Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Column: Through the Holy Door

Holy Door in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome
This column appeared at on 6 June 2016.

I am sunburnt. My feet hurt. The last 900 meters of this two days of pilgrimage is straight up the side of a volcanic crater. One step at a time, I remind myself. Which is, of course, how all pilgrimages begin and end. With one step.

I am in Rome, where pilgrims have come for centuries, and with the Jubilee of Mercy, I am one of many pilgrims making their way to the city today. Wherever I was, signs pointed the way to the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica, and groups of pilgrims swept past.

My pilgrimage began yesterday, with a visit to the church of St. Augustine, where I lit candles in front of the tomb of Augustine’s mother St. Monica and prayed for my parish, long staffed by the Augustinian order. Today I made my way to St. Peter’s to visit the tomb of St. Peter and to walk through the Holy Door — and, I confess, to hear my youngest son’s choir sing at the Mass for the Vigil of Corpus Christi being offered at the main altar in the basilica.

The line to get into St. Peter’s was long, the temperature approaching 90, and there was not a dot of shade to be had, but no one was complaining. When a stray cool breeze would waft past, people would sigh in relief. There was much gratitude for small mercies, long before we walked through the door.

I walked with a long stream of faithful through the door on the far right of the great basilica’s steps, our hands reaching out to brush the images inscribed on it. After walking almost 20 miles over two days, it was a joy to walk through the Holy Door into the vast cool of St. Peter’s, the joyful gentle hum of pilgrim’s voices speeding their steps up the ramp and through.

Afterwards, I stood on the top of the basilica steps and watched the groups of pilgrims come through the square, many of them carrying crosses in procession, stopping to pray three times as they approached the Holy Door.

In announcing this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis encouraged us to “constantly contemplate the mystery of mercy.” As one way of doing this, we are encouraged to make brief pilgrimages to walk through the Holy Doors that are open in cathedrals and shrines throughout the world. As I made my way through Rome, I was reminded at every turn of the ways in which mercy always surrounds us. The cool water pouring forth from street corner fountains, the gift of a good map. People willing to point out the way.

“Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy,” opens the papal declaration of the Year of Mercy, so it seems apt for me to make this walk on the vigil of the Feast of Corpus Christi. As the choir sang the communion hymn, “Ave verum corpus,” I looked up at the face of Christ. “Miserere mei,” have mercy on me, came the music billowing out of the choir box, layer upon layer, echoing the depth and richness of God’s mercy.

Mercy swirls around us always, on pilgrimage or not, in ordinary years as well as extraordinary ones. It is held up before us on the altar, received into our hands and hearts, and made present in the People of God, who, too, are the very Body of Christ. I look now into the faces of those around me, and see Christ, the face of God’s mercy.

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