Closing a year which began with the opening of a Holy Door in a small cathedral in the war-torn Central African Republic, the pontiff said that God always gives people a chance and “does not record evil that has been done or keep score of injustices experienced.”
“Let us also ask for the gift of this open and living memory,” the pope exhorted. “Let us ask for the grace of never closing the doors of reconciliation and pardon, but rather of knowing how to go beyond evil and differences, opening every possible pathway of hope.”
“As God believes in us, infinitely beyond any merits we have, so too we are called to instill hope and provide opportunities to others,” said Francis. “Because even if the Holy Door closes, the true door of mercy which is the heart of Christ always remains open wide for us.”
Francis was speaking Sunday during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square with some 70,000 others for the end of the Jubilee, a special year called by the church to receive blessing and pardon from God and remission of sins. It is normally marked by the opening of holy doors at Rome’s four major basilicas, which pilgrims can walk through as part of a process of receiving forgiveness.
The pope surprised the world in March 2015 with announcement of a special Jubilee year for mercy, which had not been previously scheduled. The Holy Year officially ran from Dec. 8, 2015 through Sunday.
But the pontiff first opened the year during his November 2015 visit to the Central African Republic, where for the first time in the centuries of celebration of Jubilee years Francis opened a holy door in a city other than Rome, in the Republic’s capital of Bangui. The pope also asked that holy doors be open in cathedrals around the world for the first time.
Francis closed the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica at the beginning of the ceremony Sunday. After saying a prayer thanking God for the gift of the Jubilee year, the pontiff approached the special several-story-high gilded doors at the northern entrance of the Basilica, closing them slowly.
As the pope then headed out to the Square to begin the Mass, a number of workers immediately came to the door, removing its handles so no one could re-open it. The portal will later be bricked-shut, as it will remain until the next Jubilee year, currently scheduled for 2025.
Francis was celebrating Mass Sunday for the end of the Holy Year but also for the yearly Catholic feast day of Christ the King. The feast ends the liturgical year and leads into Advent, the liturgical season before Christmas. Among those present for the Mass were many Catholic prelates, including 17 new cardinals the pope created in a ceremony Saturday.
The pope was reflecting in his homily on a reading from Luke’s Gospel, in which Jesus is jeered at by crowds while he is being crucified. But one of the others being crucified with Jesus, who is described as a criminal, rebukes those jeering and asks Jesus: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Francis said the story of three groups described at the scene present Christians with two temptations and one good example to follow. The temptations, he said, are seen both in a group watching the crucifixion from afar and in those close-by who jeer at Jesus.
Those far away, said Francis, warn us of the temptation to keep our distance from Jesus, “to not accept completely the scandal of his humble love, which unsettles and disturbs us.” Those nearby, the pope said, tempt Jesus, telling him “to give up reigning as God wills, and instead to reign according to the world’s ways: to come down from the cross and destroy his enemies!”
“This temptation is a direct attack on love: ‘save yourself;’ not others, but yourself,” said the pontiff. “Claim triumph for yourself with your power, with your glory, with your victory.”
“It is the most terrible temptation, the first and the last of the Gospel,” said Francis.
“When confronted with this attack on his very way of being, Jesus does not speak, he does not react,” said the pope. “He does not defend himself, he does not try to convince them, he does not mount a defense of his kingship. He continues rather to love; he forgives, he lives this moment of trial according to the Father’s will, certain that love will bear fruit.”
“We are called to struggle against this temptation, called to fix our gaze on the Crucified One, to become ever more faithful to him,” said the pontiff.
“How many times, even among ourselves, do we seek out the comforts and certainties offered by the world,” he continued. “The lure of power and success seem an easy, quick way to spread the Gospel; we soon forget how the Kingdom of God works. This Year of Mercy invites us to rediscover the core, to return to what is essential.”
The good example in the Gospel reading, said Francis, comes from the criminal, who “was not closed in on himself, but rather — with his errors, his sins and his troubles — turns to Jesus.”
“As soon as we give God the chance, he remembers us,” said the pontiff. “He is ready to completely and forever cancel our sin, because his memory — unlike our own — 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,” said the pope. “And he believes that it is always possible to start anew, to raise ourselves up.”
At the end of the Mass, Francis signed a new apostolic letter titled Misericordia et misera, which will be made public Monday. The Vatican press office said the text is addressed to the entire church so it may “continue to live mercy with the same intensity experienced during the whole extraordinary Jubilee.”
Francis gave copies of the letter to Philippines Cardinal Luis Tagle, as a representative of one of the biggest archdioceses of the world, and Scottish Archbishop Leo Cushley, head of the archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh.
The pontiff also gave copies to two priests who had served as Missionaries of Mercy during the Jubilee, to a deacon of the diocese of Rome and his family, to two women religious from Mexico and South Korea, to a family from the U.S., to an engaged couple, to two catechists of the Rome diocese, to a person with disabilities, and to a person suffering with illness.