Fr. Roger J. Landry
Domus Sanctae Mariae Guadalupensis, Rome
December 24, 1999
2Sam 7:1-5,8-11,16; Ps 89; Lk 1 67-79
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,” Zechariah joyfully exclaims, “for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty savior, born of the house of his servant David.” God has come to save his people! This is the reason God raised up John the Baptist, to go before the Lord and make straight his ways. This is the reason the Father sent the Son born of the New Eve, so that he might redeem all the sons and daughters of the First Eve. This is what we are getting ready to celebrate this evening and this Great Jubilee Year.
But our joy tonight and throughout this year will be directly proportional to our consciousness of how much we need this Savior, Jesus. Just as we never truly appreciate the gift that is fresh water until we’re dying of thirst, or the gift of food until we’re starving, or heat until we’re freezing, so, too, we can never appreciate the greatness of the event we’re about to celebrate unless we recognize that we were and are desperately in need of the salvation only Jesus can give. Too often, though, we can take it for granted and make this truth of salvation too theological or esoteric, thereby making it nearly impossible for us to experience and feel that joy that God wants to give us, and to shout alongside the Angels on Christmas day, “Gloria in excelsis Deo!”
And so, on this morning of Christmas Eve, lest anyone here be suffering from what several men on the Janiculum are experiencing — a little spiritual fatigue and lack of burning inner expectation for Christmas and the Jubilee — I’d like to give a little fervorino, so that we might all be more ready to burst with joy tonight and this whole season. I’d like to do so by focusing on what will be one of the chief attractions tonight — the Jubilee door — but one that will be, to those who don’t understand the centrality of its symbolism, just another hokey pseudo-religious invention. I’m convinced, however, that if we grasp the meaning of the Jubilee door that Pope John Paul II will open tonight, our Christmas celebration, our Jubilee celebration, and the rest of our lives will be profoundly impacted. So come with me to the threshold of the Jubilee, the Holy Door of St. Peter’s.
The whole purpose of a door is meant to separate one location from another, and going through a door is meant to symbolize the passage from one place to another. Church architects throughout time have made great use of doors to express the Church’s theology. The main entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica, for example, is directly underneath the huge statue of the Risen Christ on the top of the tympanum, to symbolize that to enter the Church you need to go through, with and in Christ, who said that he himself was the gate to the sheepfold. The Holy Year Door is intentionally smaller than this main entrance, to reinforce Jesus’s call to enter through the narrow door. But when we focus on the Holy Door itself, we cannot but notice the meaning of the passage it is calling us to. There are sixteen frames on this beautiful bronze portal which was made for the Jubilee in 1950, and they’re all focused on the two-fold moment of conversion and God’s mercy. By these sixteen frames, the Church is explicitly calling all those who enter through this narrow door to conversion, to leaving their sins, leaving their fears and doubts, in the vestibule — behind them — and entering into the fullness of the Lord’s mercy by crossing that threshold.
The first two frames are dedicated to the Sinful Fall of Adam and Eve and their exile from paradise, which led to the need for salvation, for them and for us all. It takes up two frames, it seems, to emphasize its centrality. But the next two frames are dedicated to the scene of the Annunciation, almost in direct response, as the fulfillment of the proto-evangelium announced to Adam and Eve. God became man to save us. Panel 5 is dedicated to Jesus’s baptism, in which we’re invited to Listen to Him, God’s beloved Son, and which is meant to remind us of our own baptism, that grace-filled day when God gratuitously freed us from our sins and made us children. But we know how many times we have not lived up to that grace. So next we encounter Jesus’ hunting down the lost sheep — us — to forgive us, making heaven erupt more for our return than for the ninety-nine who supposedly didn’t need such forgiveness. We meet next the Prodigal Son, who had squandered his entire inheritance, but the Father still went out, hugged him, killed the fatted calf and rejoiced that his child who was dead had come back to life. The eighth panel focuses on the paralyzed man in Capernaum, whose friends loved him enough that they brought him to Jesus for forgiveness, and during which Jesus demonstrated clearly that the Son of God has power to forgive those sins by healing the man’s paralysis as well. The subsequent image captures the sinful woman who washed and anointed Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair, which led Jesus to forgive all of her sins and tell Simon the Pharisee that those who better recognize how much they need to be freed from their sins show greater love and gratitude for such a gift. Jesus tells Peter in the next panel that the disciple is to forgive 70×7 times, in imitation of God who forgives us without limit. Peter experiences that need for unlimited forgiveness in the next panel, which happens when Jesus looks at him after he has thrice denied him, leading to his conversion. The twelfth panel is Jesus on Calvary, where he forgives the Repentant Thief on the Cross and promises him Paradise. Thomas is next, piercing Jesus’ side with his finger, converting from his disbelief in the resurrection to giving his great confession, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus in the 14th panel breathes on the apostles with the Holy Spirit and gives them the power to forgive sins. Paul is the subject of the penultimate panel. The Christian killer, who did to the disciples in the 30s what Nero did in the 60s, is shown struck from his horse and called by the Lord to conversion.
This whole progression shows the path from conversion to salvation, and the Church invites us to see ourselves in the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the paralytic, sinful woman, Peter, Dismas, Thomas and Paul, and to rejoice that the Lord has come to save us from all of these sins through the ministry of those, like Peter, Paul and Thomas, who were manifest sinners in their own right, and hence were chosen instruments to show God’s mercy.
If you were keeping track, I only mentioned fifteen panels. The sixteenth pictures the Pope at the Jubilee door, saying the words Jesus himself said to the lukewarm members of the Church of Laodicea in the book of Revelation: “I am standing at the door, knocking.” He is standing at the door of our too often tepid hearts knocking, trying to gain access. Today is the day to let him open up the door of our hearts, so that we can be freed from the slavery to ourselves and our sins and cross the threshold of that holy door so that we might come and adore him with great, great joy. Come, Lord Jesus!