On an unusually warm December day, Bishop Richard J. Malone opened the doors of St. Joseph Cathedral and welcomed the Year of Mercy in the Diocese of Buffalo. Opening the "Door of Mercy" symbolizes the welcoming of all to the Church.
"We've opened the Holy Door, as has today every Catholic cathedral around the world, and the Jubilee Year of Mercy has begun," Bishop Malone said Dec. 13, shortly before his homily at the regular Sunday 10:30 a.m. Mass at the downtown Buffalo cathedral.
Watch Bishop Malone's homily below
Pope Francis has called for a Jubilee Year of Mercy to take place Dec. 8, 2015 - Nov. 20, 2016. This should be a time of forgiveness and forgiving. The pope has asked churches to increase opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation, and encourages all Catholics to participate in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
The idea of a jubilee can be found in the Book of Leviticus. The law stated that every 50 years for the people of Israel, a jubilee would be proclaimed as a sign of God's abundant mercy and grace. Slaves were to be released, prisoners freed, debts forgiven, so people could feel God's grace and freedom, and move on afresh in their lives.
"In our cathedral and several other churches in our diocese, and indeed throughout the world, from now until next fall, people will have the opportunity to go on pilgrimages," the bishop said, "special pilgrimages, in groups or alone, coming through the Holy Door. And there's powerful meaning to that. It's so important, the Church even tells us we can gain indulgence, a plenary indulgence for the forgiveness of all the temporal punishment due to sin. If we come through the Holy Door in a spirit of faith and within a reasonable time we go to confession, we receive Communion, we pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, Pope Francis said it is a sign of God's overabundant love for us.
"I want to leave you with just this one thought. Think of all the doors we enter every single day of our lives. Think of them all. This year we have the very special door that we call holy, the door of mercy. Christ, Himself, is presented in the Gospels and the Epistles as a door, as a gate, a way into the Father's love and mercy. So I think the invitation to us is a double dynamic as we ponder the Holy Door and think about it not just here in our cathedral or other churches, but entering every day through prayer into the holy door of the Lord's embrace.
Bishop Malone said that as these doors are entered, the need for God's mercy, forgiveness and compassion should be recognized.
"Perhaps we're reminded of the beautiful gift of the sacrament of reconciliation during this year, more frequent confessions," Bishop Malone said. "We taste the Divine Mercy as we enter through and having tasted that mercy, the Lord sends us back out through the Holy Doors into the rest of our lives into the world to be witnesses of that mercy, bearers of that mercy for one another, to those most in need, and to our world. Of course, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are wonderful and practical ways to live that, but to me, and this has been a theme to my prayer in recent days. The calling is for me, I don't know about you. We'll all do it differently. Every single morning to remind myself during that day to look for every opportunity I can find, first to see the signs of God's mercy in my own life. And secondly, to see those opportunities when I can bear God's mercy for those around me."
The bishop closed his homily by wishing everyone could feel the grace of the Lord this year.
"May this Year of Mercy be abundant in grace for all of us and a time for renewal for our Church in Western New York," he said.
In March, Pope Francis wrote the apostolic letter, "Misericordiae Vultus" ("The Face of Mercy"), in which he outlined the overall spirit and intentions for the jubilee, as well as the spiritual fruits that are hoped for during this special time period. The pope opened the Holy Door of St Peter's on Dec. 8 and parishes throughout the world will follow as a sign of communion of the whole Church.
Other Holy Doors in the diocese include Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna, St. Leo the Great Church in Amherst, St. Hyacinth worship site of Blessed Mary Angela Parish in Dunkirk, St. Mary of the Angels Church in Olean, Our Lady of Mercy Church in LeRoy, the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Youngstown, and from Palm Sunday to the Corpus Christi celebration, Corpus Christi Church in Buffalo for those who visit the Broadway Market during Easter season.
One initiative the diocese has embarked on during the Year of Mercy is "The Light is on for You" program where the sacrament of reconciliation is more accessible especially during the seasons of Advent and Lent. All Catholic parishes are asked to offer confession on Wednesdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. in addition to their regular confession schedule. A complete list of parishes and their additional confession times during Advent can be found here.