By JOANNE FOX
When the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy draws to a close in Rome on Nov. 20, Pope Francis will oversee the actual “closing” of the Holy Door, as it is sealed with bricks and mortar.
That was not the case at the Cathedral of the Epiphany in Sioux City when Bishop Walker Nickless celebrated the closing celebration of the same jubilee year.
“It’s more symbolic at our cathedral,” Bishop Nickless told the congregation at Mass on Oct. 30. “We will use words to explain that the door is now closed.”
Following the entrance procession as the choir led the congregation in the official hymn of the jubilee year, Bishop Nickless pointed out to those gathered that the year has provided “an extraordinary time of grace and mercy” for the faithful.
“In this Eucharistic celebration, we raise our voices to the Father in a hymn of praise and thanksgiving for all the gifts he has bestowed upon us,” he said. “Once more, before approaching these sacred mysteries, let us invoke the soothing balm of his mercy acknowledging that we are sinners and forgiving one another from the bottom of our hearts.”
In his homily, Bishop Nickless explained further that with the closing of the Year of Mercy, the church will – on Nov. 27 – begin a new liturgical year of worship with the season of Advent.
“Endings and beginnings have always been a part of our faith life,” he said. “Today, as bishop of the Diocese of Sioux City, I officially ‘closed’ the Holy Door of Mercy – the main door of our cathedral – and I hope the pilgrims who passed through the door in the last year earned the grace of God.”
The bishop recalled a year ago when he opened the door, he “prayed for God’s mercy to descend” upon all those who entered the door.
“Now, at this time, I want to thank God for the mercy and love he has shown each one of us through this year,” he said. “My hope was that the Year of Mercy would bring us and all the world a better awareness and appreciation of how deeply God loves us, how ready he is to forgive us and how we, in turn, should show mercy to others around us, especially those who need forgiveness.”
Bishop Nickless acknowledged forgiving others was not an easy task.
“The simple definition of mercy is to forgive someone when that person doesn’t deserve it,” he said. “However, the Lord teaches us, as in the Gospel reading about Zacchaeus, not to be so quick to judge others.”
Jesus saw beyond the person Zacchaeus was – the tax collector, the defrauder, the cheat – the bishop explained.
“When Jesus stopped at the sycamore tree and saw Zacchaeus, he saw a man in need of love and mercy,” he said. “No one else saw that.”
The bishop emphasized that individuals who could not forgive others have wasted any graces received from the Year of Mercy.
“We are instruments of God’s mercy,” he said. “We must give mercy to others, even those who don’t deserve it.”
Those who are merciful to others will truly have been blessed and Bishop Nickless stressed it was never too late to change one’s behavior.
“As the door of mercy closes today, may we never close the door of mercy in our hearts,” he said. “Let us look beyond our judgment of others. Let us extend mercy to all.”
At the conclusion of Mass, Bishop Nickless recognized the Cathedral of the Epiphany Choir members who will be singing at the Vatican for the Consistory of Cardinals and the closing ceremony for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy by Pope Francis and offered them his blessing.
“This is truly an honor because they are our connection to the Year of Mercy,” he said. “As they prepare to depart in the coming weeks, let us send them with our prayers and blessings.”