The English poet of the early eighteenth century Alexander Pope wrote "He held his seat; friend to human race. Fast by the road his ever-open door Obliged the wealthy, and reliev'd the poor." He could very well have been talking about Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Now another Pope is about to write a new chapter to this legacy of the door - for Jesus is the Door. And the door we are speaking of is the Holy Door which Pope John Paul II will ceremoniously open this coming Friday evening in the Maderno Atrium of St. Peter's Basilica. This area of St. Peter's was recently renovated through funds provided by the Knights of Columbus as a gift to the universal Church for the Jubilee year. The three-hour event will be televised live on EWTN at 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. If EWTN is not available in your area, such as our neck of the woods, you can access it on the internet at www.ewtn.com It will truly be an historic, memorable event that will punctuate this Christmas like few before it.
In John 10: 7, Our Lord says, "Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All whoever have come are thieves and robbers; but the sheep have not heard them. I am the door. If anyone enter by Me he shall be safe, and shall go in and out, and shall find pastures." The Holy Father has been reaffirming this and calling on the Blessed Virgin Mary to be our guide, to light our way to her Divine Son - to lead us through the Door. In countless photos taken at apparition sites around the world, a door miraculously showed up when shooting a picture. While Polaroid played it down that it was part of their aperture, they can't explain why 35mm cameras also showed this as well as video cameras, as well as the human eye. Our Lady is always endeavoring to show us the door to her Son's Sacred Heart through her Immaculate Heart. His Holiness John Paul II has long used this imagery, utilizing the phrase "threshold" - another moniker for a door - in his writings and capped with his bestselling "Crossing the threshold of Hope." Now he is physically prepared to cross that threshold when he gently wraps and pushes both the left and right side of the massive, iron entrance to St. Peter's. In a symbolic gesture of his own humanity and to lead his universal flock, inviting them to join him on the pilgrimage into the new millennium and the era of Hope, the Holy Father has declined the traditional hammer in favor of using his hand, representing the fact that he is the servant of the servants.
It is also an indication that we are all pilgrims on the voyage of life and he is our earthly guide. We all have the same destination, but many veer off course. With the Pope as our skipper on the good ship Barque of Peter we are able to steer safely through the obstacles, guided to safe harbor through the ever-present beacons of the twin pillars of the Holy Eucharist and Immaculate Heart of Mary. The door, as we said, represents Christ - and by crossing that threshold at Baptism we come into a new life. It is the only way to get to the other side - Heaven - through the Door, the symbol of salvation. Throughout Scripture the door flows with imagery; many metaphors are used to represent what it offers - from receiving Sanctifying grace through Baptism and Confession to Heaven and Jesus Himself going through the door of the Sepulchre in order to fulfill the promise of salvation for "I am the Resurrection and the Life" (John 11: 25). The metaphor of the door goes back to Old Testament time as well for a great door separated the Holy of Holies from the common people. Only the anointed and high priests had access through the great doors guarding the Ark of the Covenant in the Jewish Temple. Not until Christ came and proclaimed Himself the Door for the Gentiles was the Holy of Holies available to all with the Blessed Sacrament. Yet to every Tabernacle and the entrance to the churches a door still stands, symbolizing that all cross from the temporal into the supernatural when they enter into His presence.
To ease our transition from one side of the door to the other Our Lord has made it readily accessible for all. Not all are willing to take that step and that is where we come in - as spiritual guidedogs through our prayer and example. The Holy Father, by way of his appointment as the successor of Peter, holds the keys of the Kingdom. But he does not use the keys to open the door for it has already been unlocked for us through the Messiah's Passion, Death and Resurrection. Thus, to show his solidarity with his flock, the Supreme Pontiff eschews the key to open the unlocked door inviting all to pass through the portal with him on the path to everlasting life.
