Opening of the Holy Door Jubilee of Mercy

Homily by Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien
Opening of the Holy Door Jubilee of Mercy
Sunday, December 13, 2015

Occasionally, I get mail which is signed not only with a name, but also with a Happy Face or two, which I guess is meant to cheer me up. And when I go into a corner store, the clerk will often say “Have a nice day, love”. But what if I don’t want to have a nice day; what if I am having a lousy day?
Some people, of course, always seem to be upbeat and perky no matter what – whereas other people’s state of mind can be up and down with the weather and is dependent on how they are getting along or not getting along with those close to them.
We heard in the second reading today St. Paul’s exhortation to rejoice – and not only to rejoice, but to rejoice always! Is he a “Have a Nice Day” person? I don’t think so, and let me tell you why.
First, St. Paul is not writing to the Philippians from some beach or resort. He is in prison and has been put on trial for his life. So these are not the words of someone who is having a good day and everything is going right for him.
The second reason I say that Paul is not just a “Have a Nice Day” person is that he doesn’t say “Rejoice always”. What he says is “Rejoice in the Lord always”. What he is telling us is that the cause of our joy is not the fact that the sun is shining or that things are going our way. The cause of our joy is not the circumstances that surround us; the cause of our joy is something we have within us – the belief that God is near. This is what carried Paul through all his trials and opposition and imprisonment.
When we say that “The Lord is near”, we are not only thinking about Christ’s coming at Christmas, but all that Christmas makes possible: God sent His Son into our world; He suffered and died out of love for us; and He continues to be present among us through the power of the Holy Spirit and the ongoing Gift of Himself in the Holy Eucharist.
So when Paul tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he is not saying “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile”. Paul is not just an optimist; because of his belief that the Lord is near, he is able to draw consolation, strength, and hope in his difficulties, which are many.In today’s gospel, John the Baptist proclaims a similar message of hope. He, too, will be imprisoned and later beheaded, but he knows that something great is happening; he knows someone is coming after Him: Jesus the Messiah, who is much greater than he is. His message excites his hearers, who, for the most part, are just ordinary people. And they want to know what they should be doing to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. John’s answer is very simple and very concrete: be fair; be just; be honest; look after those in need. That’s the way to prepare.
Both Paul and John the Baptist had this extraordinary sense that God was close to them. This was the power that carried them through all their pain and suffering. They didn’t have to deny the difficulty of their experience; they faced it, but not alone.
Today, we opened the Door of Mercy, the Door which is a symbol of Christ who invites us to come to him. “Come to me all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” We are being invited during this Year of Mercy to experience the Father’s mercy which is made present to us in Jesus, the human face of God.
In response to the question of his hearers, “What are we to do?”, John the Baptist gave practical advice: be honest, be fair, and be just. In our response to the message of God’s mercy which we proclaim in this Jubilee Year, an equally practical path is recommended. Express your needs in trusting prayer to God and “Be merciful like the Father”, practicing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Help the materially deprived; show your concern for the lonely and the sick; lend a hand to those who are experiencing inner emptiness or spiritual and moral confusion. This is how God helps us to change our anxiety into “the peace that surpasses all understanding”.