Well I don’t know about you, but I certainly need God to confirm my heart in holiness this Advent! For, as we see from our 2nd Reading (1 Thess 3:12-4:2) we are called to holiness in order to “love the whole human race”. Now loving everyone may be fine as a general idea, but what with evil terrorists on the one side, and then just simply stupid or annoying people on the other, I find it very hard indeed. The terrorists disgust me, and annoying people just infuriate me; so I am really a bit of a wreck. And I expect you aren’t that different?
Holiness, remember, means being open to God. It does not mean saying lots of prayers and going to Mass. These outward things should help us to be holy, which is why Jesus told us to do them, but real holiness is an inner thing, isn’t it, not outward observances. This is surely why Jesus in our Gospel today says “Watch yourselves” and “Stay awake.” A central message for Advent as we get ready to celebrate the mystery of God coming to us as a tiny baby.
Next week the whole Catholic Church begins an Extraordinary Jubilee Year with Mercy as its focus. This was announced by Pope Francis last April because he knows, as we do, how much we need to pray for God’s mercy for ourselves, and to offer his mercy to others. A Year like this encourages all of us to do something else as well as just coming to Sunday Mass, something that will hopefully make us more holy, more open to God; so I want to explain to you some of the things that have been suggested that you might do in response to his call.
The first is to pass through an official Door of Mercy. The main door is the one at St Peter’s in Rome, but the Pope, being a merciful man, has declared that every Cathedral throughout the world, and various other important churches, should also have a Door of Mercy that we can visit and walk through. You will be glad to hear therefore that one of these Doors of Mercy will be at the Oratory Church of St Aloysius in Oxford, so none of us at St Peter’s Eynsham will have any excuse for not visiting this Door some time in the year ahead. Of course, it will not be just walking through the door, but using the walk through as an occasion to pray and perhaps make one’s Confession.
Yes, clearly making our Confession should be part of the way we grow in holiness, and I am sure you all know that many extra opportunities to do this are available in all Catholic Churches in the run up to Christmas. But here at St Peter’s we have a special opportunity, not just to make our Confession if we want to, but to spend some time in prayer and thought on God’s mercy. This is because we are hosting a Day of Recollection for all the local Catholic Churches in 2 weeks time on Saturday 12th December. This will begin with Mass at 10.30am and then I will give a Talk on Prayer and Mercy. People will bring their own lunch and then in the afternoon there will be a brief Penitential Service and a time for people to make their Confession with two visiting priests as well as me. So even if you cannot come for the whole day you might come in the afternoon.
Pope Francis has also suggested that we might mark this Year of Mercy with a Pilrimage to some Holy Place. Some of you might like to go to Lourdes or Walsingham but, being a merciful man a bit like the Pope, I am thinking of organising something a bit easier – a Day Pilgrimage some time in the Spring to the Shrine of Our Lady at Evesham.
Pope Francis is also suggesting that we think of something we can do for others during this year. During the first part of the year from January to June he will be offering signs of care to the lonely and marginalised of the world, and he is encouraging us, both as individuals and as local churches, to do the same.
He has also suggested that we call on Mary the Mother of Jesus in the words of the Salve Regina (The Hail Holy Queen). This is a prayer ever ancient and ever new which asks Mary to turn her merciful eyes on us and help us to be worthy to contemplate the face of mercy, her Son Jesus. So we will be doing that here at St Peter’s most Sundays as a way of reminding us of this very special year.