There are countless other examples of the door, but suffice it to say we are strongly invited by Christ and His Vicar on earth to cross that threshold where awaits the great known. There is the tale of the two doors where one leads to earthly riches, while the other leads to the a man-eating tiger. Which door do we open? So also in life there is the door to life everlasting and the door to eternal damnation. The difference is that we know which door contains which. We have a free will to enter the right door. Many do not always do so. As much as the signs are all there for all to see the right door, man's vices often blur his vision and he mistakenly chooses the wrong door. The Holy Father is intent on providing passage through the Right Door.
Thus, through a specific rite of passage this Christmas Eve the Pope will usher in the new era with the Jubilee Year 2000. The ritual of knocking three times is symbolic of Moses striking the rock for the water to flow and Christ striking (metaphorically) the "Rock" - Petra (cf. Matthew 16: 18) which through him and Our Lord's Holy Church the water of Baptism flows continuously. This continues at every door to every church where just inside the door is the Holy Water font - the font of life - whereby we remind ourselves we have crossed the threshold and are in the presence of the Holiest of Holies. Sadly, today, in so many of the "auditorium churches" He is sorely missing, stuck in a closet-like room somewhere in the back or on the side, no longer the main focus. The main focus of the Pope knocking on the door have meaning as well. In the latest issue of Inside the Vatican we quote "The road which leads to truth is not always without obstacles: those three hammer strokes remind us of the resistance we will meet on the way toward Truth...a resistance that will be overcome only by Faith, which is capable of casting down any wall to reach the Divine Mercy." On Holy Saturday before the Easter Vigil the celebrant knocks three times after each of which is incanted "Lumen Christi", "Light of Christ" for it was through the door of the tomb where Christ emerged from the darkness of hell to the everlasting light (cf. Apostles' Creed). And now, through the example and inspiration of Christ, His chosen Vicar will lead us through this symbolic Holy Door. Before he does so, water again comes into play for he will wash the lintel or the area that spans the top of the door supporting the wall above the door three times. Again the number three for the Trinity. Once he has done this, he will then ceremoniously walk over the threshold into St. Peter's and into the Jubilee Year. He will repeat this ceremony at the Lateran Church Basilica the next day on Christmas, the church which in the first millennium was the seat of the Holy See. A week later on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God he will open the Holy Door at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major and complete the Holy Door quadrant on Tuesday, January 18 at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls with an ecumenical celebration of Vespers to mark the start of a week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Pope is taking the unprecedented step of opening all four doors, the first Pontiff to ever do so, in order to symbolize the four corners of the earth the Gospel should be preached in order to cover the earth "and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28: 19) and in Mark 16: 15, "Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature." These are truly necessary for the new millennium - a millennium of hope, faith and love.
Love seems to be lost as the faith wanes and hope dims for many nations and often the Holy Father is the lone voice crying in the wilderness for those poor and persecuted people. This has been proven again and again with third world countries gaining little notice from the super powers unless they have something to offer such as oil or other minerals. That is the main reason it took so long for the world to react in Kosovo and East Timor, and why Africa is in turmoil today. Only the Pope stands as the good shepherd to these beleaguered people begging for a piece of bread for Christmas while we here in America merrily set new records for Christmas spending; where excess has become a way of life and the economy is booming while others go to bed starving, if they have a bed to lie in at all! There is one word we all need to learn in this Jubilee Year: Share! That's what Christ expects of us and anything less - well, we'll be held accountable. No amount of millennium madness will replace the simple virtues of faith, hope and charity - charity to all, especially God's most vanquished and downtrodden.
