SASKATOON — Bishop Donald Bolen, in one of his final celebrations in Saskatoon before becoming Archbishop of Regina, celebrated a Pilgrimage to the Holy Door Aug. 5 with hundreds of diocesan pilgrims at Holy Family Cathedral.
Bolen’s episcopal motto, “Mercy within mercy within mercy,” is inscribed over the Holy Door inside the cathedral, beneath which each pilgrim passed. The pilgrimage was designed to highlight the Year of Mercy designated by Pope Francis. The year was launched in December 2015, when a ceremonial holy door of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was opened.
This was the first time that dioceses worldwide were also invited to designate and bless their own holy doors. The Holy Door at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon is one of several in the diocese. Others are located at St. Paul’s Co-Cathedral in Saskatoon, St. Augustine Church in Humboldt, and Sts. Peter and Paul Church at the Blumenfeld pilgrimage site near Leader, Sask.
After thanking those who worked on the event, and noting the moving sight of the pilgrims processing toward the cathedral, Bolen’s homily focused on the mass readings of the prodigal son, and the story of Jonah at Ninevah, reacting after God has shown mercy to the repentant.
“We’re on a pilgrimage on this year of mercy, and we’re on a pilgrimage in this earthly life,” noted Bolen. “Jonah is invited to listen to God’s word and first he says no.”
After Jonah repents and listens to God, he goes and proclaims God’s word and Ninevah also repents, and God relents and does not destroy the city. Jonah, wishing the city doom, is offended by God’s mercy toward the inhabitants of Ninevah, and asks for God to take his life instead.
“The story goes on about how God tries to soften Jonah’s heart,” said Bolen, describing the tree that grew over Jonah for shade, and then was eaten by a worm. Jonah’s response to the death of the tree was compared to God’s response to the doom of the thousands of people of Ninevah, should they perish in sin.
In the parable of the prodigal son, God’s mercy is also described: the older brother is convinced that he merits the inheritance and love of the father for never having left. The father’s mercy to the younger brother is resented by the older one, just as Jonah resents God’s mercy to Ninevah. Humanity tends to feel we each deserve what is good, and that others who suffer and struggle are getting what is coming to them, said the bishop.
“Mercy is a response to us, and to those who are miserable,” said Bolen, comparing each of us to the younger brother who returns in shame and finds himself at the centre of a celebration. “If we can keep ourselves serenely balanced between these two extremes of the dignity God bestows on us and the embarrassment of receiving the unmerited mercy of God, without letting go of either of them, perhaps we can feel the heart of God who beats with love for us: who goes out to sinners, to bring mercy to all.”
As Pope Francis invites us to live in this tension between our sinfulness and the dignity that comes from a merciful God who draws us in, we learn to live centred in our true identity of sinners who have been blessed with God’s mercy, the bishop said. When we embrace the mercy that God shows to us, we are most able to show mercy to others.
“What everyone needs deep down is an infinite mercy, the heart of Christ. Anything less than this is not enough. Mercy gets its hands dirty, gets caught up with others, gets personal. Mercy exceeds justice and brings knowledge and compassion,” explained Bolen. “The one who shows mercy, and the one to whom mercy is shown, become equals.”
Because we carry the treasure of mercy in our imperfect lives, we must show it to others without it being about us, but rather about God’s boundless love and forgiveness, he stressed.
Following the mass was an hour of eucharistic adoration, with stations for the sacrament of reconciliation and a celebration in the foyer with refreshments and an opportunity to visit with Bolen before he begins his new appointment.
He will be installed Archbishop of Regina Oct. 14 at Holy Rosary Cathedral in Regina. A farewell mass and reception will be held in Saskatoon on Oct. 12.