Reflect Emmanuel is a series of Advent meditations on Emmanuel, our God with us
December 4, 2015Dr. Laurie Johnston, Associate Professor of Theology and Religious Studie
Advent is a time when we look for the light that is coming into the darkness. And as this Advent begins, there seems to be a great deal of darkness in the world. But that is why it was so moving when, last Sunday, Pope Francis chose to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent precisely in a place which has experienced so much darkness of late - the Central African Republic. And what is more, he chose to inaugurate the Jubilee of Mercy there, throwing open the "Holy Door" at the cathedral of Bangui. What a surprise - a Pope has never inaugurated a Jubilee year outside Rome before. But Pope Francis has a genius for the fitting symbolic gesture, and so it is appropriate that the Jubilee Year of Mercy which begins this Advent has begun in a place that is in real need of mercy - war-torn C.A.R.
The photo of him throwing open the Holy Door in Bangui is a wonderful image of light coming into darkness. Why a "holy door"? Traditionally, there is a door to St. Peter's in Rome which is closed - walled up with brick and mortar - until a Jubilee year, normally held every 25 years. Pilgrims walking through the holy door during a Jubilee year receive a special blessing. But Pope Francis didn't want to wait 25 years, and so he has declared an extraordinary "Jubilee of Mercy" starting this Advent. He has said that he wants there to be a holy door in every cathedral all over the world, “as a visible sign of the Church’s universal communion." These holy doors are a powerful image of the mercy of Christ coming into the lives of people all over the world - in the midst of so many forms of darkness.
In today's Gospel reading, we see Jesus bringing light in a very direct way. Moved by mercy, he gives a blind man the gift of sight. "Out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see," Isaiah tells us. This Advent is an invitation to us not to run away from darkness and blindness, but to follow Jesus and to follow Pope Francis in their willingness to go towards the places of deepest darkness with mercy, hope and faith.