I wish you a “Mercy” Christmas!
Twelve days ago I had the joy of opening two ‘Holy Doors’ for the Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Archdiocese of Armagh – one at St Peter’s Church in Drogheda, the other, here, at St Patrick’s Cathedral. It is my prayer tonight that during the Holy Year you and your families will have a profound personal experience of God’s love and mercy in your lives. Pope Francis has described the Holy Year of Mercy as an ‘extraordinary moment of grace and spiritual renewal’. That is why, this year, I am wishing you all a “Mercy” Christmas.
Of course every Christmas is a “Mercy” Christmas, because it was God’s merciful and overwhelming love for us that led, on the first Christmas night, to God sending His Only Son to be our Saviour. The mystery at the heart of Christmas is the mystery of the Incarnation which is in turn, the mystery of Mercy. Notice how the Creed sums up the meaning of Christmas:
‘For us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man’.
That is why on this Holy Night, to honour the deep significance of these words, we genuflect at that point in the Creed.
The first Christmas was the moment which connected God and man. At Bethlehem God came to meet us as never before. Christmas therefore was, and is, a ‘Mercy’ moment. In wishing you all a “Mercy” Christmas, it is my hope that, after all the rushing around and frantic preparations of recent weeks, you will experience in your lives the power of God’s mercy.
One of the wonders of Christmas is the manner in which God came among us. The All-powerful God, Creator of heaven and earth, did not choose for his birth the might and splendour of a royal palace. Instead he became small and was born in the poverty and simplicity of a stable. He was wrapped by Mary, the Mother of Mercy, in swaddling clothes and laid in a wooden manger where animals normally fed. God humbled himself to share in our humanity, so that we might share in His divinity. Years later that same Jesus, out of mercy for us, would humble himself still further to be stretched out on the wood of the cross, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
How might we make this a “Mercy” Christmas for ourselves and for others? How might we respond to God’s mercy in the coming Jubilee Year?
Firstly, I invite you to be reconciled personally with God and with anyone from whom you might be alienated. No-one is excluded from the mercy of God. As Pope Francis has said:
“In this Jubilee Year, let us allow God to surprise us! He never tires of casting open the doors of his heart and of repeating that he loves us and wants to share his love with us… From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly. It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people draw from it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends” (Misericordiae Vultus n25).
Consider, therefore, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation during this Year of Mercy, even if it has been a very long time since you were last at Confession. Your life will be transformed when you draw from the wellspring of God’s mercy. Let go this coming year of whatever selfish or sinful habits are preventing you from being the very best person you can be.
The theme of the Year of Mercy is ‘Merciful like the Father’. We are all called upon to show mercy because mercy has, first of all, been shown to us. Reach out, therefore, this Christmas and New Year to someone who may have offended you in the past. Be prepared to humble yourself. Become small. Offer the hand of friendship and make the first move in reconciliation – whether it be with someone in your family, your school, workplace or community. Of course wounds are sometimes deep and difficult to heal, but with the help of God’s grace, this Year of Mercy may be just the moment for a new beginning.
Secondly, we can make this a “Mercy” Christmas by helping others through ‘works of mercy’. ‘The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned and burying the dead’ (CCC 2447).The spiritual works of mercy include advising the doubtful and comforting the sorrowful, teaching the faith to our children and others, pointing out what is right and wrong, forgiving, patiently bearing with those who are in error and praying for the living and the dead.
As individuals and as society a “Mercy” Christmas challenges us to ask whether we have done enough to make peace, to help relieve poverty, hunger, homelessness and the plight of refugees; whether or not we have reached out to those around us who are experiencing isolation, persecution and loneliness, despair or hopelessness; whether or not we have accompanied those who have drifted away from God and gently sought to bring them back and dispel their doubts; whether or not we are playing our part in defending the life and human dignity of every person, bringing the joy of the Gospel into our world and inviting those who are rejecting God to come to know His love and mercy in their lives.
Finally, I invite you to make this a “Mercy” Christmas by turning to Jesus in prayer. I offer you a spiritual garland of two powerful prayers to make your own this Christmas and during the Jubilee Year. The first is known as the “Jesus” prayer – it is very short and you can recite it hundreds of times a day, at home, on your way to work, in school, in the shops, anywhere. “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”. This “Jesus” prayer sums up so much about the meaning of Christmas, Easter, the whole mystery of our faith. It is a simple humble, prayer which opens us up to the mercy of God in our lives. “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”
The second prayer is similar, and it is often associated with the ‘Divine Mercy’ devotion. Once more, it is a prayer that can be repeated with every breath at any moment of the day, especially when you are worried or troubled about anything. The prayer is: “Jesus, I trust in you”. You may have noticed that, for the Year of Mercy we have displayed in the Cathedral a large representation of St Faustina’s ‘Divine Mercy’ image with the words, ‘Jesus, I trust in you’ written in Irish: ‘A Íosa, tá muinín agam asat’.
My brothers and sisters, when Pope Francis recently launched the Jubilee Year someone asked me: is every year not a year of mercy? Of course it is, and so is every day, every hour, every minute even. It’s just that we sometimes forget what the gift of mercy means in our own lives, and how much it can make a difference in the lives of others. That is why I have chosen to offer these thoughts on this Holy Night and have no hesitation in wishing you a “Mercy” Christmas, and a Happy Jubilee Year!
God bless you all.