Every Advent we are called to reflect on our lives and our faith. We prepare ourselves anew for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. More than ever, we are called to do so this Christmas as we enter the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
The Incarnation of Christ is God’s greatest act of mercy. Jesus is the concrete reality of God’s love, ‘‘the face of the Father’s mercy’’ as Pope Francis says in the opening of Misericordiae Vultus, the papal bull proclaiming the Holy Year.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit, the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus continue to transform our lives, bringing light to the darkness. In this way, the mercy of God, flowing from the depth of the Blessed Trinity, is poured into our world.
In Jesus we see mercy in action, reaching out to those on the margins of society, bringing them to recognition of God’s love for them and calling them to ‘‘sin no more’’. He is the human expression of God’s love, compassion and forgiveness. Through Him we become fully human.
Creation itself is brought to fulfilment in Him. At this time, then, we must focus afresh on our relationship with Christ, our neighbour and ourselves.
As Pope Francis says: ‘‘The mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as of that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child’’ (Misericordiae Vultus 6).
So it is through the loving faithfulness of Mary and Joseph that our salvation takes shape. God is in our midst. And this is reflected in the life of every family, especially where the presence of the Lord is welcomed and celebrated.
Although the Year of Mercy is already upon us and fills our prayers, let us not forget the family synod which took place in October. At this time, when the Church looks to the family as the means through which God brought about salvation, we can take comfort in the knowledge that this Holy Family shared the same human reality as that of our own family. With Christ at the heart of family life, the family becomes the very flesh of the Church, a place where our salvation is wrought, a place of mercy.
In Mary and Joseph, we see paradigms of mercy. Mary receives God’s great mercy through her complete commitment and entire self-giving to God’s work of mercy. She is the ‘‘Mother of Mercies’’ who leads us to her Son and to the way in which we must trust in God, trust that his love and mercy will guide us through all the difficulties of life. I hope that during this Year of Mercy we will all regularly use and come to know the prayer ‘‘Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy’’. It is such a beautiful prayer.
Joseph is often overlooked at Christmas. Yet, Joseph, we are told, is that ‘‘just man’’ (Mt 1:19). In him we see great mercy and compassion for Mary. He shows this mercy by resolving to take Mary as his wife, agreeing to raise a child that is not his own. Their struggles do not end here, but continue as they make the long journey to Bethlehem. He is indeed the faithful guardian of the most precious child and mother. He watches over the ‘‘a of the Church’’, as we too must do, determined that it comes to no harm.
Although Christmas is a time when we remember the importance of our family, it is often a time of great strain on families, financially and emotionally. Wounds that we thought were healed or feuds that we thought were resolved can surface again as families and friends gather together. Young children or teenagers write increasingly long and expensive Christmas lists, and
we are expected to produce a Christmas dinner fit for a queen. Perhaps now, of all times of year, is the best time to begin exercising mercy in a more concerted way. When the activity and expectation become too much, let us be merciful with others, and with ourselves, for the family is the place where mercy is first learnt.
In this Year of Mercy we are called to build a living relationship with Christ, so that in us He comes out of the Church, into our lives and the lives of others. Let us be beacons of light and mercy in our families, our workplaces and our local communities. Perhaps we can commit ourselves to taking on one corporal work of mercy, seeing where, in parish activities, we can make a contribution.
May God’s mercy rise afresh in our lives this Christmas. May it shine forth in our words and deeds throughout the coming year.
A happy Christmas to all.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols is the Archbishop of Westminster