Last Sunday, Pope Francis addressed the pilgrims who gathered at St. Peter’s square from around the world to pray the Angelus and to hear him speak. Referring to the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, Pope Francis said, “This miracle is the culmination of the wonderful ‘signs’ performed by Jesus: an act too great, too clearly divine to be tolerated by the high priests, who, aware of the fact, make the decision to kill Jesus.”
Pope Francis reminded the crowd of the words of Jesus, “words which are forever impressed upon the memory of the Christian community: ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’” Because of this promise, he said, we believe that those who believe in Jesus and follow His commandments will rise to new life after death.
Jesus, the Pope said, calls to us as He called to Lazarus in his tomb:
“Come forth!” This call is addressed to every human person “because we are all marked by death. But,” the Holy Father said, “Christ is not resigned to the sepulchres that we have
constructed with our choices of evil and death, with our mistakes, our sins. [Jesus] invites us, almost orders us, to come out of the tombs into which our sins have plunged us.” This is where our resurrection begins: “when we decide to obey the command of Jesus to come into the light, to life; when the masks fall from our faces … and we rediscover the courage of our original faces, created in the image and likeness of God.”
Pope Francis also reminded the faithful that the raising of Lazarus shows us that “there is no limit to the divine mercy, which is offered to everyone… The Lord is always ready to roll away the tombstone of our sins, which separate us from Him, the light of the living.”
Finally, Pope Francis suggested that all Christians should carry a small book of the Gospels, so they could read it often. “And then,” he said, “I thought about the ancient tradition of the Church, of giving a book of the Gospels, during Lent, to the catechumens, to those preparing for Baptism. So today I want to offer to you who are here in the Piazza — but as a sign for everyone — a pocket Gospel book.” He encouraged all those who received the Gospels to perform some act of charity for others in exchange, and called on everyone to take advantage of modern technology to carry the Bible with them every day, to read the Scriptures often, and to welcome the message of the Gospels with an open heart. “Then,” he said, “the good seed will bear fruit.”
Continuing with the theme of Divine Mercy, the Holy Father also declared this year to be the extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy, from December 8th 2015 to November 20th of 2016. The Holy Door, the front door of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, which is usually bricked up, is opened at the beginning of a jubilee year. The other major basilicas of Rome also have Holy Doors that are opened for jubilee years: the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Basilica of St. Mary Major, and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
Holy Years are usually held every 25 years; the last was the great jubilee of the year 2000. Holy years feature special celebrations and pilgrimages, strong calls for conversion and repentance, and the offer of special opportunities to experience God’s grace through the sacraments, especially confession.
Extraordinary holy years, like the Holy Year of Mercy, are less frequent, but offer the same opportunities for spiritual growth.