VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) – On Sunday Pope Francis closed the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica, officially marking the end of the Jubilee of Mercy, which he said is a reminder that love is at the core of God’s attitude, rather than power and prestige.
“This Year of Mercy invites us to rediscover the core, to return to what is essential,” the Pope said Nov. 20, the Feast of Christ the King.
The “time of mercy” lived during the Jubilee serves as a call to look to “the true face of our King,” and to rediscover “the youthful, beautiful face of the Church, the face that is radiant when it is welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means but rich in love, on mission.”
Mercy, he said, takes us “to the heart of the Gospel, urges us to give up habits and practices which may be obstacles to serving the Kingdom of God” and urges us to align ourselves “only in the perennial and humble kingship of Jesus, not in submission to the precarious regalities and changing powers of every age.”
Pope Francis spoke to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for Mass marking the end of the Jubilee of Mercy. He first announced the Jubilee during a March 13, 2015, penitential liturgy inside the basilica.
In an unprecedented move, the Pope jump-started the Holy Year by opening the Holy Door in Bangui Nov. 29, 2015, – 10 days before the Holy Year officially began Dec. 8, 2015. Not only did it mark the first time a Pope had opened a Holy Door outside of Rome, but the act was also seen as a strong sign of solidarity with the war-torn country.
After closing the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica – the last one open in the world – the Pope processed to the square outside, where he celebrated Mass with the 70,000 pilgrims present, according to Vatican security.
In his homily, the Pope pointed to the day’s Gospel from Luke, in which Christ, “the Chosen One, the King” appears “without power or glory: he is on the cross, where he seems more to be conquered than conqueror.”
Jesus’ kingship, he said, “is paradoxical:” his crown is made of thorns, he has no scepter, no “luxurious clothing” or “shiny rings” on his fingers, but is instead pierced with nails and sold for 30 pieces of silver.
Francis noted that glory of God’s kingdom “is not power as defined by this world, but the love of God, a love capable of encountering and healing all things.”
Christ “lowered himself to us out of this love, he lived our human misery, he suffered the lowest point of our human condition” of betrayal and abandonment. However, “he did not condemn us, nor did he conquer us, and he never disregarded our freedom,” but instead “paved the way with a humble love that forgives all things.”
In celebrating the Feast of Christ the King, we proclaim his victory over death “with the sole power of love,” Pope Francis said, but cautioned that it would mean “very little” if we believed Jesus was King of the universe, but didn’t “make him Lord of our lives.”
He pointed to three different figures in the Gospel representing the different attitudes we can have: naming them as the people who are looking on, those near the cross, and the criminal crucified next to Jesus.
Those who stood by and merely watched as Jesus was crucified without saying a word were the same ones who pressed “in on Jesus when they needed something, and who now keep their distance.”
Francis said that we too can keep our distance, preferring “to remain at the window, to stand apart, rather than draw near and be with him.” However, a people who are holy and “have Jesus as their King, are called to follow his way of tangible love.”
Pointing to the second group, which included leaders, soldiers and a criminal, the Pope noted how they “all mock Jesus. They provoke him in the same way: ‘Save yourself!’”
This temptation, he said, “is worse than that of the people. They tempt Jesus, just as the devil did at the beginning of the Gospel to give up reigning as God wills, and instead to reign according to the world’s ways,” preferring to save himself over others.
“It is the most terrible temptation, the first and the last of the Gospel,” he said, but noted that when faced with this attack, “Jesus does not speak, he does not react. He does not defend himself.”
Rather, the Lord “continues rather to love; he forgives, he lives this moment of trial according to the Father’s will, certain that love will bear fruit.”
The Pope stressed that we are called to “struggle against this temptation” and fix our eyes on the Crucified Jesus, becoming “ever more faithful to him.”
“The lure of power and success seem an easy, quick way to spread the Gospel; we soon forget how the Kingdom of God works,” he said, but said the Jubilee of Mercy directs our focus to what’s essential.
Turning to the third figure, the thief who begs Jesus to remember him, Pope Francis said this person in “simply looking at Jesus, believed in his kingdom.”
Instead of being “closed in on himself,” the man, despite his sins and errors, “turned to Jesus. He asked to be remembered, and he experienced God’s mercy.”
“As soon as we give God the chance, he remembers us. He is ready to completely and forever cancel our sin,” Francis said, explaining that unlike our own, God’s memory “does not record evil that has been done or keep score of injustices experienced.”
“God has no memory of sin, but only of us, of each of us, we who are his beloved children. And he believes that it is always possible to start anew, to raise ourselves up.”
Pope Francis encouraged pilgrims to pray for the grace to never close the doors “of reconciliation and pardon,” explaining that just God believes in us beyond any of our own merits, “so too we are called to instill hope and provide opportunities to others.”
“Even if the Holy Door closes, the true door of mercy which is the heart of Christ always remains open wide for us,” he said noting that it is from “the lacerated side of the Risen One” that mercy, consolation and hope flow until the end of time.
He offered thanks for the many pilgrims who during the Jubilee crossed the Holy Door away from “the clamor” of daily news and tasted the “great goodness” of the Lord, and asked Mary to intercede for us as the Holy Year comes to an end.
“May our Blessed Lady accompany us…She is Mother of Mercy, to whom we entrust ourselves: every situation we are in, every prayer we make, when lifted up to his merciful eyes, will find an answer.”
After celebrating Mass, Pope Francis led pilgrims in praying the Angelus, telling them to give thanks to God “for the gift that the Holy Year of Mercy has been for the Church and for many people of goodwill.”
He also offered a special greeting to the sick, and to the delegation of the Italian government who were also present at Mass, including Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella.
At the end of the celebration Pope Francis also signed his new apostolic letter “Misericordia et misera,” set to be published Nov. 21 and which is addressed to the entire Church “to live continue to live mercy with the same intensity experienced during the entire Extraordinary Jubilee,” according to a communique from the Vatican Press Office.
In a gesture meant to represent the entire People of God, he handed a copy to people from several different states and stages in life, including Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, one of the larges dioceses in the world; Archbishop Leo William Cushley of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh; two priests from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Brazil who served as Missionaries of Mercy during the Jubilee; a permanent deacon from the diocese of Rome together with his family; two religious sisters from Mexico and South Korea; a family – children, parents and grandparents included – from the United States; a young engaged couple, two mothers who teach catechesis in Rome and one person who was disabled and one who was ill.