TYLER – Bishop Joseph E. Strickland opened the Door of Mercy in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Tyler on Tuesday to inaugurate the Year of Mercy.
The Holy Year proclaimed by Pope Francis began Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and continues through Nov. 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King.
Bishop Strickland was main celebrant and homilist at the Mass celebrating the solemnity and marking the start of the Year of Mercy in the Diocese of Tyler.
It is fitting that Pope Francis chose the Marian feast to open the Year of Mercy, the bishop said.
“Mary is the first disciple who is anything but short-sighted,” he said. “She had to have the vision by the grace of God, the faith, to say yes to the will of God as her son would 33 years later, and as all of us are called to do.”
The bishop said it is often easy to question whether God’s mercy exists. He pointed to the large stained glass window behind the cathedral’s altar, a depiction of Christ in the garden the night before his crucifixion, as an example.
The window, he said, captures the moment “where the Son of God is asking his Father for mercy, asking, ‘Father, that this cup may pass me by, yet not my will but yours.’ The Lord of mercy in this beautiful window in this beautiful moment tells us what a day, a year, a millennium of mercy is about: to focus, ultimately, on the will of God.”
Reflecting on that moment, and on all that came after, Bishop Strickland said, “we might initially say, well, the Father wasn’t merciful to his Son. He allowed him to die on a cross.
“But his Son, the Lord of Mercy, mercy incarnate, models for us that that is short-sighted,” Bishop Strickland said.
He referred to his own impaired vision.
“I’m what they call near-sighted,” he said. “I need some pretty powerful contacts. But we’re all, in a very real sense, short-sighted by our own human reality. And even the Son of God shows a glimpse of that, because he is really human and really divine, in all the mystery that entails, kneeling in the garden, and asking, ‘Just possibly, Father, in your mercy, could this cup pass me by?’ But because our Lord and Savior is never really as short-sighted as we are, he knew that he must seek the Father’s will.”
That short-sightedness is as old as humanity itself, Bishop Strickland said. He referenced the liturgy’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Genesis, recounting the fall of Adam and Eve.
“Adam and Eve blew it because they were short-sighted,” he said. “Every one of us here, even these beautiful children, are short-sighted as well. It’s part of our reality. We only see a little way down the road.
“How many of us have offered prayers similar to our Savior’s, saying let this cup of illness or this cup of a job slipping through my fingers, a relationship breaking down, an anger that I can’t let go of, let this cup pass me by?” he asked. “And once again, in our short-sightedness, we can have the idea that the Father isn’t listening, that mercy isn’t ours.”
Yet as Christ himself did in the Garden, the bishop said, we must remember “the long story,” must try to see with “the sight that is the Father’s” and try to understand God’s plan. “We must say, as we will pray again in a few minutes in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘thy will be done.’
“And what is the Father’s will? That we know his everlasting life. And in that context, his apparent denial of his Son’s request opens for all time the gates of mercy, allowing us to know our destiny, and giving us over and over again the opportunity not to be short-sighted but to have the vision that a young man of Nazareth had.”
Throughout his homily, Bishop Strickland held his crozier, which is not his usual habit yet which he said was deliberate.
The crozier is one symbol of a bishop’s authority, the shepherd’s staff. In his homily, however, Bishop Strickland likened the crozier to the rudder of a ship. “I have been called (as bishop) to take the helm of the Church of Tyler,” he said, asking those present to “pray for me.”
But, he added, “we need to pray for each other. Yes, I’m called to take the helm, to hold the rudder. But all of us must cooperate and be those ministers of mercy we’re called to be from our baptism. So we pray for vocations. We live out our vocations with joy. We show up for holy days of obligation. Because our world needs mercy. And all of us here will be stronger ministers of mercy because we are here at this liturgy, at the beginning of the holy Year of Mercy. We are reminded that seeking the will of the Father is ultimately what mercy is.
“We will hear much about mercy in the coming months, but let us always return to that truth, that real mercy is strong, real mercy is powerful, real mercy is Christ at work in our lives.”
Pope Francis said the Holy Year is a time to experience “the sweet and gentle touch” of God’s forgiveness and his presence in difficult times.
Bishop Strickland urged those at the Mass opening the Jubilee Year to avail themselves of that touch.
“I encourage you, and the burdens you carry in your heart right now, to pray for the Lord’s mercy during this liturgy, believing and knowing that his consolation and his strength do come to us, as they did to Christ in the garden,” he said. “The Father strengthened him to do his will, and to ultimately allow that mercy to touch all our lives.
“As we begin this year of mercy, let us rejoice in the opportunity to embrace the Lord of Mercy, to be inspired over and over again by the Virgin Mary.” It is Mary, Bishop Strickland said, “who models for us what real mercy is about: seeking the will of the Father and rejoicing in magnifying the Lord, that his will might be fulfilled in everlasting life beyond our imagining.”
He again turned to the window behind the altar, and to the moment it captures.
“I encourage you to call to mind the image of Christ, God’s own son, pleading for mercy,” the bishop said. “And let us remind ourselves that, in the long-sighted will of the Father, that mercy is ultimately granted, for his Son and for the world. Keep the image of the crozier (in mind), because, in a very real sense, you all assist me and the Holy Father and all who are called to guide the church. We cannot guide the church without your faith, without your strength.
“So let us pray for and celebrate mercy together,” Bishop Strickland urged. “And let this be a year of great blessing.”
For more on the Year of Mercy in the Diocese of Tyler, visit www.dioceseoftyler.org/mercy.