by the Father in His resurrection. Christ is both the door, the way into mercy, and he’s what’s on the other side of the door. And especially here in the Archdiocese – and I believe it’s clearly according to the thinking of our Holy Father – we’re also called to share what we find on the other side of the door. We’re called to invite other people to walk through the door with us. We’re called to be apostles of Mercy, evangelists of mercy. This is our great consecration of the jubilee year. How do we do that? How do we serve as instruments of mercy? Well, certainly through very specific acts, and we’re going to see in the next few months – the next twelve months – the Holy Father, publicly, from time to time engage in the works of mercy. And we bishops have been asked to imitate the pope, to do the same things in our diocese, and I will. I will visit the imprisoned. I will go to the sick. Council the doubtful. Because, as the Holy Father has said to us bishops, the works of mercy are not only the corporal, which we so naturally think about, but the spiritual as well. I see – they won’t like it, but I’m going to point out – some of Mother Teresa’s sisters here today. And I’m going quote Mother, who always said that those who find themselves without love are the poorest of the poor. That is the ultimate act of mercy that we are all called to share. To love. Especially those who find themselves loveless.
For those who come through the door of Mercy after you – and you’ve already done it – it’s all about a commitment to witness to mercy. And not only by good acts. But it’s very important for us, when we perform works of mercy, to say at least in some way that it is in the name of the merciful Jesus that we share this soup, or visit the sick, or pray for those in doubt. But we also need to think about what St. John the Baptist says in the Gospel today: It’s not only about extraordinary things. It’s about doing one’s duty. What could be simpler than the advice to a tax collector not to be a cheat? That makes all the sense in the world. It’s about living up to the duties and obligations of our state in life. Husbands and wives – what you do for one another. Parents – what you do for children. Children – the chores you do at home, going to school. All of these ordinary things, especially in this year, are ways for the people of God in southeast Michigan to be witnesses to God’s mercy. To be ambassadors of mercy. To be signs, missionaries of mercy.
Here, the third Sunday of Advent, the year of grace 2015, we’ve done what the pope asks. We’ve come to church, come to the Cathedral, we’ve gone through the Holy Door. There remains one more crowning and consummating act for us to perform: to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. Because, as we know, this is why we come to church every Sunday. This is the ultimate way to receive the mercy of the Father. To eat it. To drink it. Because mercy lives in the flesh and blood of Jesus. Mercy is not some idea, some vague ideal. Mercy is a person in the flesh. Jesus. Born from the womb of Mary. This is the one we receive. He is the one we receive in the Eucharist. He gives us the strength to be missionaries of mercy. And so, all the more, as Paul puts it, I say to you again, rejoice. The Lord is near. In minutes, the Holy Spirit will come on your gifts of bread and wine and make Jesus more near than is even conceivable between now and the day he comes again in glory. God is with us. He’s been with us since the Annunciation in the Nativity. Yes, he’s gone back in glory to the Father’s right hand, but he will never go away. Mercy is with us, in our midst, in the Holy Eucharist and in the hearts of us who receive it.
Praise Jesus Christ, now and forever.