By Katherine Long, Editor
Although the Year of Mercy has come to its close, “the practice of mercy does not end,” Bishop Robert J. Cunningham said at a special liturgy Nov. 20.
Bishop Cunningham celebrated the Feast of Christ the King and marked the closing of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy with Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse.
Pope Francis declared the jubilee year, which began Dec. 8, 2015, as “a special time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective,” he wrote in Misericordiae Vultus (“The Face of Mercy”). “At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives.”
In his homily Nov. 20, Bishop Cunningham noted that during the holy year, “Pope Francis repeatedly encouraged us to acknowledge our need for mercy.
“All of us are sinners; all of us are weak; all of us fail to live the great commandment of love of God and love of neighbor; all of us fall short. But as St. Paul reminded the Colossians in the second reading, this reality should not be a cause for hopelessness and discouragement. Rather, the experience of our own weakness and failures is an opportunity to give thanks to the Father ‘who has made us fit to share the inheritance of the holy ones,’” he said.
The joy of the Gospel, Bishop Cunningham said, lies in the fact that “we are loved so much that God, in his mercy, sent his son to save us.
“This personal encounter with mercy compels us to extend mercy. Jesus makes it very clear that what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters we do to him. Eternal life depends on seeing the face of Jesus in others, especially the most needy, and reaching out to them, hence the importance Pope Francis places on the practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy — works that I hope found a new place in your hearts during this past year.”
The Year of Mercy began with Pope Francis’ opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica; on Dec. 13, cathedrals around the world followed suit, including the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. A long-held tradition in the Church, a holy door symbolizes Christ, the passage to eternal life. During the jubilee, pilgrims who walked through a holy door, received the Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist, and prayed for the Holy Father’s intentions could receive an indulgence.
The symbolic closing of the holy door at the conclusion of Mass would also bring to a close a “special year of grace, which in our diocese we referred to as ‘Mercy Encountered, Mercy Extended,’” Bishop Cunningham said. “As the Year of Mercy concludes, let us be confident that the path to mercy is always before us. Jesus is the way. He invites us to come to him and discover over and over again the incredible gift of divine mercy.”
Bishop Cunningham drew on two images of Christ the King: the majestic king depicted in mosaic at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington and Christ the King hanging on the cross. Both are important, he said, and both reveal the face of God’s mercy.
Christ’s path to glory was the way of the cross, he said, and the eternal price of happiness is won when we are willing to walk with Jesus. “This path is marked by our acts of forgiveness, by noticing the poor and weak, by seeking out the marginalized, by encountering those on the peripheries and welcoming them into our presence, and by active engagement in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy,” he said.
Bishop Cunningham encouraged the faithful to continue the practice of mercy beyond the jubilee’s end. “As I read recently, ‘Though we officially conclude the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we do not “move on” from mercy, we move on with mercy,’” he said. “In the days and months ahead, may we move on with mercy, encountering often the Lord’s merciful embrace and generously extending mercy to others.”