The downtrodden don't feel much like celebrating the new millennium because hope seems lost. Only God can restore that hope and we can be His instruments through our prayer, example and giving of ourselves and our riches to others. These are the sobering thoughts our Holy Father keeps instilling in his flock. By doing that we will have all the more reason to fully celebrate this special event that happens only once every 1,000 years. We've all had it with the millennium hype and the Y2K rhetoric, but this Jubilee Year 2000 is special - very, very special and the Vatican should get an A+ for promotion and marketing. It will be an eventful year that not only is offering a special Plenary Jubilee Indulgence to pilgrims, but also marks the historic "Jubilee Journey" which the Holy Father will embark on a journey that no Sovereign Pontiff has, nor few others, ever taken. Though his "Jubilee Journey" was going to begin with where it all began - near the Tigris and Euphrates and Ur of the Chaldean - where God charged Abraham with the faith of His chosen people, current political and security reasons prevent the Holy Father from traveling to Iraq thus far. It still is not out of the question, but for now is on hold. Nevertheless, though not yet confirmed by the Vatican, the Israeli government released the Pope's itinerary for the Holy Land that will be not only ambitious and grueling, but highly significant...yet dangerous. We say this because threats against the Pope's life have surfaced, supposedly circulated by Islamic radicals. Security will be at an all-time high when he is scheduled to arrive first at Amman in Jordan on March 20th which next year will be the official Feast of Saint Joseph, foster father of Our Lord, earthly spouse and protector of Mary. In Jordan the Holy Father will visit Mount Nebo, the place where Moses is said to have looked down on the promised land though he himself was not allowed to enter. John Paul II will also travel to the site of where Our Lord was baptized by John the Baptist. The next day he will fly to Tel Aviv where, after formal greetings by political leaders including Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak on the Jewish observance of Purim, he will be escorted to Jerusalem where he'll pray at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. Two days later he will travel to Palestine, welcomed by Yasser Arafat and be taken to Bethlehem's Basilica of the Nativity and then north to Galilee with stops in Tiberias and Capharnaum in retracing the footsteps of Christ. While there he will also speak to an estimated 50,000 on the dusty climes of the Mount of Beatitudes just as Jesus did nearly two millenniums ago. While there is still much to be clarified in regards his traveling to Nazareth because of the conflict over the proposed mosque next to the Basilica of the Annunciation, the Holy Father still hopes to be there on the glorious Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord on Saturday, March 25th.
The whole journey will basically be illustrated for him when he faces the Holy Door this Friday night for on the massive iron door are sixteen relief depictions of our journey in Faith. The first two represent Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the next two signify the Annunciation when God sent the second Eve - Mary - to be the door through which Christ would come into this world. The fifth panel depicts Christ's Baptism in the River Jordan; the next the Good Shepherd finding the lost sheep; the seventh illustrates the prodigal son and the eighth the centurion who felt he was unworthy for Christ to come under his roof - a refrain we repeat daily each time before we are to receive Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. The ninth panel is the scene where Mary Magdalene washes her Master's feet at the banquet; the tenth the betrayal of Judas Iscariot; the eleventh the denial of Peter and the twelfth, in harmony with the stations of the cross, is the Crucifixion. The thirteenth is Thomas the doubting Apostle placing his hands in the wounds of Christ; the fourteenth is Our Lord's command to go into the world and baptise all; the fifteenth is the conversion of Saul on the way to Tarsus and the sixteenth panel depicts the Pope (in this case it looks like Pope Pius XII since he commissioned the door) knocking on the Holy Door with the special ceremonial hammer, the same hammer John Paul II is eschewing in favor of using his hand for this special opening in opening wide the doors of, to and for Christ. He will close it physically again on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 2001 when the Jubilee Year 2000 will officially end. Over the next 378 days millions are expected to pass through this door and millions more will have this opportunity spiritually and through the special plenary Jubilee Indulgence available to all pilgrims whether they stay home in their own parish or travel to Rome. For no matter where we are, the Holy Door signifies that we can bloom where we are planted because the Door is wherever we are for Christ, as He confirmed in Matthew 28: 20, is with us always. And He isn't far away, as the Holy Door signifies, all we need do is follow the Holy Father's example and knock, as Jesus says in Matthew 7: 7, Luke 11:9 and as reaffirmed in Apocalypse/Revelation 3: 20, "Knock, and it shall be opened to you."