Third Sunday of Advent, Year C, 2015

Published: December 13, 2015

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at a Mass to open the Diocese of Little Rock Door of Mercy for the Jubilee Holy Year of Mercy at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015.

Bishop Taylor

We are gathered here at the beginning of the great Jubilee of Mercy, called by Pope Francis to mark the 50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II. The purpose of this holy year is to bring the healing balm of God's love and forgiveness to as many people as possible throughout our broken world.

In the past, participation in a holy year required traveling to Rome in order to receive a plenary indulgence by passing through special holy doors in each of the four major basilicas, in addition to the usual requirement of repentance for all sins, sacramental confession, reception of the Eucharist and prayers for the intention of the holy father.

One thing that is truly extraordinary about this holy year is that for the first time in history, holy doors of divine mercy are to be opened in all dioceses, not just Rome. Our holy door is here at Good Counsel in Little Rock, but in addition, special arrangements for increased access have been made in many other parishes in our diocese.

Our doctrine of the communion of saints teaches that we support each other on the journey of faith and we are joined to Jesus and each other in the supernatural unity of the mystical body of Christ.

But you here at Good Counsel will have the privilege of hosting pilgrims from all over Arkansas who come here to encounter Jesus and receive his mercy and forgiveness. Pilgrims will be directed to our official holy door here at Good Counsel at any time, but especially on the first Saturday of every month beginning in February, when priests will be available to hear confessions and Mass will be celebrated, thus enabling people to receive the plenary indulgence. Our house of formation will also be open on that day as well.

So I thought it might be good to clarify what indulgences are. After all, the main reason for going all the way to Rome on pilgrimage was to receive them — and that is why we are setting up this holy door here at Good Counsel, so they must be pretty important.

In the briefest of terms, an indulgence is a way to reduce the amount of the temporal punishment one still has to undergo for sins — the guilt of which has already been forgiven sacramentally. It works like this, when we sin we not only offend God, we also harm ourselves and others.

In confession the guilt of sin is forgiven immediately — the wound is cleaned — but the process of healing only just begins, both the specific harm done and the lingering attachment to sin, the tendency to fall back into sin — habits of sin to which we still remain vulnerable and with which we still have to struggle.

These lingering unhealthy attachments must be purified and this brokenness healed, either here on earth or after death in purgatory. This healing usually takes place by natural means through our own efforts, for instance by patient acceptance of suffering, by turning to God in prayer and by works of charity.

But this healing can also be fostered by supernatural means through what we call indulgences. Our doctrine of the communion of saints teaches that we support each other on the journey of faith and we are joined to Jesus and each other in the supernatural unity of the mystical body of Christ.

As such, we share in the spiritual good of all the saints, especially the infinite merits of Christ — the source of forgiveness and healing — which we refer to as the "treasury of the Church." Jesus gave the Church the power of loosing and binding, right?

So the Church can administer the benefits of these merits, our share in Jesus' victory, in order to free us from unworthy attachments and the lingering brokenness due to sins that have already been forgiven. And the Church comes to our aid in this way not as if merely waiving a magic wand, but rather in consideration of prayer and other pious works that the Church wants to foster for our spiritual benefit.

So come to the door of mercy during this great jubilee of mercy. Earlier this week we celebrated the feast of the Immaculate Conception and we recalled that Mary was not only sinless, she was preserved from the effects of original sin from the first moment of her conception.

We on the other hand are sinners, we need God's mercy available to us in a special way during this holy year. No matter what you have ever done, Jesus' arms are open wide to embrace you with healing love.